NEW YORK CITY-While news of the latest Department of Buildings scandal was embarrassing the city, the New York-New Jersey office of the Federal government’s Housing and Urban Development came through for Harlem tenants, preventing a notorious property owner from buying another building. The mayor released a public statement announcing the establishment of a task force to conduct a full and thorough investigation of the DOB. At the same time, the residents of Harlem were celebrating their good news and the city was able to herald the actions of one of its government agencies.

The good news is that for the first time in HUD’s history the agency authorized a letter to be written to a property owner who has apparently earned the title “slumlord” and told him he is disqualified from buying a building after having placed the highest bid for it. Baruch Singer was told in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t have 437 Manhattan Ave. in Harlem for the $2.6 million he bid for it or any other figure. HUD, urged by councilman William Perkins of Harlem, did a complete review of Singer’s business practice history.

This unprecedented research of a bidders history of conduct found that Singer had endangered the safety of his tenants and had, in many cases, acted illegally and unethically. Singer did not reply to HUD’s efforts to obtain a rebuttal from him regarding findings, including the death of three tenants in a collapse of a building he owned on West 140th Street five years ago. As news spread of the decision, so did the relief through Harlem.

The bad news is that once again the integrity of the DOB has come into question with the indictment and arrest of five of its employees and three others in bribery scams. The defendants are charged with counts of forgery, accepting gratuities and bribes and offering bribes themselves in some cases. The full story was reported on last week, but now in response to the charges, Mayor Giuliani has officially appointed Bart M. Schwartz as chair of the new task force.

Schwartz is president and CEO of New York-based DSFX International, LLC, an investigative consulting firm. Department of Investigations commissioner Edward J. Kuriansky, commissioner Thomas Von Essen of the Fire Department, acting DOB commissioner Satish Babbar, operations director Michael T. Carpinello, corporation counsel Michael D. Hess and Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications commissioner Allan Dobrin will make up the task force team under Schwartz’s leadership. They are charged with reviewing what the city is calling “serious and systemic corruption problems at the DOB.”

The DOB had on June 2 of this year released an announcement entitled, “A Simple ‘Thank You’ Will Do” reminding employees and the public that DOB staffers are “strictly prohibited” from accepting gifts or gratuities “from anyone doing business with the agency or the government of New York City.” The release warns, “Offering a bribe in exchange for any favor or action to be taken by a DOB employee is a crime for which you will be prosecuted.” This proceeded the announcement of the indictments and arrests by several months, but was made during the course of the ongoing investigation that led to them.

“Given the decades-long history of corruption at the [DOB], …it is clear that the [DOB] must be overhauled,” Giuliani says in a release. “Serious consideration must be given to dramatically revamping the agency, even possibly shifting certain key functions to a separate new agency or other city agencies.”

Perhaps within the bad news there is, like the HUD story, a glimmer of hope, however. This latest scandal has brought new and aggressive attention to an apparently historically corrupt city agency, risking the safety of the tenants of every building agency employees approved without proper inspections or reviews in exchange for gifts and money. Now, with a complete overhaul, perhaps the purpose of the DOB will be restored.

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