DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — A ring of nearly 40 landlords and National Grid employees was charged Thursday with installing illegal and potentially dangerous gas meters across Brooklyn.
Former National Grid staffer Weldon "Al" Findlay, 47, worked with current utility workers to open up accounts and install meters for landlords without required inspections in buildings in Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Midwood and Borough Park, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney.
“This is an unprecedented case, in our opinion, showing that the hot real estate market in Brooklyn serves to feed criminal activity,” acting-DA Eric Gonzalez said during a press conference Thursday.
"This corruption within a major company is particularly alarming, given potential lethal consequences."
Findlay, who worked for National Grid until 2010, used current employees led by Phoebe Bogan, 41, to create accounts for landlords and install the meters without proper inspections by Department of Buildings workers or master plumbers, investigators said.
Landlords would first contact Findlay, who would ask for a payment of between $1,300 and $2,500 per meter, the DA said.
Findlay and Bogan would then have other utility employees who were in on the scheme set up the meter and gas lines without regulation, sometimes using "cheap plastic flex piping" like the kind used in the building involved in the East Village explosion in 2015, Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said.
Peters added that his office would recommend safety protocols for the National Grid to guard against future corruption. If not followed, Peters' agency could intervene, he said.
"Now [National Grid is] fully on notice of these problems," Peters said. "They really are aware of what’s happening now."
All the buildings involved have been re-inspected and gas was shut off while violations were addressed, Peters added.
Investigators did not say how many buildings may have been impacted.
DOI investigators first caught wind of the scheme while listening to wire taps during a separate case in Manhattan involving Department of Buildings inspectors, Peters said.
In that probe they heard a landlord speaking with Findlay, who mentioned having an employee at National Grid working with him.
Findlay and Bogan were indicted on felony charges including enterprise corruption in Brooklyn Supreme Court Thursday morning.
Landlords and property managers faced charges including falsifying business records and bribery
Findlay pleaded not guilty and was held on $750,000 bail, according to his lawyer, Stephen Zeitlin, who added that he felt the bond was "out of line" for someone with no prior record.
Bogan also pleaded not guilty and was released on $350,000 bond.
The other defendants were expected to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.
Information on their lawyers was not immediately available.
A National Grid representative said in a statement that the utility has "zero tolerance for unethical and illegal behavior" and is "fully" cooperating with investigators.
"National Grid is also conducting a thorough internal investigation and will be working hand-in-hand with its regulator, the NYS Public Service Commission, to take the steps necessary to enhance our existing controls and to implement any additional controls and recommendations required to prevent a similar situation from recurring in the future,” the statement read.