A New York City Councilman called the authorities after turning down a cash bribe by businessmen seeking his influence on a liquor store license application, a move that eventually lead to three arrests and bribery charges, the Department of Investigation announced Friday.
In a state where more than 30 officials have been charged in or linked to corruption cases in the last seven years, the announcement was refreshingly notable.
"Clearly, the good news is that there are public officials unwilling to sell their offices," DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said in announcing Friday's arrests, calling it the second time in four months a city councilmember has reported being offered a bribe.
On Friday, Davinder Singh, 37, and Rajinder Singh, 26, were arrested and charged with third degree bribery and giving unlawful gratuities, the DOI said. A third man, Tarsem Singh, was arrested and charges were pending.
All three men were in custody Friday and unavailable for comment. There was no information available on attorneys for them.
The case, authorities said, stemmed from the businessmen's persistent efforts to persuade City Councilman Donovan Richards to influence the State Liquor Authority regarding a liquor store license application Tarsem Singh filed in May. The store, located across the street from a high school, was a contentious issue in the Queens neighborhood and the newly-elected Richards had publically opposed it.
In a meeting to discuss his opposition to the liquor store captured on security camera, Richards is seen refusing cash offered by Davinder Singh and Tarsem Singh, the DOI said. Richards then reported the incident to the DOI which initiated its investigation.
In two subsequent meetings at a Queens diner in June and September, the DOI said, the businessmen paid cash to a DOI investigator posing as Richards' representative. In all, the undercover investigator was paid $1,400 with a promise of $1,100 more after a State Liquor Authority hearing.
"Call the Liquor Authority," Davinder Singh allegedly texted the undercover after the second meeting earlier this month. "We are counting on you."
Richards has been a councilman since February, when he won a special election to succeed now-state Sen. James Sanders. Richards had been Sanders' chief of staff and on Tuesday won a three-way Democratic primary for the seat.
"When I was elected, I promised my constituents that I would carry myself with the utmost integrity and that I would do whatever was needed to protect our quality of life," Richards said Friday. "May these arrests show those who seek to bribe public officials that our communities and children aren't for sale."