U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Damian Williams in 2023.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Damian Williams in 2023. Credit: Ed Quinn

A Baldwin woman swept up in a wide-ranging federal probe into corruption in New York City’s public housing agency pleaded guilty Monday to receiving thousands of dollars in bribes from a contractor while she was the superintendent of three Brooklyn apartment complexes, federal prosecutors said.

Gwendolyn Bell, 38, who helped run Fiorentino Plaza, the Breukelen Houses and the Marlboro projects, admitted taking about $32,000 in kickbacks between 2019 and 2023 for awarding no-bid contracts to a repair company in the housing units.

She was one of 70 New York City Housing Authority supervisors, including six from Long Island, charged in February by federal authorities as part of a corruption investigation regarding no-bid contracts under $10,000.

“After a long and productive career at NYCHA, Ms. Bell made some bad decisions during a difficult time in her life,” her lawyer, Jeffrey Chabrowe, said. “She has taken full responsibility for her actions and now is moving on with her life in a positive direction.”

NYCHA is the largest public housing agency in the United States and receives more than $1.5 billion in federal funding. It provides housing to 1 in 17 city residents.

The city housing authority has a long history of repair issues and residents have often complained about the lengthy time it takes the city to fix things.

To streamline the repair process, contractors with the authority do not have to submit bids for “micro-purchases” — repair work costing under $5,000, until mid-2019, and then $10,000 after that. To win the job, companies must only get the approval of supervisors and assistant supervisors of the specific housing complex in need of repairs.

Bell received as much as $2,000 or as little as $300 in payoffs for the contracts she doled out, authorities said. As part of her plea, she agreed to pay the government $32,000 and could still owe other fines at sentencing. She's looking at a punishment of up to 2 years in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 3 and the possibility of deportation because she is not a citizen of the United States, according to her plea agreement.  

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said the kickback scheme was pervasive throughout the five boroughs in which $2 million in corrupt payments exchanged hands.

A handful of the 70 public housing managers busted in the investigation have pleaded guilty, but Bell is the first from Long Island.

Charles Starks, 57, and Nymiah Branch, 44, both of Elmont; Evelyn Ortiz, 55, of Freeport; James Baez, 58, of Valley Stream; and Juan Mercado, 49, of West Babylon, were also charged with extortion and soliciting bribes, according to a federal complaint in February.

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