FBI agents this morning arrested a ranking New York City government official on a variety of corruption charges after he allegedly accepted $600,000 in bribes.
Wendell Walters, a senior official in New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, faces conspiracy, bribery, and racketeering charges for allegedly pocketing the cash from real estate developers and builders seeking lucrative city contracts, officials said.
Prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office anti-corruption squad in Brooklyn say that Walters, who serves as the department’s assistant commissioner for new construction, took the bribes in exchange for handing out contracts amounting to millions of taxpayer dollars to renovate or build affordable housing units in New York City.
One example of Walters’ dealings involves an unnamed businessman, and the two met on various occasions – including on one occasion at a golf driving range in The Bronx, prosecutors say.
Walters often demanded his bribes by writing the amount on a piece of paper.
Later, the unnamed businessman delivered the cash to Walters — often in installments of $25,000 — and hid the money in golf ball boxes, overnight mail envelopes and coffee cups, prosecutors said.
Thereafter, the unnamed businessman was awarded more than $10 million in contracts to work on city projects in Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, prosecutors said.
Six other people were also arrested today by FBI agents for their alleged involvement in the bribery scheme, officials said.
These six were described as real estate developers Stevenson Dunn, Lee Hymowitz, Michael Freeman, Sergio Benitez, Robert Morales and Angel Villalona, officials said.
All are scheduled to be arraigned later today in Brooklyn federal court.
The City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development bills itself as “the largest municipal developer of affordable housing in the nation.”
The agency underwrites the renovation and repair of existing housing units, as well as financing new construction.
Over the past quarter century, the department has spent more than $8.7 billion to provide for more affordable housing for city residents, according to its website.
“New Yorkers relied on these defendants for the safe haven of affordable housing. Instead, the defendants allegedly put their own greed over the needs of low-, moderate- and middle-income New Yorkers,” said Loretta Lynch, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Asked about the allegations, Mayor Bloomberg said, “We have 330,000 employees in the city and I’d love to tell you they’re all honest, perfect, whatever. I can tell you the vast majority are. I’ve had experience in both the public and private sector and I can tell you this is as good a workforce as I’ve ever seen.
“Our Department of Investigation uncovered this case. The investigation into this guy Wendell Walters, who began work at HPD back in 1998, is continuing. HPD cooperated with the investigation. They suspended Walters without pay, disqualified the indicted developers from city work. We just have no tolerance for corruption with anybody in city government.”
In a statement released this morning, the agency said, “We are cooperating fully with the City Department of Investigation and other involved law enforcement and will continue to assist them in their inquiries.”
“There is no room for corruption or bribe seeking in government and these circumstances pain me deeply on a number of levels” the agency added in a statement. “We are here to serve the people, not to take advantage of our positions for personal profit.”