More than three dozen people have been indicted in an alleged scheme to install gas meters in Brooklyn buildings without proper permits.
A total of 37 individuals, including seven employees of utility National Grid and landlords who allegedly handed out bribes, were arraigned throughout the day Thursday on charges ranging from first-degree falsfying business records to second-degree commercial bribing.
They surrendered to investigators in the morning. The arrests follow an investigation by the city's Department of Investigation and the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.
Brooklyn's Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez identified Weldon "Al" Findlay, 47, as the mastermind behind the enterprise. Findlay, a National Grid employee until 2010, was charged with enterprise corruption, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
The Brooklyn resident allegedly directed the enterprise's criminal activities from Jan. 12, 2016 to Jun. 30, 2016. His attorney couldn't immediately be reached for comment on his arrest.
According to court documents, the criminal enterprise involved illegally installing gas meters in exchange for cash at 33 residential properties across Brooklyn, including in Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Midwood and Borough Park, and homes in Queens.
According to the investigation, when a landlord with a new or renovated apartment wanted to avoid either the expense of the required tests, or possible delays associated with compliance, the landlord contacted Findlay, who would arrange for illegal service. Landlords could be confident that National Grid employees setting up the account and providing gas service would violate or ignore any rules or regulations that would prevent or delay the supply of gas, the indictment alleges.
When an owner or property manager wanted a meter, he or she would text Findlay the request and send an address, prosecutors say. Findlay would then text back a price, generally around $1,500 per meter, and, if the owner agreed, Findlay would set the criminal enterprise in motion, officials say.
"These defendants showed contempt for rule and regulations specifically put into placce to protect public safety, an dthey did this with callous disregard on a regular basis," Gonzalez said. "We will continue to protect Brooklyn residents by pursuing criminal prosecutions of landlords and other who put profits ahead of safeguards."
The Department of Buildings and National Grid inspected every property identified in connection with the investigation and ensured that there is no risk to public safety, according to the district attorney's office.
National Grid said in a statement it has zero tolerance for unethical and illegal behavior.
"The alleged misconduct, although limited to a handful of former employees, contradicts the dedication and professional values of our 15,000 hardworking men and women who are committed to serving our customers," the utility said.
National Grid said it has cooperated fully with investigators, conducted safety inspections and taken corrective measures where needed.
"National Grid is also conducting a thorough internal investigation and will be working hand-in-hand with its regulator, the NYS Public Service Commission, to take the steps necessary to enhance our existing controls and to implement any additional controls and recommendations required to prevent a similar situation from recurring in the future," the statement said.