The Chicago Syndicate: Did Organized Crime Firms Perform Work on Yankees and Mets New Stadiums?
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Did Organized Crime Firms Perform Work on Yankees and Mets New Stadiums?

Millions of dollars worth of work associated with the new baseball stadiums for the Yankees and Mets was performed by companies that New York City avoids doing business with because of prior allegations of corruption and ties to organized crime.

The roughly $17 million demolition of Shea Stadium, which cleared the way for the new Citi Field in Queens, was largely done by Breeze National Inc., whose vice president, Toby Romano, was convicted on federal bribery charges in 1988 and whom law enforcement officials have identified as having ties to organized crime.

Much of the electrical work at the new Yankee Stadium was done by Petrocelli Electric, a company that since June 2006 has been on a list of contractors that New York City cautions its agencies against using. The owner, Santo Petrocelli Sr., was indicted this month on charges that he had been bribing a leading union official for more than a decade.

In a third instance, the millions of dollars in excavation and cast-in-place concrete work at the new Yankee ballpark was performed by Interstate Industrial, a company that has been barred from doing city work since 2004. City investigators concluded several years ago that Interstate had connections to organized crime. The company has been accused of paying for more than $150,000 in renovations in 1999 and 2000 on the apartment of former Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to accepting the work.

Two of the three contractors, Petrocelli and Interstate, were not paid with city funds. But both the ballpark projects were overseen by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and together received roughly $2 billion in public subsidies.

In defending themselves to city regulators and others, the companies have denied any improprieties, or have suggested the allegations were ancient ones that had been long contradicted by years of appropriate behavior on job sites.

The city development corporation’s policy is to review the hiring of major contractors on its projects only when they are paid directly with city funds. And even then, it generally takes no action to review what in some cases are dozens of subcontractors, a spokesman said.

The development agency says it does not have the staff to conduct background checks on all the companies working on a particular project, and with undertakings like the stadiums — private projects that are bolstered by a huge infusion of city, state and federal public benefits — the city has never sought to review the selection of the contractors.

The ball clubs say the companies were hired through competitive bidding processes and performed well under their contracts. No one has made any complaints about the competence or safety of the work they performed, and until recent years, both Petrocelli and Interstate had each won large city contracts with some regularity.

In the case of the demolition work at Shea, the contractor, Breeze National, was paid with state and city funds. But Breeze was hired to do the work by a subcontractor to Queens Ballpark Company L.L.C., a company created by the Wilpon family, which owns the Mets, to develop and operate the stadium.

The development corporation’s spokesman, David Lombino, said that while it reviews the general contractor and first-tier subcontractor, it does not review companies more than two levels down, as Breeze was.

Experts say the policy does not go far enough to help address the problems in the city’s construction industry, which has seen a rash of fatal accidents and has a long history of corruption and mob influence.

James B. Jacobs, a professor at New York University Law School who has written extensively about organized crime and construction corruption over the last two decades, suggested it was shortsighted on the part of the city to refrain from reviewing contractors that were not paid directly with city money.

“We’re talking about the nature of the whole construction industry, which affects public construction, private construction, not-for-profit construction and the whole economic viability of the city,” Professor Jacobs said. “So there ought to be a commitment to do what we can to purge corrupt influences out of that industry.”

Like much construction work in New York, stadium projects have some history of being infiltrated by companies whose ownership, work product or associations has drawn the attention of investigators. In the mid-1980s, for example, a plumbing company that listed John Gotti, the Gambino boss, as one of its salesmen, was hired to do work at Shea Stadium.

For the current projects, neither the city nor the baseball clubs released a list of the companies that have worked on the stadiums.

Questions about the city’s oversight of a stadium project also surfaced six years ago when the Yankees built a $71 million minor-league ballpark on Staten Island. On that job, the development corporation approved awarding the concrete contract to Interstate, though the company was then under investigation by the city.

The president of the development corporation at the time, Michael G. Carey, said there was no reason to question the company’s fitness. But city documents show the development corporation knew the city was examining accusations that the company had ties to the mob. It let the contract go forward when the company’s owner denied the allegations and told corporation officials that the inquiry was routine.

Mr. Lombino, the Economic Development Corporation’s spokesman, said the corporation carries out what it sees as its responsibilities under the law. “We go above and beyond what is required by law to ensure that construction projects are carried out safely and in a timely and cost-effective manner,” he said, adding that the effort “created thousands of jobs in neighborhoods that need them.”

David Newman, the vice president of marketing for the Mets, defended the selection of Breeze and Mr. Romano, saying that Queens Ballpark Company made the choice based on the recommendation of Hunt Bovis, which managed the construction of the new stadium and the razing of the old. It was based, he said, on their capability and resources and their ability to meet the schedule and bond the job. “The deconstruction,” he said, “was done on time, on budget and without incident or injury.”

Mr. Romano, for his part, said in an e-mail message: “It is completely untrue and totally unfair for anyone to state that I was ever connected to organized crime.” He said that the allegation was 17 years old and called it “a self-serving lie by a convicted felon.”

The accusation was made by Alfonse D’Arco, the former acting boss of the Luchese crime family, and was cited by city regulators in 2007 when they blocked another of Mr. Romano’s companies from a license to operate a construction trucking business in the city.

In the case of the electric company, law enforcement officials, trial testimony and F.B.I. reports say Mr. Petrocelli has had associations with members of the Genovese family dating to 1988. His lawyer could not be reached for comment. Mr. Petrocelli pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges filed this month.

Interstate’s owners have also denied the allegations that they have ties to the Gambino crime family or that they paid for Mr. Kerik’s renovations.

At Yankee Stadium, the contract was technically awarded to a company called Central Excavators. But the Yankees, Interstate and the Turner Construction Company, which built the stadium for the Yankees, have all acknowledged that Interstate performed the work.

Turner said in a statement that it selected Petrocelli and Interstate “after a competitive-bid process and based on Turner’s positive experiences working with these firms.” The statement noted that the work performed by the two companies was limited to the stadium itself, and thus no taxpayer money was used to pay them.

A spokeswoman for the Yankees, Alice McGillion, said that in an excess of caution, the company had brought in an independent construction monitor to oversee the stadium project, including the hiring of subcontractors by Turner.

The monitor, Edwin H. Stier, said his company came on the job after Petrocelli and Interstate had already been hired, but performed background checks on subsequent subcontractors.

“The important thing is that the Yankees did something about it, and as a result of it, we identified a number of issues, including the presence of Interstate and the presence of Petrocelli,” he said. “They were there already working on site and the Yankees said to our firm, we want you to monitor them very carefully.”

Thanks to William K. Rashbaum

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