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Brooklyn Slumlord Gets Up to 6 Years in Prison in $450K Bribery Probe: DA

 Herman Epstein, 37, who made the Public Advocate's worst landlord list in 2015 and had amassed $512,550 in civil penalties, was sentenced for bribery.
Herman Epstein, 37, who made the Public Advocate's worst landlord list in 2015 and had amassed $512,550 in civil penalties, was sentenced for bribery.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

MANHATTAN — A  Brooklyn landlord and "serial briber," who once threatened to blackmail a tenant with a phony incest claim if she didn't move out of his building, was sentenced to up to six years in prison Monday morning, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office and court records.

Herman Epstein, 37, who made the Public Advocate's worst landlord list in 2015 and had amassed $512,550 in civil penalties, was one of 34 property managers accused of paying nearly a half million in bribes to a dozen Department of Buildings employees and five Housing Preservation and Development inspectors to erase building code violations for 100 properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, according to officials.

“Herman Epstein is a serial briber who has shown time and again that nothing—including criminal convictions—will stop him from cutting corners to make a profit,” Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance said in a statement.

“In this case and previous ones, he did not hesitate to pay for favors, ignore safety regulations, flout the law with seeming impunity, and even use aliases in an attempt to disguise his dishonest conduct."

The DA added that the city's real estate boom can lead to a climate of corruption. 

"The construction industry in New York City is experiencing a historic boom, with construction spending projected to top $42 billion this year. This unprecedented demand comes with enormous economic incentives to build quickly, which unfortunately, can invite corruption," Vance said. 

"‘Pay-to-play’ culture within government agencies not only compromises the integrity of these important institutions, but endangers our entire city by allowing potentially unsafe buildings to secure rubber-stamp inspections.”

The probe started in 2013 when the DA’s office and the city’s Department of Investigation looked into a $600 bribe paid by Epstein to a DOB inspector after he had already been charged with bribing another HPD investigator, according to prosecutors.   

In another instance, Epstein left money in a brown paper bag in a Chinese restaurant and called DOB inspector Russell McCory, telling him about the money and asking that he clear violations at about 10 buildings. 

Epstein had also tried to illegally evict tenants in 2008 from a building he owned at 848 Hart St. in Bushwick, prosecutors said.

"Move out or I will start a rumor that you slept with your daughter,"  he threatened one tenant in recorded call, according to court papers. "I will report you to the credit bureau and tell your job. I am gonna screw you." 

The 2-year inquiry — which used wiretaps, inspection of financial and phone records and physical surveillance — eventually uncovered widespread corruption, including multiple DOB employees who were bribed with about $200,000 in mortgage payments, a Nissan Rogue SUV and Royal Caribbean Cruise, according to prosecutors.

In one case, Brooklyn property manager Robert Cadoch gave $6,000 in bribes to have 96 violations, including a rotted door frame, lack of electricity in hallway light fixtures and blocked fire escapes, removed from three Bed-Stuy properties, according to prosecutors. 

A New York State Supreme Court jury found Epstein guilty of one count of bribery on Feb. 7.

He was sentenced to three to six years in prison.

More than 40 people have pleaded guilty in the probe and six former inspectors have been convicted. 

Epstein’s lawyer did not return an immediate request for comment.