Three New York City Inspectors Charged in Construction Investigation

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs Features Dow Jones Newswires

Two city building inspectors and an asbestos investigator were among 14 people charged in three alleged construction schemes involving bribery and corruption, authorities said Wednesday.

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The Department of Investigation's and Brooklyn District Attorney's two-year probe revealed construction corruption that officials say is widespread in the city.

"These are crimes that feed on Brooklyn's soaring popularity and lucrative, increasingly expensive, real-estate market and these illegal activities must cease," Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said. "They rationalize cutting the corners and cheating because they say otherwise it's too expensive. The truth of the matter is these shortcuts are not harmless."

Other defendants included property owners and developers. No injuries were reported in the schemes.

Alexander Kogan, 60 years old, of Brooklyn, allegedly accepted payments ranging from $1,000 to $3,500 to issue reports stating properties had no asbestos, according to authorities. They said Mr. Kogan didn't go to some properties or briefly entered properties.

Mark Peters, the Department of Investigation commissioner, also played a phone recording in which a property owner allegedly asks Mr. Kogan if he can get him a "clean" report. Mr. Kogan confirms before telling him he doesn't want to talk on the phone. Three of seven properties Mr. Kogan inspected were found to have asbestos, Mr. Peters said.

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The Department of Environmental Protection is conducting an audit on all of the properties Mr. Kogan inspected, Mr. Peters said. A spokesman said Mr. Kogan "violated the public's trust" and they are strengthening qualifications for inspectors.

Michael Farkas, an attorney for Mr. Kogan, said his client voluntarily surrendered to authorities, pleaded not guilty and "will be working diligently to get to the bottom of these charges. Things are not always as they seem. He should not be prejudged in the court of public opinion."

Two Department of Buildings inspectors, Hiram Beza, 55, of Queens, and Dean Mulzac, 53, of Brooklyn, are also accused of handing out favorable construction inspections for gifts, including $100 earrings and a newly built kitchen and driveway.

Their lawyers didn't return requests for comment.

Henry Samuels, a 58-year-old licensed plumber, is accused of selling his official credentials to others to do unlicensed work for a fee of up to $2,000.

Stuart Keith, the attorney for Mr. Samuels, said his client has no idea why he is involved in this case. Mr. Samuels pleaded not guilty.

The three city workers face various felony and misdemeanor charges. The maximum penalty is for seven years.

The alleged schemes stemmed from an earlier Department of Investigation probe that led to the arrests of seven National Grid employees and more than 20 landlords. Authorities heard the defendants speaking of the transactions on wiretaps.

Write to Zolan Kanno-Youngs at Zolan.Kanno-Youngs@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 25, 2017 19:15 ET (23:15 GMT)