Friday, March 16, 2007

Five face charges in building safety probe

City workers, 2 others accused of bribery
March 16, 2007
Three workers for the City of Chicago and two other men were charged this week as part of a growing probe of shakedowns in two departments that oversee building safety.
The federal charges are a result of an unprecedented joint investigation by the city inspector general's office, federal prosecutors and U.S. postal inspectors.
The five are accused of receiving or paying thousands of dollars in bribes to skirt permit and zoning approval. Failing to get such approval can bring fines of up to $1,000 a day, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said Thursday.
'Allegations at this point'Kurt Berger, an $85,308-a-year project manager in the Department of Buildings, is accused of taking a $1,000 bribe for dismissing a code violation complaint. The bribe was passed from two contractors through a city worker cooperating with the feds. The worker, central in the broader probe, is expected to be charged later.
Electrical inspector Darryl Williams, 46, of Chicago is accused of looking the other way while a contractor added residential units to an extensive remodeling project without building permits. Williams got a pair of $8,000 cash payments stuffed into Wendy's bags, according to the charges. Williams makes $77,000 a year.
Miguel Diaz, a building inspector, allegedly took $1,000 to arrange for a phony letter of intent for a licensed plumbing contractor. Theletter is needed as part of the permit application process. Diaz, 40, of Chicago, makes $67,644 a year.
Sorin Adrian Oros, 32, a self-employed contractor in Glenview, was charged with paying a $12,000 bribe to a city inspector. Oros was trying to speed up zoning approval for a residential project, the feds said.
Steven Wallace, 28, a Chicago contractor, was charged with conspiracy for allegedly creating fake letters of intent to help projects in exchange for cash bribes.
Berger, Diaz and Oros appeared in court Thursday and were released. Williams appeared Tuesday, and Wallace has not yet been arrested.
"These are allegations at this point. Our concern is getting him back to his wife and three kids," Berger's lawyer, Keri Ambrosio, said. The other men or their lawyers would not comment.
On Tuesday, the inspector general and postal inspectors raided City Hall offices of the Department of Construction and Permits and left with computers and scores of documents.
Daley plays it down"The building safety rules in the city of Chicago must not be for sale," city Inspector General David Hoffman said.
The arrests mark the latest in a series of scandals for the two city departments charged with guaranteeing building safety in Chicago.
But Mayor Daley tried his best to play it down as a "minor thing." He said it wasn't as bad as Conrad Black, former CEO of the company that operates the Chicago Sun-Times on trial for allegedly stealing about $84 million from Hollinger International.
"These are ... people [who are accused of] misconduct, and you have Conrad Black," the mayor said. "This is a minor [thing]."
Shapiro had a different take: "We view these crimes as extremely serious."

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