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HUD Official Eyes Fines in NYCHA Attempted Sex Abuse Case

HUD official Lynne Patton attends a press conference in the Jacob Javits Federal Building announcing a federal monitor for NYCHA, Jan. 31, 2019.
HUD official Lynne Patton attends a press conference in the Jacob Javits Federal Building announcing a federal monitor for NYCHA, Jan. 31, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A top federal housing official is considering seeking steep fines against two NYCHA workers after THE CITY revealed one of the men was arrested on attempted sexual assault charges while on the job.

Lynne Patton, regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s New York office, said in a tweet Monday she planned to contact NYCHA officials about the Jan. 31 incident at Manhattan’s Douglass Houses.

The tweet came hours after THE CITY reported allegations that the employee, an electrician’s assistant, and his colleague, a NYCHA electrician, met a woman at a bar while on duty – and brought her back to an apartment where they were supposed to do repair work.

The electrician’s assistant allegedly tried to molest the woman, prosecutors said. The woman told police that she resisted until the tenant returned and kicked everyone out of the apartment, according to a criminal complaint.

Prosecutors said the woman fled to a nearby police precinct. The electrician’s assistant, Joseph Handel, 35, was arrested soon after and charged with one count each of first-degree attempted sexual act and attempted sexual abuse.

Both workers had been authorized to collect overtime as part of NYCHA’s citywide effort to combat heat outages during January’s polar vortex. More than 10,000 NYCHA apartments lost heat on Jan. 31, the coldest day of the year.

Referencing the overtime, Patton, who frequently announces her intentions via Twitter, vowed to explore financial sanctions against the two employees under the 1986 Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act.

HUD Region II spokeswoman Olga Alvarez said Patton reached out to HUD headquarters in Washington to see whether the two workers’ hourly pay that day, along with any on-call pay and overtime, were paid for with federal funds.

About one-third of all NYCHA worker wages are funded by HUD, including overtime.

NYCHA suspended both employees without pay for 30 days and has initiated termination proceedings against Handel.

On Friday, Handel’s attorney, Barry Agulnick, predicted his client would be vindicated.