A former property inspector with the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections pleaded guilty Wednesday in a case involving the extortion of nearly $4,000 in bribes from three people.

John Wright, who left his job at L&I in November 2015, could face up to 20 years in prison for admitting to one count of attempted extortion.

Beyond answering routine questions from U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno, Wright said little during his court appearance. He declined to comment afterward.

His lawyer, Mariana Rossman, said simply that Wright was "trying to get through the process" of accepting responsibility for the charges.

Wright, 37, formerly an L&I review specialist, was accused of forcing three unnamed people to provide him with cash payouts in exchange for occupancy certificates or other permits, according to court documents.

In one example from August 2015, the documents say, Wright told a contractor working on a property on the 5500 block of Whitaker Avenue in Crescentville that he would provide the contractor with an occupancy permit only if he was paid $500 in cash. The contractor notified the FBI and agreed to record audio and video of the bribe Aug. 5, the documents say.

After the payoff, the documents say, Wright failed to send the contractor the permit. When the contractor followed up with Wright a few days later, he demanded an additional $1,200, the documents say.

The contractor gave him the money Aug. 18, but then Wright was pulled over by FBI agents, who found $1,200 in his car, according to court documents.

Rossman said that Wright checked himself into rehab for drug addiction later that day and has remained sober while living with his wife and children.

Court documents also say another contractor told the FBI that last June, Wright twice demanded $500 for what he said were issues with a deck on the contractor's property in the 1800 block of Cottman Avenue in Castor. Wright later charged $675 for a permit for a rear addition to the building as well, according to the documents.

In the final example included in his case, Wright allegedly received $600 for a certificate of occupancy he provided to an unnamed person. Court documents did not provide the location for the permit or say when the bribe was paid.

Wright was hired by L&I in May 2008, according to city payroll records. He left the department about three months after he was arrested. Rossman said he is unemployed.

His guilty plea comes as the FBI continues probing allegations that L&I inspectors offered easier access to certain permits in return for payoffs.

In 2014, former L&I Deputy Commissioner Dominic Verdi was indicted in an alleged $1 million extortion scheme for allegedly providing bar owners special treatment if they bought beer from a South Philadelphia distributor he partially owned.

Verdi has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in November.

Wright is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 13.

cpalmer@phillynews.com

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