If a bribe is on the menu, city health code inspectors are being told to take a pass.
Beginning this year, and in light of recent arrests of restaurant employees on attempted bribery charges, the city’s Department of Investigations told amNewYork it has stepped up its corruption prevention lectures to health inspectors.
While the city didn’t arrest any restaurant employees for health inspector bribes in 2009, it busted four people in 2010 and one so far in 2011.
Three of the four in 2010 came after the city implemented its new sanitary grading system in July. According to the DOI, a restaurant owner was busted in November for blatantly trying to “buy” an “A” grade.
“The fact that we receive these allegations from health inspectors is a credit to the robust corruption prevention lecture program,” the DOI said in a statement.
City employees are required by mayoral executive order to report any kickback offers.
The DOI declined to say how many bribery cases it handles each year and the number of sting operations it conducts, citing confidentiality reasons.
In the November arrest, the manager of the East Manor Buffet in Elmhurst allegedly tried to give an undercover investigator posing as an inspector a $500 “gift.” This was after the restaurant was found to have insects crawling in the bakery section.
Another manager who answered the phone last week said the previous manager no longer works there.
While there may be sporadic cases of bribery going on, education about how the system works will be key for restaurateurs, said Andrew Rigie, of the New York State Restaurant Association.
“The problem we’ve seen is the health code and the way the health department conducts inspections is very complex,” he added. “In the public’s view, it’s being reduced to a letter grade, when it’s not so simple.”