From 1994 through 2001, Joseph Vasapollo Jr. worked as the number-two man in Brockton’s building department. Vasapollo, a certified building inspector who needed to pass two more tests to officially become building superintendent, left in 2001 to become West Bridgewater’s building inspector. During that period, he headed up a code enforcement task force that slated the removal of abandoned city buildings.
In 2003, as a result of the death of then-Superintendent Robert F. Finnegan, Vasapollo returned to Brockton, earning $97,000 a year as the number-one employee. During the period 2003 to 2009, he was given a number of extensions to allow him to pass the tests that would have qualified him as a full-fledged superintendent. In the meantime, the city kept him on under the assumption he would eventually achieve certification.
In 2007, Vasapollo suffered an injury and applied for workmen’s compensation. In 2008, he suffered an apparent heart attack, was hospitalized and remained on sick leave for an extended period of time, though apparently not on worker’s compensation.
According to Mayor James E. Harrington, the city gave Vasapollo, 66, a lot of leeway, so it came as a distinct disappointment when the FBI charged Vasapollo with allegedly taking bribes during his tenure in exchange for giving a contractor city work outside the regulated bidding process.
The FBI arrested Vasapollo at his Gifford Street home on Sept. 11 and charged him with three counts of extortion and one count of bribery. Vasapollo subsequently pleaded not guilty at his arraignment before federal magistrate Leo T. Sorokin in U.S. District Court in Boston later that day, and was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. Vasapollo’s lawyer, Boston-based David Duncan, said he would not comment on the allegations. Vasapollo is set to return to court Oct. 19, at 3 p.m.
The bribery, $4,000 exchanging hands in three separate, videotaped incidents, was from Norwood-based Suburban Middlesex Insulation Co., which received a series of city contracts to remove asbestos from the War Memorial Building. The money for the asbestos removal came from the federal Community Development Block Grant program awarded yearly to U.S. cities and municipalities to improve public structures and common areas.
Asbestos, a fibrous mineral widely used in construction products like insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, and tile mastics (glues) during most of the last century, releases its fibers when old, damaged or broken. These, when inhaled or ingested, can lead to a number of diseases, namely asbestosis – which is acquired only after long exposure – and lung and digestive system cancers, among them mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma, which occurs most commonly in pleural form (in the lungs, though it can also occur in the abdomen as peritoneal mesothelioma, or in the heart as pericardial mesothelioma) is a frequently fatal form of cancer that lies dormant for decades before presenting with symptoms definitive enough to allow for ready diagnosis. By that time, however, it has usually invaded so much tissue, or so many vital organs, that the prognosis is very poor, and patients are seldom given more than 18 months to live.
Suburban Middlesex Insulation of Norwood, which specializes in asbestos remediation, as well as lead and mold removal, has reportedly already done $6.5 million worth of work in Brockton schools. Its president, Darrell W. MacLean, was not available for comment when one news source attempted to contact him.
The city has been attempting to renovate the War Memorial building in order to re-purpose it as a performance center. The cost is estimated at $1 million, but to overcome the bidding limit – anything over $5,000 must be subject to the city’s mandated bidding process – Vasapollo reportedly told Middlesex to divide the work into smaller-priced projects that would automatically be awarded. Middlesex Insulation has so far received about $15,000 to remove asbestos from the building.
No one involved is charging Middlesex with improperly removing asbestos, in violation of Clean Air Act laws, but by violating established protocols for getting such jobs Middlesex has clearly put itself outside the pale as an asbestos contractor. Mayor Harrington has also repeatedly stated that the city will no longer accept the company’s bids.
Sources: Brockton Enterprise News, Boston Globe, Wickedlocal.com