NYCHA Probes Scores of Workers for Overtime Abuse, Fires 18

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This article was originally published on Jan 26 at 5:00am EST by THE CITY

After years of complaints about NYCHA trade workers making more overtime than all other city employees, the Housing Authority has finally begun firing people they say regularly cheated taxpayers by falsely claiming OT they did not earn.

As of Tuesday, 66 workers — mostly plumbers — and 12 supervisors had been identified in what NYCHA says is an ongoing investigation. So far, 18 of those workers have been terminated, with four more demoted.

The other 44 remain under investigation, and NYCHA declined to say whether the supervisors are also still part of the active probe. 

Last year, the 18 terminated employees and four demoted staffers pocketed more than $1.4 million in overtime, including three who each made more than $100,000 in OT, NYCHA officials said Tuesday.

In a statement, city housing officials vowed to “take appropriate action — both legal and criminal — against any employee who abuses overtime or commits any other type of overtime malfeasance.”

So far, none of those accused of overtime cheating are facing criminal charges; only internal administrative sanctions have been pursued.

But city Department of Investigation spokesperson Diane Struzzi acknowledged to THE CITY earlier this week that her agency had “discussed with NYCHA the need to strengthen their oversight of overtime, particularly as it relates to trades people.”

A report DOI filed with the City Council found that in 2019 NYCHA spent more than $121 million on overtime. The Housing Authority says it needs $40 billion to fully repair its 170,000 aging apartments.

Closer Examination

Questions about NYCHA’s excessive overtime spending have shadowed the agency for years. Frequently the authority’s plumbers and sometimes electricians topped the list of New York City employee overtime earners.

In 2019 THE CITY detailed the saga of a NYCHA plumber who managed to take home $315,158 in 2018 — more than the governor, the mayor and the chair of NYCHA. He did this by pocketing $213,634 in overtime on top of his $93,984 regular salary. It is unclear whether this individual is one of the people named in the NYCHA investigation since names have not been disclosed.

Despite this alarming pattern, NYCHA did nothing to check into whether all those overtime hours were legitimately earned. For years they claimed the spending was needed to quickly address emergency repair requests, particularly when temperatures dropped and heat outages plagued many aging developments.

That dynamic of not looking too closely changed in 2019 after NYCHA signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), settling a lawsuit filed by Manhattan federal prosecutors that revealed years of mismanagement and a longstanding coverup of scandalous conditions facing many of its 400,000 public housing residents.

The HUD agreement resulted in the appointment of a federal monitor and the creation of three new internal units aimed at improving living conditions for tenants. One is called Quality Assurance, and that’s the unit that for the first time took a closer look at the overtime spending spree.

On Tuesday, NYCHA revealed the results of that inquiry. By surveilling some of the suspected OT cheats and poring over payroll records, Quality Assurance “found that these employees consistently swiped out at the end of their overtime window while being underutilized during their regular work hours.”

In effect, they didn’t work enough regular hours to qualify for OT, but put in for it anyway — and got paid without question.

All told, the investigation identified 66 workers who “potentially cheated the Authority by overbilling for overtime they worked.” Of that group, the 18 fired included 16 plumber’s helpers and two carpenters. Another two plumber’s helpers and two carpenters were demoted “pending further discipline,” NYCHA officials said.

Besides the workers, 12 of their supervisors were questioned. So far none have been disciplined.

“This investigation shows the progress NYCHA is making toward transparency and compliance,” NYCHA Chair and CEO Greg Russ said. “This is proof positive that the 2019 HUD agreement is working, and we have the departments in place to ensure best practices at the Authority.”

The revelation of the overtime investigation follows THE CITY’s report in November about Vito Mustaciuolo, who as NYCHA’s general manager became the top earner on New York City’s payroll last fiscal year, paid more than $515,000 in salary and unused vacation time.

Two weeks ago Mustaciuolo stepped down and was replaced by a HUD official, Daniel Sherrod.

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