An assistant commissioner for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and six others were arrested on racketeering conspiracy and other charges in connection with schemes that netted them between $1 million and $2 million in kickbacks and bribes over a decade, announced federal and city law enforcement officials.
He received payments that were hidden in golf ball boxes and coffee cups, according to officials.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said the schemes cost HPD hundreds of thousands of dollars in overpayments to developers on HPD projects in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.
Wendell Walters, HPD’s assistant commissioner for new construction, was arrested along with developers Stevenson Dunn, Lee Hymowitz, Michael Freeman, Sergio Benitez, Robert Morales, and Angel Villalona, the FBI said.
“New Yorkers relied on these defendants for the safe haven of affordable housing,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “Instead, the defendants allegedly put their own greed over the needs of low-, moderate-, and middle-income New Yorkers. As detailed in the government’s indictment and other court filings, the defendants corruptly lined their own pockets by stealing millions of dollars in public funds dedicated to affordable housing.”
At HPD, Walters, 49, oversaw various programs, including the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program and the Division of Housing Production, which were aimed at enabling private property managers, developers, and nonprofits to build and rehabilitate buildings to provide affordable housing.
The indictment and search warrant application for Walters’ residence and HPD office allege that beginning in 2002 he accepted approximately $600,000 in bribes from general contractors and real estate developers in exchange for awarding them HPD contracts.
On multiple occasions, Walters allegedly summoned a general contractor, identified as John Doe No. 1 in the indictment, to various locations around the city, including a golf driving range in the Bronx, where Walters would hand John Doe No. 1 a slip of paper with the amount—usually “250,” signifying $250,000—that Walters was demanding, said the FBI in a statement.
In subsequent meetings, John Doe No. 1 would make cash payments, often in excess of $25,000 at a time, to Walters, hiding the money in golf ball boxes, overnight mail envelopes, and coffee cups.
During the same time period that he was paying these bribes, John Doe No. 1 was awarded the general contracts for the following HPD projects: the Lexington Avenue, Watkins Avenue Cluster, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Cooper- Decatur Cluster projects in Brooklyn; the Alexander Avenue and Crotona Park Cluster projects in the Bronx; and the Guy Brewer North Homes in Queens. The value of these general contracts was often in excess of $10 million, said the FBI.
The developers then allegedly received kickbacks from contractors in exchange for awarding them construction work on the projects, said the FBI statement.
If convicted of the most serious offenses, each defendant faces a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment. The government will also seek to forfeit at least $22 million in proceeds that the defendants received as a result of their schemes.