The state Department of Labor's Bureau of Public Works has assigned Senior Investigator Edward Scheuer to probe the city's refusal to provide information on the wages, benefits and hours worked by the Dyster administration's most favored demolition company, Regional Environmental Demolition (RED).
And it hasn't been easy. After weeks of dodging multiple phone calls, e-mails and written letters, Scheuer was finally told that his inability to reach Code Enforcement Director Dennis Virtuoso to set up a meeting was due to the fact that Scheuer had misspelled Virtuoso's name.
Virtuoso -- whose son once worked for RED and who received campaign contributions from Rico Liberale, one of the company's principals -- has been stalling efforts to determine whether the contractor paid the state prevailing wage on demolitions contracted for and by the city. Earlier this year, RED was forced to pay $15,000 in penalties and interest for not adhering to the prevailing wage law.
Virtuoso has stated publicly that RED received nearly $250,000 in city demolition contacts over a six-month period recently because the contractor consistently submitted the low bid for the jobs. By not paying prevailing wages and not having a bond required by most Western New York municipalities for demolition work, RED has been able to snag nearly all the city's demolition work since last August.
If found to be guilty of a second or "willful" violation of the prevailing wage statute, RED could be barred permanently from doing any work on public projects anywhere in the state.
Currently, RED workers are involved in asbestos abatement work at the former Rainbow Centre Mall, which is being converted for use by Niagara County Community College's Culinary School.
Supervising Investigator Al Jakubowski, of the Department of Labor's Asbestos Control division, has been investigating that job since a trained asbestos-removal monitor walked off the work site two weeks ago.
Investigations are nothing new for Rico Liberale, who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the U.S. Justice Department's 2005 racketeering case against some members of Laborer's Local 91, and has more recently drawn the FBI's attention over threats he allegedly made to current union members.
Liberale's partner in RED, Chuck Van Epps, as recently as last month had four outstanding arrest warrants on file with the city police department for repeated cases of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle dating back to 2008.
Virtuoso and Mayor Paul Dyster have spent considerable time telling anyone who will listen that the fact that Virtuoso received $700 in campaign contributions from a fund controlled by Liberale, or that Virtuoso's son Vincent once worked for RED, has had nothing to do with the company receiving such a lopsided percentage of city demolition contracts.
The contracts with RED began last August, right around the time the Dyster administration quietly dropped the requirement that demolition companies be bonded. No explanation was ever given for abandoning the longtime requirement.
Both Virtuoso and Dyster have been threatening to sue the Reporter since May 3 over stories linking the administration to RED, though no such lawsuit has yet materialized. In numerous interviews with newspaper, television and radio reporters, they have maintained that everything they've done has been open and above board.
But Laborers Local 91 Business Agent Dick Palladino isn't so sure.
"If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck," he said. "I have never seen two public officials go to such lengths to try and convince people they're not liars."
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||June 14, 2011|