MISS LEAD

Pub­lic hous­ing chief ‘lied’ about toxic paint in­spec­tions

New York Post - - FRONT PAGE - By YOAV GO­NEN and BRUCE GOLDING

NYCHA chief Shola Ola­toye (here with the mayor) lied to fed­eral of­fi­cials, telling them thou­sands of apart­ments for the poor had been in­spected for lead paint when they weren’t. She could face crim­i­nal charges.

The head of the city Hous­ing Au­thor­ity put thou­sands of kids at po­ten­tial 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, the DOI also called for an out­side mon­i­tor to en­sure NYCHA fol­lows lead-paint laws and other safety reg­u­la­tions.

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 it in­spected the 4,200 apart­ments last year even though it failed to in­spect the re­main­ing 50,000plus units.

NYCHA on Tues­day wouldn’t say where any of the 55,000 unin­spected apart­ments were lo­cated be­yond not­ing 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 in 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’ll face charges.

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

For­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor Peter Katz said Ola­toye “made al­most a full confession,” and he raised the specter of con­spir­acy charges in­volv­ing other 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.”

RISK­ING KIDS’ LIVES: NYCHA Chair­woman Shola Ola­toye, here with Mayor de Bla­sio, could face crim­i­nal charges for mak­ing false state­ments.

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