Five Nabbed For Building Fraud

Forgery, bribery and fraud were the foundations upon which two dozen buildings were built in Queens in the last 18 months.
Five men have been arrested for filing fraudulent documents pertaining to the 24 construction projects, 19 of which are in the south or southeast regions of the borough.
The New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) and Department of Buildings (DOB) issued a joint statement Tuesday, July 17, announcing the arrests of engineers Hansa Persaud and Dong Whang, contractors Robert Mardca and Satroghaun Singh, and expediter Moheshwar Chandarpal.
“These cases underscore the seriousness of trying to evade the city’s building code,” said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn and DOB Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster in the statement.
Allegations include filing false documents and “plan stamping,” the act of approving architectural plans without properly reviewing them for “accuracy and adherence to the New York City Building Code,” the statement said. “Such false filings mask deficiencies that could lead to structural defects and result in safety hazards in the future.”
Persaud, 51, owns Hansa Architecture and Engineering Services, PC, at 128-18 Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill.
Chandarpal, 29, owns MLC Developer LLC, at 110-20 160th Street, Jamaica. Mardca, 50, owns a contracting business at 8 Church Street in Great Neck.
Whang, 67, owns and operates High Tech Engineering from his residence in College Point.
All four men are charged with varying counts of falsifying business records in the first and second degrees, as well as offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. Persaud (seven counts), Chandarpal (four counts), Whang (37 counts), and Mardca (one count) all face up to four years in prison if convicted.
Singh, 30, who owns RS Construction and Expediting Services in Richmond Hill, faces 286 counts of second degree forgery, second degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, first degree falsifying of business records and first degree offering of a false instrument for filing. In addition, Singh is charged with one count of fifth degree conspiracy, and faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty.
Of the 19 buildings in south Queens on which fraudulent documents were filed, two are located in Jamaica, one in Queens Village, four in Springfield Gardens, two in South Ozone Park, and one in Howard Beach.
The hardest-hit community, by far, however, is Richmond Hill, in which nine sites were illegally approved, all by Singh.
Wendy Bowne, Vice President of the Richmond Hill Block Association (RHBA), said she is not surprised by the shoddy workmanship in her community.
“We always suspected something was not on the up-and-up,” said Bowne. “We’ve had a major influx of overbuilding. We thought, ‘Who could be approving these permits?’
Bowne said most of the projects involve demolishing one- and two-family homes and replacing them with more expensive houses. In addition to the economic concerns of such projects, said Bowne, “there are dangerous amounts of asbestos released into the air. We’ve had to call the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in on some occasions to stop work on a site because of the asbestos. These are areas where there are schools.”
RHBA held multiple meetings in 2006-07 to discuss the problem, but complaints of residents seemed to “fall on deaf ears,” said Bowne.
“It just seems like contractors really do what they want,” she said. “They’re not the ones who are going to live in the homes they’re building, so they don’t care what happens to those people, as long as they get their money.”
State Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn was present at RHBA’s meetings. Mayersohn’s Chief of Staff, Michael Simanowitz, said Mayersohn is “very concerned” with the problem of overbuilding.
“Whether it’s warranted or not, arrests like these give people hope that maybe [authorities] are starting to catch on,” said Simanowitz. “Something tells me, if they’ve caught five, there are probably a lot more where they came from.”
City Councilmember Joseph Addabbo called the arrests a “good sign of things to come.”
“When a contractor gets arrested for something like this, it suggests there’s a certain structure in place that might actually be working,” said the councilmember.
The “structure” to which Addabbo refers may take the form of dollar signs: the recently-negotiated New York City Budget set aside more money than in previous years toward the enforcement of building laws.
According to Addabbo, additional funding is what makes all the difference.
“We try to address these problems legislatively, but a law is only as powerful as its enforcement,” he said.
Along those lines, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown recently announced the ‘Operation Safe Building and Safe Housing’ initiative, under which DOI conducted its investigation. Described by DOI as a “cooperative effort to ensure the integrity of the building process,” Brown believes the initiative will assist in a more efficient regulation of building codes.
“Those responsible…will be prosecuted and punished,” said Brown. “Cutting corners is not the same as cutting through red tape.”
The initiative has yielded some creative investigative strategies.
For example, in their pursuit of Whang, undercover DOB and DOI investigators, posing as expediters, presented Whang with 37 purposely-flawed sets of building plans. The flaws were such that failure to correct them could potentially result in an unstable and unsafe building. Without conducting any of the proper safety checks, Whang immediately signed off on all documents.
To catch Singh, authorities enlisted the help of an engineer whose signature Singh had forged on 286 documents pertaining to 18 construction projects. The engineer confronted Singh about the forged documents, at which time Singh reportedly offered to pay the engineer $5,000 in compensation. In addition, he offered to buy an original seal from the engineer for $10,000. Their entire conversation was recorded.
“As the city experiences a construction boom, it presents unique challenges,” said Hearn. “[But] the arrests show that the cooperative effort among investigators…can and will address criminal wrongdoing, and at the same time, [ensure] public safety.”
“Whether you’re renovating your home or constructing a new building, Buildings and Department of Investigation inspectors are watching you,” said Lancaster.
But it may be too early to celebrate.
“The story of the unscrupulous contractor is an untold story,” said Addabbo. “While we can rejoice today, we’ll go out tomorrow and there will be more of them.”

More from Around New York