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Owner of LIC rock-climbing emporium faces bribery charges

Mike Wolfert

Mike Wolfert, owner of “The Cliffs”

May 20, 2013 By Christian Murray and Bill Parry

Long Island City, Queens: The owner of a LIC rock-climbing venue was arrested Thursday for attempting to bribe a public official, according to a New York State criminal complaint filed in Queens County.

Mike Wolfert, 38, the owner of “The Cliffs at LIC”, who is in the midst of converting a warehouse at 11-11 44th Drive into a massive climbing center, was hit with a stop-work order by the Department of Buildings several weeks ago.

Wolfert tried to get the stop-work order lifted by bribing a building inspector, according to the complaint. The complaint said that the building inspector, however, was an undercover investigator who was part of a sting operation.

According to court documents, Wolfert, on April 16, told the investigator: “I can get you cash or whatever; you tell me whatever, I’ll pay it.”

Wolfert paid the investigator $94, the amount he had on him at the time.

However, when the investigator returned two weeks later to tell Wolfert that the stop work order had been lifted, Wolfert told the investigator he had $1,000 for him and asked whether that was good enough.

Wolfert then handed the investigator two envelopes, each containing $500.

The Department of Buildings inspected the premises on April 30 and determined that Wolfert had been working on the property during the period when the stop work order was in place.

Wolfert, of Croton-on-Hudson, faces third-degree bribery charges—a felony. He also was charged with a misdemeanor charge of “unlawful continuance” based on evidence that additional construction had been completed at the site after the stop-work order.

Wolfert was released without bail and did not respond to repeated phone calls.

The Long Island City Partnership has plans for a networking meeting at The Cliffs on Wednesday.

The organization would not comment as to whether the event would still be held at the venue.

Rendering of The Cliffs

Rendering of The Cliffs

 

email the author: news@queenspost.com

23 Comments

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Matt

Yes. Lets blame the person that turned Mike in for trying to shortcut the safety of building his facility.

Mike erred. Plain and simple. I personally found him to be an abrasive know-it-all and ‘try and get one over’ on others type person.

This is Mikes karma coming full circle.

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Thomas

I don’t think a lot of people realize how corrupt the DOB in any city is. Until you have first hand experience trying to get a business like this open, you’re likely underestimating the difficulty. They have all the power and $ is the only thing that moves things along. The system is rigged so large corporations can weather the storm and small business can’t.

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really?

I certainly cannot say what really happened in this situation, as I was not there to witness things go down. However it does blow my mind that certain people out there find the idea of a corrupt politician/ city officials to be something that does not exist in New York City. Lets look at other recent events:

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/04/17599962-2nd-big-bribery-scandal-rocks-new-york-this-week-alone?lite

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/02/us-usa-politics-newyork-idUSBRE9310FH20130402

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/04/02/176051947/reality-often-rivals-fiction-in-political-corruption-scandals

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Corruption-Probe-Weakens-Dept-of-Buildings-Structural-Integrity-57695282.html

Again I am not saying that Mike is not guilty of handing over money to someone he shouldn’t have, but we do not know the full story. Given the history of corruption in NYC I think that we should not rule out the possibility that there was some sort of foul play on behalf of Van Bramer and the others involved.

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DJ Teetz

“That’s a very serious allegation you are making, DJ. You are essentially accusing a politician of a felony on a blog.”

Shut up.

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Anonymous

Like I said before, it’s more than likely that the system is corrupt here. I’ve done work for the city (queens division) as a consultant. I’ve seen how cases are investigated and resolved. I’d say there’s greater than a 75% chance that the city did something #$#@ed up.

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What?

“The politician recommended to him to pay $1000 to the building inspector. According to the director, all of this was formally agreed upon and Mike assumed that this was the way things worked.”

That’s a very serious allegation you are making, DJ. You are essentially accusing a politician of a felony on a blog.

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Joe

Those slimy, fitness, mountain climber types. Always with a rubber band full of money in their spandex. It’s a good thing that this is the only corruption in Queens. I know Astoria is squeaky clean and I’m sure every business in Astoria has proper permits and is up to date on taxes and not actually a front for god knows what. Calm down Astorians. This is a small anomaly, if not total BS. You probably live in the most corrupt, glad handing part of Queens, if not NYC where the true pros of bribing reside.

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Todd Gedney

“Assumed that’s the way things worked”?? Being advised to pay an inspector $1000? Really? How do you know al this anyway? Are you an employee?

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DJ Teetz

The gym has approximately 4 weeks of work left. A stop-work order came down from the Dept of Buildings out of nowhere. Mike, in an effort to amicably resolve the situation, went to a local politician to see what could be done about getting the last permit needed to finish the work that remained.
Now some back story. Recently, a corruption scandal has been erupting involving local politicians and building inspectors. It seems as if the building inspectors would take bribes and give kick-backs to those local politicians. 25 building inspectors were recently arrested and several local politicians have resigned over this.

Mike in an effort to get construction re-started went to a politician that had previously advised him before, and essentially asked what he could to get things moving, legally of course. The politician recommended to him to pay $1000 to the building inspector. According to the director, all of this was formally agreed upon and Mike assumed that this was the way things worked. When the inspector showed up at the facility, Mike paid him the $1000. Turns out it was actually an undercover cop on a “sting operation”.

The current theory is that the politician, in an effort to take attention off himself came up with this entrapment ploy. When Mike found out that he broke the law, he went down to the precinct and turned himself in. They held him for about a day and then let him go. He’s currently going through court. Everyone is optimistic that either all the charges will be dropped, or at least the felony at the very least and Mike will have to pay some fines.

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Josh

He did have a permit. They put a “stop work order” on him. Anyone who hasn’t dealt with DOB should do so first before they judge. DOB is probably the worst and most arbitrary agency in NYC. I know people who’ve had to wait YEARS for them to lift these orders. It’s like a business death sentence. And with as bad as they are, when do they have time for a “sting”. Tax money poorly spent.

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Anonymous

It’s nice when the NYC makes it so insanely hard to do business that people become desperate. NYC doesn’t care if this guy goes bankrupt or goes to jail because of meat headed bureaucracy. $1000 isn’t even a real bribe. The inspector was probably insulted and called him in.

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Sick of it all

Yeh, such a stand-up “kind-hearted” guy. Talk about lowering the bar. Did you ever hear about ethics and honesty? I guess in the sleezy and crass world we inhabit today, sending emails to your councilman promising payments for help doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. What a disgrace.

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Jill

If he wanted the gym to open out of “the kindness of his heart” he should have gotten a construction permit and used his own money. I can’t wait to see the email soliciting quid-pro-quo from a councilman he had never met. Read some of the other reports, people
http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130522/long-island-city/lic-rock-climbing-gym-plans-open-this-summer-despite-bribery-scandal

And safety….he has some issues with that before. Like rafting during a hurricane, and someone died.

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Anonymous

Could not have happened to a better, more kind-hearted person. He probably just wanted the gym to open in time to satisfy the eagerly awaiting climbers and bring an amazing climbing gym to LIC.

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Aaron

I like the guy but he should have gotten a construction permit. He probably thought he could save lots of money and time by short-circuiting the system. But how about safety? How soon we forget what happened in that Indonesian factory. Did he follow building codes, was there an architect, was it engineered correctly, where there controlled inspections for teh plumbing, heating, faming and welds, did he have enough exits and fire suppression and so on…. We have to be concerned with our own and others safety. I really feel sorry for Mike but not as much as if something had gone disastrously wrong.

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Anon

Will, really? You believe it’s more likely that a DOB tasked to a sting operation who files court documents would be that corrupt and careless? Or do you think it’s far more likely that a developer is trying to save a few bucks by cutting corners and expedite the process of finishing his project? I think I know what is the far more believable scenario.

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Will

A complaint or whatever the city filed is simply a collection of accusations. We don’t know what happened, and given the NYC’s DOB and politician track record, it would not surprise me, not in the slightest, if the scenario was actually flipped. E.g., that the DOB attempted to extract a bribe, but failed, and is now seeking to flip the script on a local business owner. In fact, I would say it’s par for the course.

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Scuba

I don’t understand the part about the sting operation. Was that a separate investigation? Was the sting regarding the unlawful continuance? And so that was in progress when the bribery happened? And why was the stop work order issued in the first place?

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Anonymous

I’m a climber who is looking forward to this place opening. I’m appalled that the owner had to even try to bribe the Department of Buildings to get things moving – the place looks fantastic and I think would be a great addition to LIC/Astoria. This is a huge shame.

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Anon

How is this a case of entrapment? It sounds like he eagerly volunteered to hand over money to the inspector. LIC has many examples of decent, law-abiding small business people who are committed to the area and play fair and square. They are the people I think all of us should support, and not alleged felons.

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Jared Heklemeir

This couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. This is clearly a case of entrapment. I for one am outraged. He should be given a key to the city for investing his own hard earned money and bringing such a wonderful business to the neighborhood but instead they threaten and corner him. Shame on the authorities that targeted him.

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