Prosecutors told a federal jury Monday that a former Hempstead Village Housing Authority chairman engaged in a scheme to inflate housing bids with contractors to defraud taxpayers out of $800,000.
But the defense attorney for Cornell Bozier, 58, of North Bellmore, said the prosecution’s case relied on the testimony of two felon contractors and that Bozier was getting work done for residents in the Hempstead Housing Authority.
Testimony began Monday in Bozier’s trial on conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and bribery charges in U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip.
He was indicted on three felony counts in 2016 and has pleaded not guilty. Bozier could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
U.S. attorneys said Bozier used his chairmanship of the village housing authority to steer contracts to his two conspirators, James Alimanos and Peter Caras, in a bid-rigging scheme to have the board select inflated contracts for various low-income and elderly housing projects. Prosecutors said the trio would then skim off profits from the contracts and split it among themselves, including giving Bozier kickback bribes.
“The defendant was placed in a position of trust and he used that to lie, cheat, steal from the people he was appointed to serve,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Scotti told the jury. “He thought he would get rich and then get away with it.”
Alimanos and Caras pleaded guilty to honest services fraud and agreed to testify against Bozier in exchange for a chance at a reduced sentence.
Caras testified Monday that he began the bid-rigging scheme in 2011 with Bozier and Alimanos when Bozier first asked for a kickback on construction work.
Caras was hired as the village housing authority’s construction consultant to identify projects at housing authority buildings to submit for bids. He said that he, Bozier and Alimanos would select a project and then inflate the estimate to include their profits and Bozier’s kickback. Alimanos would draft bids from his company and additional bids from shell companies to submit for Bozier to pass through the housing authority board, he said.
Bozier’s Central Islip-based attorney, Glenn Obedin, said the only crimes committed were done by the two convicted contractors and that it wasn’t Bozier’s job to investigate if the bids were improperly submitted.
“There’s no question they committed a crime. They are convicted felons, and the government is asking you to rely on their testimony,” Obedin said in his opening statement. “The bottom line is Cornell’s job was to get jobs done.”