NEW YORK -- Sixteen tax assessors were arrested Monday for allegedly taking part in a 35-year plot to accept bribes and cheat the city out of hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax revenues, officials said.
An indictment accused the assessors of accepting bribes for at least 35 years to alter the assessed values of more than 500 properties worth a total of $8 billion.
"These folks sold their office and sold out the people of New York by taking bribes," U.S. Attorney James Comey said. "In doing so, they undermined a bedrock of this city's finances -- a fair and honest tax assessment system."
Federal and city officials said the scheme could be the largest theft in city history. More than one-third of the current 36-member Manhattan tax assessor staff was implicated.
Two alleged bribe payers were also accused in the alleged plot that led to an indictment accusing the defendants of racketeering, bribery and fraud.
Seventeen of the suspects were arrested Monday and an another was expected to surrender today on charges of taking or giving more than $10 million in bribes to alter the assessed values of commercial properties.
The scheme has cost the city about $160 million in lost tax revenues since 1997, Comey said. The indictment sought the forfeiture of the lost revenues and an additional $10 million allegedly obtained through bribes.
Twenty percent of the city's budget comes from property tax revenue and the loss of taxes probably cheated the public of new schools, better roads and more services, FBI Assistant Director Barry Mawn said.