While the city of New York, as well as the rest of the nation, stood in shock at the results of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, a firm that specializes in asbestos remediation saw the chance to take advantage of the tragedy for quick cash. This assessment came from prosecutors who have accepted guilty pleas from two of the three owners of Specialty Service Contracting.
Workers and officers with the company were charged with padding their bills from the cleanup efforts at Ground Zero with payroll expenses for employees who did not show up to work, as well as offering bribes to numerous workers with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the government agency that oversees the World Trade Center site. Prosecutors stated that they have an indictment against more than a dozen co-conspirators.
The Inspector General for the Port Authority, Robert Van Etten, began an investigation into a firm called Comprehensive Environmental of New York in March of 2000. Mr. Van Etten’s office was looking into the actions of the firm responsible for asbestos cleanup efforts at Kennedy International Airport when reports of overbilling and other financial irregularities began to occur. Officials compiled company records to use as evidence, but they were destroyed in the 9/11 attacks.
After the attacks, Comprehensive Environmental reported changed their name to Specialty Service Contracting. According to prosecutors, this new firm also conducted a number of illegal business activities, such as overstating the work done on an asbestos remediation project in midtown Manhattan at the headquarters of the Associated Press news service. An investigation later found that one of the owners had carried a previous conviction for fraud.
One of the final defendants in the five-year trial is Port Authority worker Mark Jakubek. During the attacks, Mr. Jakubek, 50, helped two people trapped in an elevator in the North Tower to escape the building’s final destruction. He was hailed by then-mayor Rudy Guiliani as a hero who risked his life to save the lives of strangers. His defense attorney said that his job as a field operations manager at the site had “no bearing on anything” related to the bribery scandal.
Mr. Jakubek’s other actions did not live up to his heroic image. Court records show that he accepted almost twenty thousand dollars in bribes to expedite payouts to contractors working on cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center site. He also pled guilty in a different case involving bribery of a public official in 2003 and spent a year in prison. Mr. Jakubek is on trial for accepting tickets, cash, and the use of a vacation home from Specialty Services.
His co-defendant, Anthony Fontanetta, 61, also worked as an engineer for the Port Authority. Mr. Fontanetta is also accused of accepting gifts, as well as a job for his son, in exchange for consideration on asbestos projects from Specialty Services. His defense attorney says that the gifts were small “gratuities” and that the prosecution’s idea of serious bribery “is a joke”.
Sources: Philly.com, CBS3.com