City Employees in the Crosshairs

The February 1 issue of The New Yorker magazine featured Larissa MacFarquhar’s report of her ride-along adventures with New York’s Department of Investigation, whose mission is to root out fraud and corruption among city employees and the people who deal with them.  A worthy mission, The Free Agent agrees.

First stop: the Hill Tap Tavern in Queens, where a wired investigator successfully collected a hundred dollar bribe to ignore three patrons who were smoking.  “Restaurant inspectors were cheap—“ MacFarquhar writes, “the going rate was anything from twenty bucks to a couple of hundred.”  The “elderly” owner wagered a $100 bribe against penalties ranging from $200 to closure of his business, lost the bet, and was handcuffed and arrested.

Second stop: a lecture to the Department of Environmental Protection workers, necessary, “because the department itself was on probation” as a result of widespread corruption.  (What hijinks might ensue should the entire department ultimately be fired for its miscarriage of duty?)  The lecture consisted entirely of waving sticks in various forms, don’t clock in your buddies, you might get caught, this guy fudged an inspection and lost his job after twenty years, if you see something suspicious, “Whistle-blowing is required by law,” it might be a set-up and if you don’t report it, you could get in trouble, and so on.  (The Free Agent has addressed her employees on numerous occasions and dangles the carrots of pride of performance, good customer service, the overall integrity of the organization’s mission, etc., along with her vague threats of punishment.)

Final stop: investigation of the black market that’s developed to cope with a shortage of food-cart vendor licenses.  The city awards $200 two-year licenses by lottery, which have a street value of $15,000.  It also requires inspections, which has spawned a service industry for sub-standard carts.  This Scooby Gang clocked the operations of one such license mill, also in Queens.

Although MacFarquhar reports some history of successful investigations, the final tally of penalties doled out resulting from the operations she observed: one bar owner arrested, and fines of $1,000 and $500 levied against men operating the cart inspection scam.  City employees investigated: zero.

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