Ulrich resigns amid illegal gambling investigation

Ulrich resigns amid illegal gambling investigation
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Eric Ulrich, the commissioner of the Department of Buildings who earlier this week was served a warrant in relation to an alleged illegal gambling investigation, resigned from his post on Thursday.  

Ulrich, who previously represented parts of the Rockaway peninsula and South Queens in the City Council, is believed to have voluntarily stepped down from his position as a senior member of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration as details of the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into illegal gambling remain hazy.

“This morning, Eric Ulrich tendered his resignation as DOB commissioner in an effort to, in his words, avoid ‘unnecessary distraction for the Adams administration,’” said Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the mayor.  

“We have accepted his resignation, appreciate him taking this step, and wish him well,” Levy added. 

The mayor’s spokesperson said that the administration remains in the dark about the scope of the investigation, adding that “out of respect for his and his family’s privacy, [we] have nothing further to add.”

Kazimir Vilenchick, the current first deputy commissioner of the DOB, will take over as acting commissioner of the agency, the mayor’s office said. 

“We have full confidence in the team at DOB, and the agency remains fully operational,” Levy said. “No city services will be impacted.”

The now-former commissioner had his phone seized by law enforcement agents and was questioned by investigators with the prosecutor’s office early Tuesday morning. 

The Manhattan DA’s office, which is led by District Attorney Alvin Bragg, has yet to comment publicly on the investigation. Ulrich has not been charged with a crime. It’s currently unclear if he is the main subject of the DA’s investigation. 

It’s believed that the investigation pre-dates Ulrich’s appointment as DOB commissioner – Adams gave the Republican the post in May of this year following several months of Ulrich serving as a senior advisor to the mayor. 

The investigation is also believed to involve illegal gambling rings run by organized crime members, some of which Ulrich may have racked up a debt with, sources say. 

Ulrich’s resignation comes somewhat as a surprise after Adams, on Wednesday, said it was too early to determine whether or not Ulrich should continue as the DOB’s commissioner. 

“It’s really so early for us to be saying we should, we shouldn’t, we should,” Adams said on Wednesday. “The DAs office is going to do their review and that review will determine how to move forward.”

“Eric is still the commissioner there,” he added. 

Through the years, the DOB, which, among other duties, grants permits for construction and doles out fines for building and construction violations, has been at the center of a number of bribery scandals – many of which involve crooked inspectors. 

In 2015, the New York City Department of Investigation arrested over two dozen people on bribery and corruption charges related to the construction industry, including contractors, building owners and over 10 inspectors with the DOB, amNY reported at the time

On Wednesday, Adams was asked if it was responsible to have put Ulrich in charge of an agency with a history of corruption. 

“You have a great team over at DOB, and the Department of Buildings is going to continue to do the great work that they're doing,” Adams said in response. 

Ulrich, who has publicly acknowledged a battle with alcoholism, has a history of gambling. 

He’s reported casino and lottery prize earnings to the Conflicts of Interest Board in the past, including in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. 

In 2016, he told the New York Daily News that he was a “lucky guy” after reporting that he had won between $10,000 and $12,000 from slot machine winnings at Resorts World Casino, which is located in his former council district.

Ulrich was first elected to represent City Council District 32 in 2009, when he was 24 years old. He represented the district during Hurricane Sandy, which left hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage in its wake. 

The Republican lawmaker was term-limited out of office last year and was quickly given a senior advisor post in the Adams administration. 

Despite their difference in party affiliation, Adams and Ulrich – a self-described “Never Trumper” who supported the former president in the 2020 election – proved allies during the 2021 mayoral election. Ulrich was an early supporter of Adams and was later rewarded with the top job in the Department of Buildings. 

On Wednesday,  the city’s top attorney, Brendan McGuire, said Ulrich went through a typical Department of Investigation background check expected of all of the city’s top officials. 

“We will not comment on the results of that [background check], but needless to say, this administration takes very seriously what turns up in those DOI background checks and we've, in the past, taken action when necessary based on what those investigations find,” McGuire said.

“I think it’s fair to assume that this has been done in the normal course and I don't want to get  out ahead of DOI, it's their investigation that they conducted,” he added. “So, I'll just stop there. But he followed the process that all other senior administration leaders followed.”

Ulrich came into the DOB with a mandate from the mayor – to slash red tape and make the agency less of a punitive entity and one more geared toward education and corrective action. 

Over the summer, Ulrich launched a 90-day commission – named “The Adams Commission” – that was tasked with assessing the DOB’s practices and finding ways to make the agency more accessible to those it works with, namely those in the construction and real estate industries. 

Last month, Ulrich sat down with the Eagle to discuss the commission and his work in the Buildings Department. 

“This has been the best job I've ever had,” he told the Eagle in October. “There's so much work to do here, so much to learn and so much room for improvement for someone like me, who's a workaholic, to really just dive right in and get right down to it.”

Ulrich also added that the DOB had long had a negative perception, primarily because it’s seen as an agency geared toward issuing fines and other financial penalties. 

“People didn't just wake up one day and hate the Buildings Department – this has been decades of poor management, poor oversight and now, I think that for the first time in a very, very long time, Mayor Eric Adams has made reforming and improving the Department of Buildings a top priority,” Ulrich said. “It's not a vote getter, but he's elevated the level of importance about fixing the Buildings Department.”

This story was updated at 3 p.m., on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.