Eric Ulrich, the advisor and top commissioner to Mayor Eric Adams charged with pocketing $150,000 in bribes in part to settle his gambling debts, did not complete his required background forms until late September 2022 — nine months after he began working for the mayor.
As a result, Ulrich’s background check was still underway on Nov. 2, the day he resigned as commissioner of the Department of Buildings after word surfaced that he’d been questioned by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in a corruption investigation.
At the time Ulrich stepped down, the city Department of Investigation (DOI) was still wrapping up Ulrich’s background check — a standard review investigators perform for all high-level City Hall officials.
According to DOI, Ulrich had failed to turn over all the required forms and waivers until Sept. 27, 2022 — a full nine months after Adams first appointed him as a senior advisor and four months after the mayor named him as building commissioner in May 2022.
On Wednesday Bragg and DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber announced the Ulrich indictments. On Thursday a DOI spokesperson, Diane Struzzi, revealed the delay in Ulrich’s filings Thursday after THE CITY inquired.
“DOI’s background investigation is conducted on certain City employees depending on their salary and position, to identify potential conflicts of interest or derogatory information,” she said. “Mr. Ulrich became a Senior Adviser to the Mayor in January 2022, and Buildings Commissioner in May 2022, but he did not complete the background forms and waivers required for DOI to conduct a full background investigation until September 27, 2022. For that reason, his background check was not completed and was still in process on November 3, 2022 when he resigned.”
Ulrich and five codefendants face a long list of charges detailed in five separate indictments. Prosecutors say the co-owners of a Queens pizza restaurant, a tow-truck company owner, and a building-permit consultant showered Ulrich with gifts and cash to win favorable treatment from City Hall.
Much of the cash went to pay off Ulrich’s gambling debts, the DA said. Both as senior advisor to the mayor then as head of the buildings department, Ulrich was captured in secretly recorded conversations asking again and again for cash — often in the same conversation he was having about doing his potential benefactor favors, prosecutors alleged.
Some of Ulrich’s wagering took place at an illegal gambling club in Ozone Park called the 89th Street Cafe partially owned by one of Urlich’s co-defendants, Joseph Livreri. He and his brother, Anthony Liveri, co-own a pizza joint called Aldo’s of Ozone Park and as well as Fortunato Bakery in Brooklyn. They sought Ulrich’s help to get rid of health and building code violations at the establishments.
What Ulrich ultimately claimed in the documents he eventually filed with DOI is unknown. But some of the items on DOI’s standard financial questionnaire go to the heart of the pay-to-play transactions outlined in lurid detail in the indictments.
Question 33, for instance, asks the applicant to “List any financial arrangements that may present a potential conflict of interest with your City employment.”
Question 16 asks about “Other Sources Of Income,” instructing the applicant to “List all income you or your spouse or domestic partner has received within the past 12 months from any source not addressed by your previous answers in this questionnaire (including but not limited to inheritances, gambling winnings, alimony, child support, and public assistance).”
The fact that the customary DOI background check required for top city officials was still underway the day Ulrich resigned raises new questions about a statement made by Adams’ press secretary, Fabien Levy, said at the time of Ulrich’s resignation that Ulrich “had gone through a standard background investigation.”
On Friday THE CITY sent Levy questions about how the mayor’s office monitored top appointees’ adherence to timely filing required background information. Levy passed the questions to another spokesperson.
The mayor’s office did not address THE CITY’s specific questions, including why it took Ulrich so long to comply with the required DOI protocols and what effort, if any, the mayor made to make sure his top appointees followed the rules.
Instead, spokesperson Charles Lutvak responded, “The mayor’s office expects all employees to follow all rules and guidelines, and we work with anyone coming on board to ensure they do so. As previously stated, Eric Ulrich completed a standard background investigation at City Hall.”
Prior disclosures by Ulrich when he served in the City Council, representing Ozone Park, Howard Beach and the Rockaways, prompted questions about his troubled finances and dubious associates that played out in the media.
In 2016, the Daily News first flagged Ulrich’s gambling earnings, which he reported on his city Conflicts of Interest Board disclosure form and claimed mostly came from slot machines at the Resorts World casino in his district. ““I guess I’m a lucky guy,” he said.
He proceeded to report he pocketed gambling winnings between $5,000 and $49,999 for four years in a row, claiming he’d won the New York State Lottery over and over. The New York Post noted his incredible winning streak in 2019.
And he listed an outstanding debt of $5,000 to $49,000 from what he describes as Knights of Columbus Life Insurance under a secured loan “taken to consolidate personal debt.”
Also in February 2018, Ulrich wrote a letter to a federal judge on City Council stationery praising his “personal friend” Robert Pisani, an alleged associate in the Bonnano crime family who was facing sentencing after pleading guilty to federal gambling charges.
The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney had charged Pisani with racketeering, illegal sports betting and loan sharking. Ulrich called Pisani a “kind person, devoted family man and selfless individual” and said Pisani had anonymously sent bagels to the hospital where Ulrich’s daughter was recovering from what Ulrich described as a “shopping cart accident.”
“He really is a good guy,” Ulrich wrote.
At the time, the Daily News noted the upbeat tribute to the alleged gangster under the headline “He’s A Jolly Goodfella.”
In September 2018 Brooklyn Federal Judge Dora Irizarry sentenced Pisani to 30 months in federal prison followed by three years probation.
As for the much less detailed financial disclosure forms for the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB) Ulrich did fill out before he entered the Adams administration, prosecutors have charged him in a separate document with lying on those forms about his income and debts.
His attorney, Sam Braverman, did not respond to THE CITY’s calls seeking comment.