On Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced criminal charges against 70 current and former employees of the New York City Housing Authority for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for work contracts. It purports to be the largest federal bribery prosecution in American history. The Southern District of New York’s press release is available here, and the complaints for the individual defendants are available here.
The gist of the crimes is that from time to time, construction or maintenance needs to be performed on buildings operated by the New York City Housing Authority (an agency which receives a tremendous amount of federal financing, notably). For large work projects, the NYCHA has to solicit multiple bids from various service providers. However, on smaller projects, there is a “no-bid” system by which an employee can simply choose the contractor that will do the work. This “no-bid” system appears to have given rise to a system of bribery, whereby contractors would simply pay the right NYCHA employee to win the work contract. It is remarkable that so many employees have been accused of this illegal conduct, and that the arrests all happened simultaneously. It is an impressively coordinated operation by law enforcement, to say the least.
Generally, the accused people are facing Conspiracy to Solicit and Receive a Bribe by Agent of Organization Receiving Federal Funds, which carries a five year maximum jail penalty. This applies to those NYCHA employees who agreed or discussed bribes in exchange for NYCHA funds. Some defendants are further accused of Soliciting and Receiving a Bribe by Agent of Organization Receiving Federal Funds, which carries a ten-year maximum jail penalty. Basically, the maximum penalty increases by five years for actually accepting the bribe. 18 USC 666(a)(1)(B). Some defendants are charged with Extortion Under Color of Official Right, a violation of the Hobbs Act under 18 USC 1951. That carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.