September 30, 2023

Westside People

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24 accused of bribery scheme and $5 million construction bribe

A subcontractor texted Robert Bazlis, an executive in Secaucus, N.J., to help a developer find builders for a project. He told Mr. Basilis that he had quoted the developer as high as $3.3 million for the job.

“We definitely priced it on the higher side,” the subcontractor wrote.

“Enter with $2,975,000,” Mr. Pallessis replied. “You will come down from there.”

The plan, according to Manhattan prosecutors, was for Pallisles to express shock at the high estimate, then pretend to forcefully arm the subcontractor to lower the price to make the developer believe he was working to get a fairer price.

In fact, Mr. Basilis, then an employee of the Rinaldi Group, and two associates were funneling $100 million in subcontracts and change orders to dozens of subcontractors and vendors for commission, according to court papers.

Prosecutors said the trio, who conspired at dinners and over text messages, instructed subcontractors to overcharge developers of high-end hotels and luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan, and then give Mr. Basilis and his associates discounts.

Alvin L. said: Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney, told a news conference that the companies named in the indictment have worked on some of the city’s “most important high-rise projects in recent memory.” The condominiums included Remy in Chelsea, the FiDi Hotel in the Financial District and the Fifth Avenue Hotel in the city centre.

“The damage here far exceeds monetary amounts,” said Mr. Bragg. “When bidding processes are rigged, we all lose.”

Twenty-four executives and contractors who surrendered early Wednesday morning were brought to Manhattan criminal court on dozens of bribery and conspiracy charges that accused them and 26 companies of stealing $5 million from at least seven developers. All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty, according to the court clerk and Suzanne Nicholas, an attorney for two of the defendants.

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The defendants were brought inside the courtroom in handcuffs, many of them chained to each other. One of the accused was in a wheelchair.

“What we see in the indictment is that there appears to be one person who they said did all the wrongdoing,” said Ms. Nichelis. “And it appears that basically everyone else is a victim of extortion.”

Mr. Basils’ attorney, Luis Guilormino, said in a statement that his client “totally denies these allegations and expects to be fully acquitted of all charges against him.”

Members of the press were denied entry to Judge Felicia Menin’s courtroom, which was packed with relatives of the defendants. Court officers prevented reporters from watching the verdict until it was nearly finished. A spokesman later said the size of the crowd violated security protocols.

The Rinaldi Group offers a wide range of services in the construction industry, operating in both the public and private sectors in several states. He does not face charges in the case.

According to a statement from Ted Descant, the company “cooperated fully with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office investigation” and will continue to assist “in any way it can.” The Rinaldi Group does not tolerate unethical or illegal behavior.

According to the company, Mr. Basilis, who according to court documents used the professional name Robert Basilis, was fired in the spring of 2022. He used his position to direct the bribery scheme from April 2013 to July 2021, according to court papers.

At Rinaldi, he oversaw bids for subcontractors and was responsible for providing developers with truthful and accurate information about potential vendors, Mr Bragg said.

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“He did the exact opposite,” Mr. Bragg said.

Mr Basilis will provide the developers with a list of bidders which he described as independent sub-contractors competing in good faith for the business. What the developers didn’t know was that the vendors paid to be on Mr. Basilis’ list, as well as the lists of two of Mr. Basilis’ associates, who also contracted the work.

In total, prosecutors said, Mr. Basilis and his associates took $7 million from the vendors who paid to be on the list. They took $5 million in bribes from subcontractors who overcharged and changed orders, often at inflated prices.

When developers complained to Mr. Basilis in meetings with subcontractors, Mr. Basilis would feign anger and demand that the subcontractors lower the price, “in a false show of loyalty to the developers,” prosecutors said in the statement of facts.

“Commercial bribery schemes like this increase New York City’s construction costs,” said Jocelyn Strauber, commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigations, whose agency worked on the case with the New York Police Department.

The city’s construction industry has long been plagued by corruption, which was largely controlled by organized crime. When the influence of the mob began to wane in the 1980s and 1990s, when violent Trials Their machinations broke down, and private developers and contractors stepped in to fill the void. In 1995, a contractor was arrested on charges that he had denied several large corporations more than $7 million in Detailed bribery scheme On construction sites in Manhattan.

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In the case of Mr. Basilis, 14 of the companies named as defendants — 11 general contractors, two electricians and one plumber — had city professional licenses, two construction and demolition licenses and one city primary contractor, Ms. Straber said. However, there are no fees related to city contracts, she said.

At least two of the defendants have been convicted in the past of organized crime charges, but the indictment does not allege mob involvement in the scheme.

Mr. Bragg declined to say how investigators learned of the arrangement but called it a “complex, long-term investigation” that “spanned several years” and was slowed in part by the pandemic.

Nicholas Gravant Jr., an attorney for one of the firms charged in the indictment, said his clients filed documents in response to a subpoena from the attorney general’s office three years ago.

“After that, we heard nothing — not a word — until several weeks ago, when we were told that a sealed indictment had been returned against them,” he said, though prosecutors did not disclose the charges. “Now that the 85-page indictment has been revealed today, we are relieved that we can finally find out what the charges are and defend them responsibly.”

He said, “I’m just giving you the heads up.”

‘Call a tip.’ answered Mr. Bragg.

After the news conference, Mr. Vater said the union, which had heard repeated complaints from workers about low wages, had been tracking Alba’s services for at least two years.

Charges against Alba’s services have been “coming for a long time,” said Vater.

Tea Kvetenadze Contribute to the preparation of reports.