Oh to have been a fly on the wall when Mayor Bloomberg heard about this! Today the FBI arrested the top official in charge of new affordable housing construction in New York City, along with six developers, on charges including federal racketeering, conspiracy and bribery. According to court papers [PDF] Wendell B. Walters, the 49-year-old assistant commissioner for new construction of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, collected approximately $600,000 in bribes and kickbacks on about $22 million in moderately priced housing projects he oversaw in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn between 2002 and 2011.
"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," Loretta Lynch, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said this morning. The Housing Preservation and Development department proudly calls itself "the largest municipal developer of affordable housing in the nation."
The arrests, which came from an investigation by the FBI, the city's Department of Investigation and U.S. Department of Labor, are just the latest blow to Bloomberg's third term which is already dealing with the ongoing disaster that is CityTime (and similar cases), ticket-fixing cops and other embarrassments. Making it worse is that Walters was in charge of Bloomberg's much-touted New Housing Marketplace Plan, the former boss of which was tapped by President Obama to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
According to prosecutors Walters took bribes in exchange for contracts worth millions in taxpayer dollars. In one example given, Walters met an unnamed businessman on various occasions at a golf range in the Bronx where Walters would slip the man his demands (often $25,000) on slips of paper. The money would then be delivered in places like golf ball boxes, overnight mail envelopes and coffee cups. That businessman, one of two who helped the investigation by recording conversations, was over time awarded more than $10 million in city contracts.
Walters and the other defendants (developer/lawyers Lee Hymowitz, 60, and Michael Freeman, 64, and developers Sergio Benitez, 51, Robert Morales, 52, and Angel Villalona, 52) are expected to be arraigned in US District Court in Brooklyn.