Corruption in New York City’s construction industry ran so deep that mobsters worked as city building inspectors in recent years, prosecutors said Thursday.
One reputed Lucchese crime family member used his city Department of Buildings job to recruit customers for his gambling ring, according to Manhattan prosecutors.
Another is accused of taking more than $82,000 in bribes to fix inspection results and otherwise help well-connected builders skirt city regulations. A third was eventually fired for soliciting private construction work from people whose properties he was inspecting, prosecutors said.
The inspectors, two reputed Lucchese crime family leaders and more than two dozen other people and businesses were indicted Thursday in a sprawling racketeering case that ranged from construction bribes to gun trafficking.
The charges mark the latest in a string of recent cases targeting construction corruption. They include a July indictment accusing a concrete testing company of faking test results on dozens of high-profile projects and a case charging a top city crane inspector with taking bribes to fake inspection reports.
The new case claims not only that mobsters infiltrated the Buildings Department, but that three other workers joined them in taking bribes.
“We know that organized crime seeks to corrupt public officials,” said Patrick Dugan, chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s investigative division. “They had developed a small beachfront into this agency.”
Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri expressed outrage at the allegations. He noted previously announced plans to track building inspectors with GPS technology to deter fake reports and other misbehavior; the system will be in place by next week.
All of the accused employees have either resigned or been fired within the last two years, officials said.
They engineered payoffs to void violations, lift stop-work orders and speed up inspections at more than a dozen construction sites and buildings in Manhattan and the Bronx, prosecutors said. LiMandri said Buildings Department workers have since made sure all the buildings are safe.
One building contractor paid $44,000 to ensure his inspection would come out well, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said. A nightclub owner shelled out more than $29,000 to expedite an inspection and ward off violations, Morgenthau said.
Former inspector and reputed Lucchese associate Frank Francomano took more than $20,000 in payoffs for such services as approving certificates of occupancy for buildings that didn’t merit them, assistant district attorney John Spagna said. He said Francomano, 45, also spent time at work drumming up clients for his betting operation.
Meanwhile, Francomano’s younger brother and fellow Lucchese member Carmine Francomano Jr. treated his job as a scaffold safety inspector “as an ATM machine,” reeling in more than $82,000 in bribes for such purposes as ensuring favorable inspections, Spagna said. He said the younger brother, 43, also juggled his government job with gun and drug trafficking.
The Francomano brothers were being held on $500,000 bond after pleading not guilty. Their lawyer, Brian T. Pakett, said they were “adamant that they did not participate” in the alleged schemes.
A third reputed Lucchese associate and former building inspector, Thomas Masucci, was fired in 2007 for seeking work for his private construction company from people getting inspections, prosecutors said.
So then he and Frank Francomano teamed up: Francomano would write up violations and recommend Masucci to fix them, assistant district attorney Polly Greenberg said.
Masucci, 59, pleaded not guilty and was being held on $200,000 bond. Defense lawyer Robert DePalma told a judge Masucci had “never been in trouble.”
Thursday’s indictment marks new trouble for reputed high-ranking Lucchese members Joseph DiNapoli and Matthew Madonna. They also face racketeering and money laundering charges in a New Jersey gambling case dating from 2007.
Manhattan prosecutors accused the two of presiding over a criminal empire that spanned from construction bribes in the Bronx to a betting operation in Costa Rica.
DiNapoli, 74, and Madonna, 73, were being held on $500,000 bond after pleading not guilty in the Manhattan case.
“We will beat those charges,” said DiNapoli’s lawyer, Murray Richman.
All the defendants are charged with enterprise corruption, which carries a potential sentence of up to 25 years in prison. Some also face other charges.
The case began as a gambling probe and grew to encompass wiretaps on 64 phones and even a bug in a restaurant, prosecutors said.
Separately, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and federal prosecutors announced an indictment Thursday charging a dozen reputed Lucchese members, associates and conspirators and seven others in a gambling and loan sharking probe. Some were accused of trying to bribe police officers to protect illegal betting parlors.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
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