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Ex-Buildings Commissioner Indicted on Bribery Charges After Allegedly Trading Favors

Adams appointee Eric Ulrich pocketed $150,000 from associates seeking city actions, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg charged.

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Former Department of Buildings commissioner Eric Ulrich sits in front of a judge in Manhattan Criminal Court during his arraignment on bribery charges.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A former Queens City Council member and top aide to Mayor Eric Adams was charged Wednesday with pocketing $150,000 in bribes in exchange for performing a remarkably wide variety of favors for a host of bribe-paying individuals, including four major fundraisers for Adams.

Eric Ulrich, 38, was arraigned on charges outlined in a quintet of indictments alleging that he regularly and corruptly used his influence as a public official to meddle in the activities of the FDNY, the City Planning Commission, and the departments of Buildings, Health and Mental Hygiene, and Consumer and Worker Protection.

The beneficiaries of his interference included an eclectic group seeking smooth sailing through New York City’s vast bureaucracy: a real estate developer, a tow truck company owner, a consultant hired to expedite building permits and co-owners of a Queens pizza joint.

The bribery scheme outlined in the charges emerged, in part, from a years worth of secret recordings obtained over Ulrich’s phones, a marathon surveillance effort that began Nov. 4, 2021, just two days after Adams was elected mayor.

During that time Ulrich served first as a Queens Council member, then as a senior advisor to Adams, then as Adams’ buildings commissioner. He resigned in November when word leaked out that investigators had seized his cell phones.

In a press conference unveiling the multiple and sprawling schemes that also included charges against six alleged bribers, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg declined to say whether any of the recorded conversations included Ulrich’s chats with the mayor. None of the indictments directly implicated the mayor in any of his advisor’s alleged improprieties.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks about charging former Department of Buildings Commissioner Eric Ulrich with bribery.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Several of Ulrich’s co-defendants, however, raised tens of thousands of dollars for Adams’ mayoral 2021 bid.

In August 2021, after Adams had won the primary but before he became mayor, Joseph and Anthony Livreri and Michael Mazzio hosted a $1,000-a-plate fete at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach that raised more than $140,000.

Prosecutors alleged that Ulrich intervened to speed up re-inspections for the Livreri brothers, when their pizza joint, Aldo’s Ozone Park, was shut down due to multiple health code violations. He also stepped in when their Brooklyn bakery, Fortunato Brothers, was shut down by the buildings department after a fire. In both cases the sites quickly re-opened after Ulrich intervened.

As for Mazzio, an indictment alleges that Ulrich tried to help him win approval for a license for his tow truck company, Mike’s Heavy Duty Towing, that the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection had held up. And as a senior aide to Adams, Ulrich is accused of pulling strings to get Mazzio’s daughter a better-paying job in the city Department of Correction.

Another co-defendant who raised big bucks for Adams is real estate developer Mark Caller. On Aug. 10, 2021, Caller threw a rooftop party at the Brooklyn office of his firm, the Marcal Group, which raised $47,000 for Adams. Prosecutors say Ulrich helped Caller deal with multiple problems he was having with zoning and building department issues.

“As an elected official and a government employee, Eric Ulrich’s duty was to the people of the City of New York, not to his friends, not to his associates, and certainly not to himself,” Bragg said Wednesday. “Whether appointed or elected...when you enter public service you are bound to abide by laws, ethics and regulations that are central to the public trust. Flying in the face of all of that, Eric Ulrich monetized each elected and appointed role that he held in New York government. Rather than serving the public, he used his roles to benefit himself and his friends.”

Anthony Livreri is arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court along with former Department of Buildings commissioner Eric Ulrich on bribery charges.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Bragg noted “strong cooperation” from the city, and late Wednesday an Adams spokesperson, Charles Lutvak, issued a brief statement: “We always expect all our employees to adhere to the strictest ethical guidelines. While we don’t have any details about the indictment other than what has been made public so far, as we have previously stated, we will allow this investigation to run its course and will continue to assist the DA in any way needed. And, while we do not discuss private conversations, to avoid speculation, the mayor has not received any requests from the Manhattan DA surrounding this matter and has never spoken to Mr. Ulrich about this investigation.”

Discount Beach Apartment

Speaking with reporters, Bragg spelled out what Ulrich got in exchange for using his influence as a public official: premium Mets season tickets, a “bespoke suit,” a valuable painting from an associate of Salvador Dali, a discount luxury apartment in the Rockaways and “lots of cash” he used to settle mounting and persistent gambling debts. None of this income was reported on Ulrich’s financial disclosure forms.

One of the more disturbing allegations involved Ulrich’s effort in 2022 to shut down a hotel housing the homeless because it enraged Caller, the real estate developer. Prosecutors say he made this corrupt effort to aid Caller at the same time he was negotiating to obtain a discount apartment across the street from the hotel from Caller.

At one point in March 2022, while he was a senior advisor to Adams, Caller let Ulrich know he wanted to shut down a hotel at 158 Beach 116th Street that was housing homeless adults because it happened to be across the street from and adjacent to two of his upscale rental buildings.

In a WhatsApp exchange captured by prosecutors, Caller wrote to Ulrich, “There has to be a way to put 158 B116th out of business. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

Real estate developer Mark Caller is arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court along with former Department of Buildings commissioner Eric Ulrich on bribery charges.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In response, Ulrich promised Caller to set up a “task force” of inspectors from the FDNY and the buildings department, writing, “They might be able to vacate the f...g thing. It’ll take months to get it reopened.”

Prosecutors described a conversation Ulrich had with a state Assemblymember described as Jane Doe #1. At the time, Stacy Pheffer Amato was the Assembly member representing the Rockaways. 

Ulrich is alleged to have requested that the Assembly member demand an FDNY/DOB inspection of the hotel, and instructed the Assembly member “to make sure FDNY and DOB issue a full vacate order so the occupants can be moved by the New York City Department of Homeless Services into alternative housing.”

Prosecutors say that shortly after several violations were issued at that address, but none involved a vacate order. Pheffer Amato did not respond to THE CITY’s questions Wednesday about this exchange.

While Ulrich was targeting the homeless shelter, he was simultaneously discussing with Caller obtaining an apartment at a discount rate in a building across the street from the hotel, an upscale address at 133 Beach 116th Street, prosecutors say.

Caller then offered Ulrich an apartment for $2,000 a month, the lowest monthly rental in the building, and said Ulrich could apply the rental toward a down payment on the unit at a reduced rate. He also threw in the furniture and offered to void the closing costs.

Ulrich moved into the apartment about a week before he was named buildings commissioner. Just before the appointment was made public, he called Caller to advise that their communications would no longer be direct.

“We have to be smart,” he said. “I have to be a little more careful because I can’t be conflicted. If you have to communicate with me about something directly, about something concerning a property you own, maybe it’s better if it comes from the councilwoman or the elected officials, so that we’re working on it at their requests.”

Much of the alleged corruption circled around the buildings department, both before and after Ulrich became Department of Buildings commissioner in May 2022. One indictment alleges Ulrich did favors for the clients of Paul Grego, a consultant hired by developers to expedite permit approval from DOB.

As a Council member, Ulrich sought DOB’s help for the owner of a restaurant called Cafe Rum who needed a DOB “letter of verification” that had been denied. The owner needed it to obtain a state liquor license. Soon after Ulrich intervened, the letter of verification was granted. Then once he became buildings commissioner, he ordered that a Manhattan DOB inspector who had rejected the application of a Lower East Side restaurant owner who was a Grego client be transferred “back to Queens.”

In exchange, Grego gifted Ulrich with what prosecutors described as a “bespoke suit” and got him a valuable painting entitled “Don Quixote De La Mancha” by Francisco Poblet, the “last surviving apprentice” of the avant garde artist Salvador Dali, according to prosecutors.

Often Ulrich and his co-conspirators would try to use cryptic language to discuss the nature of their transactions, as demonstrated by Grego’s interactions over the Poblet painting.

In one call he asked Ulrich if he was using his “regular phone,” then stated, “I got the things for you, the painting that your daughter did.” Prosecutors described this as “a coded reference to the Poblet Don Quixote painting.

Paul Grego is arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court along with former Department of Buildings commissioner Eric Ulrich on bribery charges.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The multiple indictments of Ulrich are the second time in three months that individuals seeking favors from City Hall who’d raised tens of thousands of dollars for Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign have been charged with criminal activity.

In July Bragg indicted a former cop and friend of Adams, Dwayne Montgomery, and six others in what he described as a “a deliberate scheme to game the system in a blatant attempt to gain power.”

That indictment charged that Montgomery and his co-defendants arranged illegal donations — “pass through” contributions that were reimbursed by others — that combined with public matching funds generated $250,000 in contributions to the mayor’s 2021 run for City Hall.

Included in the evidence presented by Bragg was an email Montgomery sent on July 9, 2021, after Adams won the primary, telling one of his co-defendants that Adams “doesn’t want to do anything if he doesn’t get 25gs.”

In another email written Jan. 1, 2022, the first day of the Adams administration, Montgomery wrote to an associate involved in the fundraising identified as unindicted co conspirator No. 1 with the subject line “[UCC-1] and Dwayne support for Eric Adams.”

An attachment to that email contained a list of actions the two had taken in support of Eric Adams, including in substance, “with matching funds, Raised over 250k from a diverse group of donors for mayor’s race.”

Montgomery has pleaded not guilty in that case. Adams has acknowledged social interactions with Montgomery, but his campaign spokesperson, Evan Thies, has said “there is no indication that the campaign or the mayor is involved in this case or under investigation.”

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