Boston - Gabriel Cortes, a Worcester housing official, was charged and arrested for allegedly having solicited and received two $1,500 bribes from a contractor to secure construction contracts funded through grants issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
According to the complaint affidavit unsealed today, Cortes, 50, of Lowell, worked for the Oak Hill Community Development Corporation (Oak Hill) through May 2011, and then the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corporation (SWNIC). Cortes worked as a construction coordinator and, among other things, solicited bids from contractors for deleading and other rehabilitation projects. The City of Worcester funded various deleading programs and other approved rehabilitation programs administered through these two non-profit corporations with federal funds received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to the affidavit, in the Spring 2011, an individual (“Contractor A”) advised federal agents that Cortes offered to fix the bidding process for lead paint removal, and rehabilitation and revitalization projects, in exchange for cash. In April 2011, Cortes and Contractor A met to discuss a revitalization project at 4 Crown Street in Worcester. It is alleged that during the meeting, which was both audio and video recorded, Cortes boasted of his involvement in the bidding process and ability to control who was awarded contracts for projects funded in part by HUD grants.
In June 2011, Contractor A again met with Cortes at Cortes’ office inside SWNIC at which time Cortes instructed Contractor A to submit bids in certain amounts on three projects. Specifically, Cortes allegedly told Contractor A to bid $27,000 on a project at 63 Camp Street; $19,500 on a project at 20 Colton Street; and, $15,500 on a project at 70 Southgate Street. Cortes allegedly told Contractor A, “the one I want you to do is 20 Colton.” When Contractor A asked Cortes about Contractor A’s chances of getting the Colton job, Cortes replied, “I have to give you something because I didn’t give you the other ones.” According to the affidavit, Contractor A was awarded the work at 20 Colton Street, and Cortes delivered to Contractor A a document entitled, “Notice to Proceed,” authorizing Contractor A to commence CDBG-funded work at that address.
In August 2011, Contractor A and Cortes met once again, and this time Cortes asked whether the FBI asked about Cortes. Contractor A explained that he had received a message to call back an FBI agent. Cortes told Contractor A to deny that he had paid Cortes any money and that “[n]obody has nothing on me, because I have nothing . . . My thing is they don’t know. They’ll never know unless you say anything. They got no proof of anything.”
On Sept. 16, 2011, Cortes asked Contractor A to submit a bid in the amount $21,000 for work at 47 Camp Street. Cortes also directed Contractor A to submit a bid proposal under the name of another contractor for the same work at 47 Camp Street, but to bid the work at $23,500. As directed by Cortes, Contractor A submitted two bids for the work at 47 Camp Street: one on his own behalf and one in the name of another contractor. In exchange for the bid, Contractor A was to pay Cortes $1,500.
Cortes faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for the single federal bribery count charged in the complaint.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer; Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Division; and Cortez Richardson, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel William M. Welch II of the Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hennessy of Ortiz’s Worcester Office.