Brooklyn’s overheated housing market appears to have spawned criminals of all types.
Seven defendants, including three National Grid Employees, were indicted today in Brooklyn Supreme Court on charges that they operated a “shadow utility company that illegally installed gas meters in violation of safety protocols,” the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announced.
According to the DA’s office, landlords paid cash in order to circumvent City and National Grid regulations, and have meters installed illegally at 33 residential properties across Brooklyn in the complicated scheme. The installations took place between January 12 and June 30, 2016 in Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Midwood and Borough Park, in addition to parts of Queens.
An additional 30 defendants, including landlords and four other National Grid employees, were also charged today. Indictments and criminal complaints are “accusatory instruments and not proof of a defendant’s guilt,” the DA’s office noted.
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, together with New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters, announced the indictments. “We simply will not allow the lucrative real estate market in Brooklyn to feed criminal activity and potentially endanger lives,” said Gonzalez.
“These defendants showed contempt for rules and regulations specifically put into place to protect public safety. And they did this with callous disregard on a regular basis. We will continue to protect Brooklyn residents by pursuing criminal prosecutions of landlords and others who put profits ahead of safeguards,” Gonzalez continued.
The gas meter operation was allegedly the brainchild of former National Grid employee Weldon “Al” Findlay, 47, of Brooklyn, who conspired with three current employees and was assisted by others. The employees served as customer service representatives and technicians for the utility, the DA’s office said. Findlay worked at National Grid until 2010.
Landlords were allegedly willing to pay $1,300 to $2,500 per meter in order to bypass regulations that require a licensed master plumber or Department of Buildings inspector to check the site of a new meter and conduct appropriate testing to “ensure that gas lines have been properly and safely installed.”
According to the DA’s 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, they contacted Findlay, who would arrange for illegal service.
Landlords who paid off Findlay 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 DA’s office noted.
The City’s Department of Buildings and National Grid said they have inspected every property identified in connection with the investigation, and ensured that there is no risk to public safety.
Findlay and six other defendants have been charged with enterprise corruption, which carries up to 25 years in prison. The other 30 defendants charged in connection with the case include landlords, property managers, and contractors who arranged for, installed, or received illegal gas service.
Defendants were arraigned throughout the day in Brooklyn Supreme Court on various charges of enterprise corruption, first-degree falsifying business records, second-degree criminal tampering and second-degree commercial bribing. Others were arraigned on felony complaints in Brooklyn Criminal Court.
Some of the defendants were property owners or managers who allegedly acted as brokers for Findlay, referring other landlords to him for illegal service. These individuals would charge as much as $2,500 per meter, a part of which they retained before passing the balance to Findlay, the DA’s office said.