Sunday, May 26

F.B.I. Searches Homes of Fire Dept. Chiefs in Corruption Investigation

F.B.I. agents early Thursday searched the homes of two senior New York Fire Department chiefs responsible for overseeing safety inspections on building projects, people with knowledge of the matter said.

At the same time, city investigators searched and sealed off the chiefs’ offices at the department’s headquarters in Brooklyn.

The coordinated searches in Staten Island and Harlem were carried out as part of a corruption investigation that was initially focused on whether the chiefs had been paid nearly $100,000 each in a scheme to help expedite or arrange building inspections, several of the people said. The investigation began late last summer and was being conducted by the F.B.I., the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and the New York City Department of Investigation.

There was no indication that the searches were part of a broad federal corruption investigation by the same agencies focused on Mayor Eric Adams and his 2021 campaign fund-raising. While a spokesman for the F.B.I. office in New York confirmed that agents had “carried out law enforcement activities” at the addresses where the chiefs live, he would not comment further. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office and a spokeswoman for the city’s investigations agency declined to comment.

Neither of the chiefs, Brian E. Cordasco and Anthony M. Saccavino, has been accused of wrongdoing.

The Fire Department said in a statement Thursday morning that its commissioner, Laura Kavanagh, had “proactively” placed both chiefs on modified duty.

“The F.D.N.Y.’s first priority is always keeping New Yorkers safe, and we expect every member of the department to act appropriately,” the statement said, adding that Ms. Kavanagh had immediately referred the allegations to the Department of Investigation upon learning of them last year.

A spokesman for Mr. Adams said City Hall learned of the searches Thursday morning from Fire Department officials and suggested that the actions were unrelated to the broader fund-raising investigation.

“There is no indication of any direct connection to anyone at City Hall,” said the spokesman, Charles Lutvak.

At Mr. Cordasco’s home in Staten Island on Thursday morning, a man standing inside the doorway declined to comment and referred questions to his lawyer. The man did not provide the lawyer’s name before closing the door. Mr. Saccavino, who lives in Harlem, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not clear on Thursday whether any lawyers were representing the men.

As of late last year, the investigation into the chiefs was examining, at least in part, whether they had accepted the payments as part of an effort to help expedite or influence fire inspections on building projects, some of the people said.

The payments of $97,000 apiece to the chiefs came from a recently retired firefighter, and at least one was made to a limited liability company registered to Mr. Cordasco’s home address, the people said. In 2023, the Fire Department paid Mr. Saccavino $241,119 and Mr. Cordasco $235,462, according to city payroll records compiled by the watchdog group SeeThroughNY.net.

It was unclear precisely what the payments were for and whether the retired firefighter had made them on behalf of himself or someone else.

The investigation began at the end of the summer, one of the people said, when the retired firefighter, Henry J. Santiago Jr., told another senior Fire Department chief that he had made the payments to the two men. That official told Mr. Santiago, who operates an event management company, that the official was duty bound to report the payments to the Department of Investigation, and he did so.

The inquiry focused on the chiefs unfolded as the apparently separate corruption investigation into Mr. Adams’s fund-raising was also moving forward, several of the people said.

That broader inquiry has focused at least in part on whether the Turkish government conspired with Mr. Adams’s campaign to funnel illegal foreign donations into its coffers. In that investigation, the F.B.I. and prosecutors have examined whether Mr. Adams, weeks before his election in 2021, pressured Fire Department officials to sign off on the Turkish government’s new high-rise consulate in Manhattan despite safety concerns, people with knowledge of the matter have said. Mr. Adams has said he did nothing improper, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

A year ago, Commissioner Kavanagh promoted Mr. Saccavino and Mr. Cordasco to run the Bureau of Fire Prevention. The bureau, which is tasked with overseeing fire safety inspections of new and renovated buildings, was the same unit at the center of the episode involving the Turkish Consulate.

The two men were brought in to replace chiefs who had been demoted by Commissioner Kavanagh and who in turn, in a lawsuit they filed against the commissioner alleging age discrimination, said they had been wrongly blamed for a longstanding backlog in inspections.

Their suit, now pending in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, claims that Ms. Kavanagh retaliated against one of the chiefs, Joseph Jardin, for failing to acquiesce to “corruption in favor of major real estate developers.” Ms. Kavanagh demoted Mr. Jardin by two ranks and replaced him with Mr. Saccavino. She also elevated Mr. Cordasco to serve as Mr. Saccavino’s deputy.

The lawsuit claims that a list of projects created under former Mayor Bill de Blasio in an effort to cut red tape and fast-rack inspections to aide small businesses had instead been used to help “friends” of City Hall under Mr. Adams, who promoted Ms. Kavanagh to commissioner last year.

“These ‘friends’ were prominent and influential real estate developers,” the lawsuit says.

It was unclear whether the payments made to Mr. Saccavino and Mr. Cordasco were connected to a project that was a priority of City Hall.

Mr. Jardin’s lawyer, Jim Walden, has said his client was interviewed by F.B.I. agents last spring about the Turkish Consulate project that Mr. Adams supported as a mayoral candidate in the summer of 2021. He had recently won the Democratic mayoral primary, all but assuring he would prevail in the November general election.

Mr. Adams had contacted the fire commissioner at the time, Daniel Nigro, on behalf of the consulate officials, who wanted the department to sign off on the consulate project in time for a September 2021 visit by the Turkish president.

In their lawsuit, Mr. Jardin and other chiefs have also cited various other disagreements with Ms. Kavanagh and have asked for reinstatement along with damages.

Ms. Kavanagh and the city have argued that she was within her rights to select her own leadership team after becoming commissioner, as her predecessors had done. And she said in an interview with NBC News late last year that the list of priority properties was not new or nefarious.

“That list has always been shared widely with a large number of people and has always been about, you know, city interests — what does the city need opened,” she said.

Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.