A subcontractor texted Robert Baselice, an executive at a Secaucus, N.J., firm helping a developer find construction companies for a project. He told Mr. Baselice that he had quoted the developer a price as high as $3.3 million for a job.
“We definitely priced it to the higher side,” the subcontractor wrote.
“Go in with $2,975,000,” Mr. Baselice replied. “You will go down from there.”
The plan, according to Manhattan prosecutors, was for Mr. Baselice to express shock at the high estimate, and then pretend to strong-arm the subcontractor into lowering the price to make the developer believe he was working to get a fairer price.
In reality, Mr. Baselice, then an employee of the Rinaldi Group, and two associates were steering $100 million in subcontracts and change orders to dozens of handpicked subcontractors in return for kickbacks, according to court papers.
The trio, who plotted in diners and over texts, instructed the subcontractors to overcharge developers of high-end hotels and luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan and then give Mr. Baselice and his associates a cut, prosecutors said.
The companies named in the indictment worked on some of the city’s “most significant high-rise projects in recent memory,” Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, said at a news conference. They included the Remy condominiums in Chelsea, the FiDi Hotel in the Financial District and the Fifth Avenue Hotel in Midtown.
“The harm here goes well beyond the monetary amounts,” Mr. Bragg said. “When the bidding processes is rigged, we all lose.”
Two dozen construction executives and contractors who surrendered early Wednesday morning were arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on dozens of bribery and kickback conspiracy charges that accused them and 26 companies of stealing $5 million from at least seven developers. All the defendants pleaded not guilty, according to a court clerk and Susan Necheles, a lawyer for two defendants.
The defendants were brought inside the courtroom in handcuffs, many chained to each other. One defendant sat in a wheelchair.
“What we see in the indictment is there appears to be one person they said who did all the wrongdoing,” Ms. Necheles said. “And everybody else seems to be basically a victim of extortion.”
A lawyer for Mr. Baselice, Louis Gelormino, said in a statement that his client “completely denies these allegations and expects to be fully vindicated of all the charges brought against him.”
Members of the press were barred from entering Judge Felicia Mennin’s courtroom, which was packed with relatives of the defendants. Court officers kept reporters from witnessing the arraignment until it was nearly over. A spokesman later said the size of the crowd violated security protocols.
The Rinaldi Group provides a wide range of services in the construction industry, working in both the public and private sectors in several states. It faces no charges in the case.
The company “has cooperated fully with the Manhattan district attorney’s office investigation” and will continue to help “in any way that it can,” according to a statement from Ted Diskant, a lawyer who represents the company. “The Rinaldi Group has no tolerance for unethical or unlawful conduct.”
Mr. Baselice, who according to court papers used the professional name Robert Basilice, was fired in spring 2022, according to the company. He had used his position to direct the kickback scheme from April 2013 to July 2021, according to court papers.
At Rinaldi, he oversaw subcontractor bidding and was responsible for providing developers with truthful and accurate information, Mr. Bragg said.
“He did absolutely to the contrary,” Mr. Bragg said.
Mr. Baselice would present developers a list of bidders whom he described as independent subcontractors competing in good faith for work. What the developers did not know is that they had paid to be on Mr. Baselice’s list, as well as the lists of two of Mr. Baselice’s associates, who also contracted out work.