Tenant Leslie Rahaman, a single mother with three children living in small, unkempt building in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, heard a bang on her door last October. It was a man yelling disheartening news.
“Everybody’s got to go,” Rahaman, 34, recalled to the New York Daily News. “If you don’t go, the cops are going to be here.”
Many of her neighbors were elderly and startled.
“They were scared,” she said. “I was like, ‘This guy is phony baloney. They can’t do that.’”
Rahaman was right. She and everyone in her building were caught up in a gentrification scheme that has landed the building owner and corrupt building inspectors in jail.
In October, landlord Frank Campasano was allegedly caught on tape complaining to HPD inspector Luis Soto about evicting a tenant in his Suydam St. building.
“I want to get the f—ing guy out, Luis,” he said on the tape.
The building is a four-story tenement infested with rodents and has issues with hot water, lead paint and other code concerns. But the building is in an ideal spot for deep-pocketed whites who want to take over this prime area. Never mind displacing Blacks in the process.
The scheme: Campasano paid inspectors to make fake demands that tenants vacate in three days or be evicted. Once they left, he would flip the four-story tenement that sits in the heart of gentrification territory so younger tenants with big wallets would come in at amazingly high rates.
Prosecutors say Soto and Barry Rice, another inspector, joined in on the horrific scheme. Moving can be an overwhelming experience as it is. To be told you have 72 hours to vacate, with few financial resources, is devastating.
Rice, caught on tape, promised to yell at landlord Campasano about the violations “to make it look good.” He then reported back to Soto about his campaign of terror, court documents state.
“Every apartment I screamed on the motherf—ers, ‘You gotta be out in 72 hours! You not out, the marshal is coming, he’s coming with NYPD, your furniture will be outside and you will be handcuffed and escorted off the premises.’”
Tenant Nicholas Rivera, 62, recalled, “I opened the door and he says, ‘You live here?’ I say yes. He says, `Everybody here in the whole building they have to leave in 72 hours.’ I look at him. I don’t see no ID. I say, ‘Go to hell,’ and close the door.”
There was no actual vacate order, and the Department of Investigation intervened to ensure no one was evicted.
Prosecutors said last summer Rice went to the wrong address after landlord Abraham Mertz mentioned a tenant he wanted “out” of a Jefferson Ave. tenement.
“I talked to the wrong f—ing people then,” Rice said, saying he had “go back.” When he arrived at the correct address, a DOI surveillance team was watching.
Prosecutors say that in three months last year, Soto and supervisor Oliver Ortiz dismissed 778 housing code violations from 24 properties in Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg and Bushwick. Soto received $41,500 in bribes from nine different property owners, and gave a percentage to his boss, Ortiz.
In August, officials suspended Soto and Ortiz and restored many of the violations they’d cleared. Soto realized he was under scrutiny and was soon caught on tape threatening to expose property owners he said still owed him $30,000 in bribes.