Affordable housing developer touted Brooklyn connection while bribing HPD official

TRD New York /
Jul.July 15, 2013 09:30 AM

A developer who will be sentenced on corruption charges Wednesday presented himself in a Housing Preservation and Development brochure as “giving back” to his Brooklyn community while simultaneously defrauding the agency, the New York Daily News reported.

Sergio Benitez, a Brooklyn native, had built about 80 two- and three-story affordable homes on properties that the city had sold him for only $1 each, according to Brooklyn Federal Court papers seen by the Daily News. He was featured in a HPD brochure in 2011 saying: “I’m originally from Brooklyn and I see my work as a way of giving back.”

But meanwhile, Benitez was bribing then-HPD assistant commissioner Wendell Walters with cash concealed in golf ball boxes and coffee cups, in exchange for lucrative development contracts, the court papers show.

Benitez also took nearly $230,000 in kickbacks from the contractor hired on one of these projects, the Decatur Cluster development in Bushwick. The contractor then fraudulently inflated the project’s costs to the city, in a bid to recoup some of these bribes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cristina Posa skewered Benitez for his deception. “Giving back” does not involve taking kickbacks and rerouting public funds meant to cover construction costs,” Posa wrote in a sentencing memorandum seen by the Daily News.

Benitez was arrested in 2011, along with more than a dozen HPD officials, developers and lawyers, as part of a federal and city investigation into a widespread bribery scheme, as The Real Deal reported. [NYDN]Hiten Samtani

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