Charges possible in NYC snow probe

Men try to clear a pile of snow Men try to clear a pile of snow on Third Avenue on the east side of Manhattan on Dec. 28, 2010, one day after a blizzard dropped 20 inches of snow in the area. Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Federal prosecutors and two city district attorneys are looking into allegations that some sanitation workers deliberately slowed down snow removal operations during the post-Christmas blizzard, officials said Tuesday.

The probes were sparked by claims from city Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who said he was told by a number of sanitation workers that they were involved in a work slowdown as payback to the city for staff cutbacks and reassignments.

"The councilman has met with representatives of the [Brooklyn] U.S. attorney's office," said Steven Stites, a spokesman for Halloran.

Stites said at least one senior prosecutor from the office of Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch met with Halloran Tuesday, along with other federal investigators. A spokesman for Lynch declined to comment Tuesday about the investigation.

A number of supervisors from the Department of Transportation have also reached out to the city Department of Investigation with allegations of a slowdown, said Stites. Diane Struzzi, a spokeswoman for the DOI, said the agency was looking for evidence of encouraged participation in a work slowdown.

Both Mayor Bloomberg and sanitation Commissioner John Doherty have expressed doubts about the allegations of a blizzard slowdown and defended the round-the-clock work done by sanitation crews. A spokesman for Bloomberg did not return messages requesting comment and sanitation officials declined to comment.

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Spokesmen for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown confirmed that their offices were involved in what they called preliminary investigations of the snow removal situation.

Hynes' office said one particular episode being probed involved a sanitation crew caught on video hanging out for hours at a Dunkin' Donuts in Brooklyn without moving a plow. Video of that incident was seen on YouTube, said the spokesman, who added that the basis for a criminal charge could be injury or death of a city resident on an unplowed street, if the street was neglected by this crew.

One law enforcement official who didn't want to be identified said that Lynch's staff would be looking at possible fraud charges if overtime records were padded.

In a statement, Brown said his office was also reviewing the information provided by Halloran. "We have been in contact with the city's Department of Investigation," he said. "At this point, however, we have not reached any conclusions about whether a formal investigation is warranted."

With John Riley

@Newsday

and Maria Alvarez

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