An investigation into corruption within the city Buildings Department has extended to Queens with the arrest of the borough’s former Chief Plan Examiner, who resigned last month.
The city Department of Investigation announced the arrest of James Cheng on charges of accepting cash payments from a Flushing architect in exchange for reviewing buildings plans before they were submitted to the Buildings Department.
Cheng, 55, of Woodmere, was a former Chief Plan Examiner with the DOB until he resigned in November. On Monday, the DOI announced that Cheng has been charged with receiving reward for official misconduct, a felony, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor for allegedly accepting cash payments from Sung Ho Shin, a state registered architect.
Shin, 49, of Syosset, has been charged with giving unlawful gratuities, a misdemeanor. Upon conviction, the felony charge is punishable by up to four years in prison and the misdemeanor charges by up to a year’s incarceration.
“As charged, these defendants betrayed their professional responsibilities and brazenly disregarded the rules,” said Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the DOI. “everyone should know that offering and accepting money in exchange for a city employee giving preferential service is a crime that will end in arrest and prosecution.”
Cheng, who is also a state certified architect, began working at DOB in June 1997 as a Plan Examiner. He resigned in February 2001 to take a similar job with the city School Construction Authority until March 2003, when he returned to DOB as Chief Plan Examiner in the department’s Kew Gardens borough office.
In that post, Cheng was paid an annual salary of $99,149 until he resigned in November. His duties included meeting with the public, including architects and engineers, reviewing project records and building plans for compliance with city building code and assigning them to be reviewed by plan examiners.
According to the criminal complaints, Cheng reviewed zoning analysis for building plans that had not yet been submitted to DOB in exchange for cash payments from Shin over a two-week period in 2008. The investigation revealed that Cheng knew and told Shin that he was not allowed to engage in that type of activity.
The DOB released the following statement from Commissioner Robert LiMandri: "These allegations, if true, are clearly unacceptable and are not condoned in any way. Mr. Cheng resigned from the Department last month, and we are currently reviewing his jobs as a precaution.
"The Department has taken significant steps to increase integrity and transparency, including an online property database detailing inspection results, mandated integrity training for all employees and the use of GPS technology to track on-duty inspectors. Since 2002, tips from our staff have led to more than 70 arrests by the City’s Department of Investigation, exemplifying the honest work of so many employees who are dedicated to serving this City."