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The taxpayer-subsidized 11-story Creston Apartments in The Bronx is among the latest entries in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature push to build or preserve 300,000 affordable apartments.
For a contractor federal prosecutors say is a front for the mob, it was just another job.
CWC Contracting Co. counts Creston Apartments as one of a dozen big projects featured on its website, listing it as a “newly constructed building in the Mount Hope neighborhood.” According to Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donohue, CWC is controlled by the Gambino crime family.
An indictment unsealed Dec. 5 names alleged Gambino capo Andrew Campos as “the principal” of CWC — and charges that an accused mob soldier, Vincent Fiore, has an ownership interest and is a CWC “project manager.” The indictment also describes alleged soldier Richard Martino as having an “ownership interest” in the Mount Vernon-based company.
Construction Racket Alleged
In court papers, prosecutors say the accused gangsters paid CWC employees some if not all of their wages in cash to avoid getting hit for payroll taxes, and bribed their way on to several New York construction sites, then siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars through inflated billing.
Campos’ attorney, Henry Mazurek, declined comment. Fiore’s attorney, Lawrence DiGiansante, did not return calls. Martino’s attorney, Maurice Sercarz, stated, “As alleged in the indictment, Mr. Martino’s connection to CWC is tenuous at best.”
As THE CITY reported in early December, one of the sites CWC worked on was an ultra-luxury condo and hotel now under construction alongside the High Line in Chelsea, where a half-penthouse is on the market for $25 million. The indictment does not specify whether the alleged illegal activity occurred at the Creston Avenue site.
The Creston apartments are on the other end of the financial spectrum from the High Line tower. The project created 114 units set aside for low- and moderate-income tenants and was built by developer Schur Management with general contractor MacQuesten Companies. CWC was brought in as a carpentry subcontractor.
When the development was announced by the developer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. in August 2015, Schur Management promised the building would include a “study center for children to do homework with desks and computers,” and a “large outdoor landscaped recreation area.”
The building was supposed to open in summer 2017 but fell way behind schedule. It finally opened to tenants last March.
Resident Jessica Liriano recently pointed to an empty room next to a “Study Room” sign, then walked a few feet to point to a vacant brick patio. That, she said, was the “landscaped recreation area” promised when she signed her lease for a two-bedroom at $1,500 a month.
“I love the building, but I just feel it’s false pretenses,” she said. “They’re going to make you think you’re in a nice luxury place, but once you make the commitment to rent, you’re stuck here. They disregard our voices because they’re not going to do anything about it.”
And last summer and into the fall, the building’s two elevators repeatedly broke down, sometimes for days at a time. Records show four times tenants filed complaints to the city Buildings Department, including this one on Sept. 15: “2 elevators are always going out of service and there’s 11 floors in the building including elders with wheelchairs and walkers.”
The Mayor’s Mission
Creston is among dozens of subsidized developments that de Blasio cites in touting his program to combat the dwindling supply of affordable living space in a city that’s experienced a growing disparity between the rich and the poor and a diminishing middle class.
It counts toward his pledge to build or preserve 300,000 affordable units by 2026 — five years after his second and final term expires. To date, the mayor says the city has built or preserved 135,000 units since he arrived at City Hall six years ago.
As with all the projects in de Blasio’s affordable housing program, Creston was financed with significant taxpayer help.
Developer Schur Management applied for financing for the $44.2 million project under the Extremely Low and Low-Income Affordability (ELLA) program. The firm got $16.3 million in direct city subsidy, with most of the rest backed by tax credits and tax-exempt bonds.
In a news release, the firm’s president, Billy Schur, noted the project was part of the city’s affordable housing campaign, adding that he decided to build on a vacant lot he owned “after seeing the many new affordable buildings projects that have been developed in the borough as well as the strong commitment of (Bronx) Borough President Diaz Jr. and Mayor de Blasio.”
Beset With Issues
From the start, records show Creston was plagued with problems, beginning with issues regarding the underpinning of the building’s foundation. Construction ultimately fell months behind schedule, and the building didn’t begin renting up until March — a year and a half past due.
During the delay, city records show inspectors issued 41 code violations, including several for dangerous conditions that resulted in four injured workers. As of last week, all but one have been resolved.
Inspectors charged that laborers on upper floors were working without safety harnesses, that openings in top floors had no fall protection and that scaffolding did not meet safety code requirements.
A wire snapped and hit a worker in the head, records show. A worker removing a hoist fell eight feet on to his back and had to be hospitalized, buildings department records state.
The records do not spell out who these workers worked for, but prosecutors allege that CWC employees bribed an OSHA-certified job safety instructor to falsely report to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that several CWC employees had taken and passed job site safety training tests when they hadn’t.
The prosecutors do not spell out which projects these employeesworkers worked on and what DOL was doing to find out how many CWC employees had the bogus safety certifications. Last week a DOL spokesperson said the agency “can neither confirm nor deny an investigation.”
The building’s general contractor, MacQuesten, was cited repeatedly for multiple violations — sometimes for the same problem that wasn’t fixed after the first citation, records show.
Ultimately, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development put the company on “heightened monitoring” due to its nonresponsiveness to address multiple problems at the site — including “incomplete fall protection, incomplete scaffolding, non-operational hoists, and systems not being built as per plans,” HPD officials said in an email to THE CITY.
The developer, Schur Management, and the general contractor, MacQuesten, did not return several calls seeking comment. Calls to CWC went unanswered.
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