NEW YORK - New details have emerged about some of the 70 suspects arrested in a six-state sting Tuesday, in what the federal prosecutor in Manhattan says is the largest bribery bust in Justice Department history.
Of the 70 suspects, some have been in trouble before for misbehavior, including a man who made headlines in 2022 after appearing on a work Zoom call naked with a woman in his bed and an official who falsified her boyfriend's time sheets. Another was declared a homegrown hero who rose to a management job after growing up in public housing himself.
Homeland Security Investigations and the New York City Department of Investigation had been investigating the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for years, according to 476 pages of court documents unsealed Tuesday.
"After growing up in NYCHA, you start to see your neighborhood change, and you see your environment changing, and you just want to be a part of it to help make a change for the better," Nymiah Branch, who grew up in a Brooklyn NYCHA building and rose to an administrator role that placed multiple complexes under his control, says in his public bio.
According to the New York Post, his boss touted him as a "hero" in 2020. Now, he is among dozens of NYCHA officials accused of bribery and extortion.
Alex Tolozano, who faces the same charges, was suspended for 30 days without pay in 2022 after he logged into a video conference call while in bed, naked, with a woman, according to a contemporaneous Post report.
Video of the incident remains live on YouTube and shows co-workers screaming as he appeared on screen.
"Oh, my God, no!" one woman exclaimed in the brief clip.
Investigators say they uncovered systemic corruption plaguing the city's public housing, with about a third of its buildings run by people who are now under indictment for allegedly taking bribes from contractors in exchange for no-bid jobs and extorting those who were reluctant to pay.
In all, they allegedly raked in more than $2 million on $13 million worth of small jobs that were below the $10,000 threshold and did not have to go through a public bidding process.
Elizabeth Tapia, another defendant, is accused of pocketing $11,000 in bribes, according to court documents. In a 2022 filing from the city's Conflicts of Interest Board, she admitted to giving her boyfriend, a subordinate, preferential treatment and was docked two weeks' pay — $5,464.
In 2018, NYCHA touted co-defendant Corey Gilmore for his mentoring proposal. Veronica Hollman, who worked to clean up the city's troubled Pink Houses in 2018, when two children had been stabbed, and a stray bullet killed another resident four years prior, is among the suspects accused of raking in the most bribe money — $80,000.
Dwarka Rupnarain allegedly topped her by taking $83,100. His Facebook profile, which was no longer visible Wednesday morning, allegedly showed exotic cars, trips to Italy and frequent family vacations, according to the Post.
The NYCHA is the country's largest public housing system and takes in more than $1.5 billion in federal funding every year, according to United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams.
"That's classic pay-to-play, and this culture of corruption at NYCHA ends today," Williams said during a news briefing Tuesday.
All the suspects were NYCHA superintendents or assistant superintendents, the people who run city-owned apartment buildings, when prosecutors say they demanded cuts of between $500 to $2,000 or more per job.
Investigators are asking contractors who may have been victimized by similar demands for pay-to-play bribes to contact the DOJ's whistleblower program at USANYS.WBP@usdoj.gov or the city's inspector general.
Most of the suspects have been charged with taking bribes and extortion, which carry 10- and 20-year maximum sentences in federal prison, respectively. Several face more charges.