Housing Scandal


Shameful publicity is supposed to be a big part of the punishment for officials caught violating their public trust. But that was just one of the ways in which Rudy Giuliani’s former housing commissioner and hospitals chairman caught a break last week. Richard Roberts, 41, who pled guilty to lying about his role in the city’s Housing Development Corporation scandal, appeared before District Judge Deborah Batts in Manhattan federal court on Pearl Street for sentencing last Wednesday. The event couldn’t have been quieter. No press release was issued, and the daily papers skipped it. The sentencing, delayed for almost a year, was held in the late afternoon, the day after election day. By the time Roberts and his attorneys took their places, it was already dark outside. A rain squall beat against the windows of the near-empty courtroom on the 24th floor.

Roberts’s legal representation alone might have made news. Theodore Wells Jr.’s newest client is I. Lewis Libby, perhaps the country’s best-known new criminal defendant. “This really is an American tragedy,” Wells told Judge Batts about Roberts, a Yale Law School graduate and former City Hall aide. After admitting to lying to a grand jury about his misuse of a city-purchased SUV, Roberts had lost his job at Goldman Sachs and his law license. “He has hurt his good name and reputation; this conviction will stay over his head for the rest of his life,” said Wells. Roberts, his parents seated behind him, offered a brief apology to “my family, my friends, and the court.”

Without providing details, prosecutor Daniel Braun told the judge that Roberts deserved consideration for having cooperated in the investigation of the wild spending spree by Giuliani appointee Russell Harding, who was sentenced in July to five years in prison. Roberts also faced five years. But the probation department recommended that Roberts receive just three years’ probation. The judge split the difference, giving him just 18 months. No fine or further restitution, beyond the $33,000 he had already repaid for car and credit card expenses, was ordered.

“The court cannot fathom what motivated the defendant,” said Judge Batts. “Perhaps it was arrogance, or a misplaced sense of entitlement.” Roberts, his shoulders hunched at the defense table, gave no hint of which it was.