Former NYC buildings commissioner accused of trading favors for cash, Mets tickets and more

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s onetime top building-safety official was arrested Wednesday on charges that he accepted cash, baseball tickets, a painting, a discounted luxury apartment and other bribes from at least five associates, repaying them with political favors and access to high-ranking officials, including Mayor Eric Adams.

Former Buildings Commissioner Eric Ulrich and six co-defendants were arraigned on conspiracy charges related to a series of bribery schemes. Each of the defendants pleaded not guilty during a shared arraignment in Manhattan criminal court on Wednesday afternoon.

Besides serving as Adams' buildings chief, Ulrich, 38, was a city councilman and senior adviser to the first-term mayor.

In each of those roles, Ulrich “took advantage of his taxpayer-funded positions to line his own pockets,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said during a press conference. He collected an estimated $150,000 in gifts and cash over a two-year period, much of which he spent on gambling at legal and illegal casinos, according to prosecutors.

Bragg and Adams are Democrats. Ulrich, who raised money for Adams' campaign, is a Republican.

Ulrich resigned from his post as city buildings commissioner last November, six months after his appointment, amid reports that he was being questioned by prosecutors as part of an investigation into illegal gambling and organized crime.

He was named Wednesday in five separate indictments. They allege that Ulrich used his position to dole out favors to his associates and secure them access to top officials, including the mayor.

Shortly after his election, Adams met with Ulrich and two brothers, Anthony and Joseph Livreri, inside a Queens lounge, according to one indictment.

The Livreri brothers are among those now charged with bribing Ulrich. Prosecutors say they and a towing magnate, Michael Mazzio, gave Ulrich cash — which he used partly to fund wagers at public casinos and under-the-table gambling clubs — and premium Mets tickets valued at nearly $10,000.

Ulrich helped the brothers speed up inspections and permits for a pizzeria and bakery, according to prosecutors. They said he also helped Mazzio try to secure exclusive towing contracts with the city and got Mazzio's daughter a city Correction Department job.

When the pizzeria was shut down by the health department, Ulrich made multiple phone calls to top Adams staffers to arrange a reinspection, describing the establishment as “the Mayor’s favorite restaurant,” according to court papers. The following day, Ulrich allegedly requested a $300 cash payment from Joseph Livreri.

The mayor has not been accused of wrongdoing. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Adams, Charles Lutvak, said the mayor "has not received any requests from the Manhattan DA surrounding this matter and has never spoken to Mr. Ulrich about this investigation.”

“We always expect all our employees to adhere to the strictest ethical guidelines," the statement continued.

The investigation also concerned Ulrich’s relationship with a Brooklyn real estate developer, Kevin Caller. Prosecutors said Caller rented a luxury apartment — complete with furniture and a free parking space — to the buildings commissioner at a reduced price in exchange for political favors.

Among them: trying to get a zoning change that suited Caller's plans for a Queens property and prompting an inspection of a low-income apartment building next door, in hopes that it would be ordered vacated, according to prosecutors.

Caller's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said his client rented an apartment to Ulrich at market rate and never requested anything in return.

An attorney for Ulrich, Sam Braverman, said his client unequivocally denied the charges.

“When thousands of phone calls and documents are cherry-picked and cut into small bits, and then viewed with eyes biased towards guilt, anyone can be made to look bad,” he said.

One of the phone calls in question picked up Ulrich, then the buildings commissioner, speaking in code with Paul Grego, a filing representative for the agency who was seeking preferential treatment for his clients, according to prosecutors.

In exchange for those favors, Grego allegedly traded Ulrich a painting by Francisco Poblet, the last surviving apprentice to Salvador Dalí. During a call alerting Ulrich that the artwork was ready, Grego used a coded reference to a painting “that your daughter did,” prosecutors said.

“It’s a picture of, um, Salvador Dalí,” he continued.

Ulrich joined the Adams administration in January 2022, initially as a senior advisor, before taking over the buildings agency — a department that enforces building codes, issues permits and responds to structural emergencies in a city with more than a million buildings.

Previously, Ulrich represented a Queens district in the City Council, first winning his seat in a special election in 2009.