In the midst of ongoing turmoil in city politics, one politician has helped bring a Long Island City business owner to justice for an alleged bribery attempt.
According to the Department of Investigation, Mike Wolfert, owner of a rock climbing facility called The Cliffs, received a Stop Work Order for failing to obtain the correct permit to convert a large warehouse into a 30,000-square-foot climbing arena. An unannounced inspection by the City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) reportedly prompted the order.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said on April 10, he received a “disturbing” and “inappropriate” message from Wolfert allegedly asking for help with the violations. The message allegedly offered to provide assistance promoting Van Bramer’s campaign in return for the favor.
After reading the email several times, Van Bramer believed the only appropriate response was to tell the City Council’s General Counsel, who then notified the Department of Investigation (DOI). The tip led to a four-week undercover investigation of Wolfert.
“I don’t believe there was an option here, I had an obligation to report it,” said Van Bramer. “I’m not a hero. Every elected official, if presented with something like this, should always respond like this.”
According to a criminal complaint issued by the district attorney, on two occasions Wolfert allegedly paid a total of $1,094 to a DOI undercover investigator posing as a DOB inspector offering help getting the Stop Work Order withdrawn.
Wolfert is charged with bribery in the third degree and unlawful continuance. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison for the bribery charge and fines up to $25,000 as well as up to a year in prison for the unlawful continuance.
“We’re grateful that at a time when some people are succumbing to corruption, this was reported to DOI,” said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. “Cutting corners illegally and paying off city employees is not acceptable.”
Michael Lambert, Wolfert’s lawyer, declined to comment at this point in the investigation. Wolfert also declined to comment.
The Cliffs was expected to open this month, but is now looking to open its doors in July.
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