NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Dozens of Brooklyn landlords and National Grid employees have been accused of illegally installing gas meters to put money in their own pockets.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman had exclusive access as many of the suspects turned themselves in on Thursday morning. Many of the suspects didn’t have criminal records, but some now face years in state prison.
The 37 people were accused of working hand in hand to bypass city regulations and make a quick buck, many now face charges of bribery, falsifying records, and the highest felony charge — enterprise corruption.
“We allege between January and June of 2016, these defendants operated criminal enterprise and accepted cash for illegal installation of gas meters at thirty-three residential buildings in Brooklyn and some in Queens,” acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said.
The Brooklyn DA said the scheme was spearheaded by former National Grid employee Weldon Findlay, who organized unauthorized meter installations and provided gas service to landlords eager to rent rooms more quickly. His prices went up to $2,500 cash.
Prosecutors said you can hear Findlay conspiring with one landlord in a wiretapped audio recording from the Department of Investigations.
“What you’re doing is getting a meter, you’re getting a box, you’re getting an account,” Findlay is heard saying.
“I don’t have gas authorization,” a landlord replies.
“You don’t need it, you do not need it, you do not need gas authorization,” Findlay said.
To install gas meters the right way, a licensed master plumber has to file a work permit with the city and submit plans. Then the city has to approve the work and test it to give gas authorization for the site.
Finally, a National Grid employee will install utility meters. That process can take months, but this scam cut it down to a matter of days.
“Pipes were never tested by a licensed master plumber, or DOB inspector,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said.
The DA’s office said a booming Brooklyn real estate market puts pressure on landlords to rent rooms quickly.
They ensure there is no risk to public safety, after city inspections but said National Grid should have caught the scam sooner.
“National Grid did not have sufficient internal controls in place to prevent this and if you’re running a large utility with something as dangerous as gas you really ought to have sufficient internal controls in place to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Peters said.
National Grid told CBS2 they would, ‘take the steps necessary to enhance our existing controls…’ and, ‘…implement any additional controls and recommendations to prevent a similar situation.’
Findlay’s bail has been set at $25,000, his lawyer called the amount ‘excessive.’ He and the other accused are due back in court in March.