A former building inspector for the city of Brockton, Massachusetts, entered a guilty plea to charges that he took payoffs from a contractor involved in asbestos removal projects. Joseph L. Vasapollo, Jr., 67, entered his plea in federal court last week. The charges sought by the federal prosecutors include one count of accepting a bribe and three counts of using his position to extort kickbacks from the contractor.
The investigation into Mr. Vasapollo’s activities encompassed manpower from the US Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service. According to prosecutors, Mr. Vasapollo hired a contractor to remove asbestos from the city’s War Memorial Building during a project to renovate the site and convert it into a center for live theater, dance, music and other performances.
Charles R. Smith, Jr., owner of the contracting firm Suburban Middlesex Insulation, reportedly gave Mr. Vasapollo several envelopes containing cash, totaling more than four thousand dollars. The two men would frequently meet in the parking lot of a local gentlemen’s club to make their exchanges. Mr. Smith and the president of Suburban Middlesex, Darrel MacLean, pled guilty earlier this month to federal income tax violations, including filing false returns and tax evasion. As a part of their plea arrangements, they agreed to testify against Mr. Vasapollo.
The federal indictment also stated that Mr. Vasapollo had been engaging in taking payments from Suburban Middlesex since at least 2007. In return, Mr. Vasapollo would recommend the company for contracts on city projects involving the removal of asbestos from older structures. However, some evidence points to the possibility that the arrangement could have started much earlier. Suburban Middlesex had also been involved in asbestos abatement project at Brockton City Hall and at a number of area schools since 2003.
Both the company and Mr. Vasapollo allegedly took advantage of a loophole in city law that allows invoices under five thousand dollars to bypass the standard examination by the city accountants. Instead of creating a single invoice for a large asbestos removal project, the company would create several smaller invoices to avoid official scrutiny.
As a result, city officials changed the rules and they will no longer allow department directors to approve no-bid contracts unilaterally on city works projects. Also, Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti closed the loophole that allowed invoices under five thousand dollars to escape the notice of the city procurement officer. She said that she hopes the city can “move on” after the scandal. She has dismissed Mr. Vasapollo and hired James Casieri, a former deputy building inspector, for the post of city building superintendent.
One of the reasons that federal authorities sought the most severe charges against Mr. Vasapollo is that he used funds from a Community Block Development Grant, a federal program, to cover his tracks in the bribery scheme. Grant recipients typically use the funds to renovate and refurbish residential areas in need of restoration, such as in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mr. Vasapollo is scheduled have a sentencing hearing with US District Judge Edward Harrington in Boston on April 28. Mr. Smith and Mr. MacLean will hear their sentences on February 23.
Sources: Patriot Ledger, WickedLocal.com, Tanton Gazette