NYCHA lied about doing lead paint inspections, shocking report claims

New York Post, November 14, 2017

NEW YORK, NY – The head of the city Housing Authority potentially put thousands of kids at risk of lead poisoning by blowing off mandatory apartment inspections — and then lied about it to the feds, a damning Department of Investigation report revealed Tuesday.

In an unprecedented move, DOI also called for hiring an outside monitor to ensure NYCHA follows lead-paint laws and other safety regulations.

The investigators accused NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye of submitting annual paperwork to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that falsely claimed lead checks had been performed in 55,000 potentially dangerous apartments.

Olatoye, appointed by Mayor de Blasio in 2014, allegedly signed one of the documents — known as Form 50077 — despite admittedly knowing it was untrue.

“During a DOI interview, Chair Olatoye stated that in October 2016 when this certification was submitted, she was aware that NYCHA was not in compliance with the HUD regulations, which she considered ‘obviously a management failure,’ and thus that the certification was not accurate,​” the report says.

NYCHA has offered “no reasonable explanation why this was acceptable,” the report noted.

“DOI’s investigation found that NYCHA failed to do critical lead safety inspections and then falsely certified that they were meeting these legal requirements,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said.

Children under 6 — who are most vulnerable to lead poisoning — live in roughly 4,200 of the 55,000 apartments that are supposed to be inspected for hazards each year, according to the DOI report.

NYCHA stopped the inspections in 2013, but maintains that it inspected the 4,200 last year even though it failed to inspect the remaining 50,000-plus units.

NYCHA on Tuesday wouldn’t say where any of the 55,000 apartments were located, beyond noting that they’re in 91 of 326 housing projects scattered “across all five boroughs.”

Despite DOI flat-out accusing Olatoye of misleading the feds, a vacationing de Blasio insisted his public housing chief did nothing wrong.

“[The mayor]continues to have full confidence in Chair Olatoye and her work turning around NYCHA. We do not believe there is any evidence that anyone intentionally made any misstatements to HUD,” spokeswoman Melissa Grace said.

Under federal law, a knowing and willful false statement to the government is a felony that carries up to five years prison.

Fordham University law professor Jim Cohen called Olatoye’s conduct “clearly a false statement within the meaning of the statute,” and put the odds at “better than 50-50” she’d face charges.

“This is sort of ready-made,” Cohen said of a potential case.

Former federal prosecutor Peter Katz, who worked in both Brooklyn’s Eastern District and the Justice Dept. in Washington, D.C., said Olatoye “made almost a full confession,” and he raised the specter of conspiracy charges involving other top NYCHA officials.

Katz also called the situation “reminiscent” of a 2002 case he prosecuted, in which nearly all of the city’s plumbing inspectors were busted for falsifying inspections, also following a DOI probe.

A DOI spokeswoman said the report was sent to the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office “for any action they deem appropriate.”

Manhattan federal prosecutors have been investigating elevated lead levels in the blood of NYCHA residents since at least November 2015, according to a 2016 New York Times report.

“NYCHA has acknowledged not only gaps in lead compliance and other issues — but gaps in communications between senior NYCHA officials and NYCHA’s top leadership, which resulted in incorrect certifications to HUD,” authority spokeswoman Jean Weinberg said.

“As the DOI report noted, NYCHA did disclose to HUD the deficiencies it had identified and took immediate steps to develop a plan to address the issues.

Olatoye didn’t return requests for comment, but NYCHA lawyer and former top Manhattan federal prosecutor Boyd Johnson said: “Any suggestion that Shola Olatoye faces any criminal or civil liability in connection with this matter is utterly false and erroneous.”

—Yoav Gonen and Bruce Golding