The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
Retired Mount Vernon Official Pleads Guilty In U.S.
Court To Accepting Bribes From Waste Haulers
MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JAMES CASTALDO, a former high-ranking supervisor for the City of Mount Vernon Department of Public Works, pleaded guilty today to accepting bribes from waste haulers in return for allowing them to overbill the City of Mount Vernon by at least $1.25 million for the removal of debris from a municipal storage yard.
CASTALDO pleaded guilty before United States District Judge KENNETH M. KARAS in White Plains federal court a two count criminal Information (the “Information”) charging bribery and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. An Indictment against waste haulers involved in the scheme was unsealed on March 19, 2008 (the “Indictment”).
According to the Information, the Indictment and the criminal Complaint against CASTALDO unsealed on April 1, 2008, a Westchester
waste-hauling company, A & D Carting, obtained a contract with the City of Mount Vernon in November 2001 to remove waste
from a City storage yard at a price of $397 per 30-cubic yard container removed. To bill the City of Mount Vernon under the contract, A & D Carting was required to submit invoices identifying how many 30 - cubic - yard containers were removed on particular dates, together with a pre-printed receipt form (which is commonly referred to as a “ticket”) for the removal of each container.
The tickets were supposed to be signed by a City of Mount Vernon employee at the yard at the time each container was carted away. From 2002 through March 2006, Albert Tranquillo III, who controlled and operated A & D Carting, defrauded the City of Mount Vernon by submitting tickets and invoices claiming that far more waste had been carted away from the yard than had actually been removed, it was charged. According to the Information and Complaint, CASTALDO and another DPW employee who worked at the Mount Vernon
storage yard agreed that the employee would initial as many tickets as A& D Carting drivers gave to him. These tickets falsely represented
that A & D Carting had carted away far more debris from the Mount Vernon storage yard than had actually been removed. These extra tickets were then mailed to the City of Mount Vernon together with invoices which significantly overstated the amount of waste removed.
As a result, the City of Mount Vernon is alleged to have been defrauded of at least $1.25million.
CASTALDO, who retired in 2005, accepted bribes from A & D Carting as part of the scheme to overbill the City of Mount Vernon. When
A & D Carting received checks from Mount Vernon, CASTALDO would call A & D Carting and, using code, request a payment from Tranquillo or his relative. CASTALDO, the Complaint alleges, paid a portion of the bribes he received to the DPW employee who initialed the fraudulent tickets.
CASTALDO, age 61, admitted to Judge KARAS this morning that he had taken bribes from the waste haulers and that he had conspired
with them to defraud the City of Mount Vernon. CASTALDO faces a maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment as well as financial penalties, including restitution to the City of Mount Vernon. CASTALDO is scheduled to be sentenced on October 24, 2008, at 12 noon.
Mr. GARCIA praised the investigative work of the FBI and stated that the investigation is ongoing. Assistant United States Attorney
ARLO DEVLIN-BROWN is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment against the waste haulers are merely accusations, and those defendants are presumed innocent
unless and until proven guilty.
The guilty plea offered by James Castaldo, former high-ranking Supervisor in the Mount Vernon Department of Public Works, in United
States District Court, White Plains, last Wednesday, July 16, is very likely the first of several from former Mount Vernon officials that will be witnessed over the next several months. Gerrie Post, Mount Vernon’s former Planning Commissioner, and Wayne Charles, real estate developer, each under federal indictment since March in connection with the steering of City contracts and the questionable handling of a
loan and the purchase of properties, may very well soon follow suit.
In announcing Castaldo’s guilty plea, the United States Attorney’s Of-fice was careful to indicate that their investigation was “ongoing”, a sure signal that more indictments and arrests can be expected. Of course, the carting industry has been a fertile field for investigation by both state and federal prosecutors for decades; with numerous companies owned and operated by individuals with connections to organized
crime, whose activities are most often interstate, involving landfills, transfer stations, and recycling facilities in New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as New York.
With regard to the carting industry in the tri-state region, given the federal government’s recent investigations and prosecutions in Putnam County and Fairfield County, as well as New Jersey, it is somewhat surprising that the United States Attorney’s interest in trash-hauling activities in Westchester has thus far been limited to the City of Mount Vernon. Given some of the more outrageous activity by Westchester
County Government, involving a Connecticut hauler that New York City had specifically declined to do business with because of its alleged mob connections, one would think the U.S. Attorney’s Office would have broadened the scope of its investigation. Approximately three or four years ago the County Executive’s Office intentionally failed to renew an existing five-year, $70 million contract with a company Commissioner Landi admitted had been doing a good job, to instead sign a contract for $87 million, for the same services, over the same
five-year term, with the very company the City of New York refused to do business with. When asked why he allowed the existing contract, for $17 million less, to expire without exercising the five year renewable option “given the choreographed nature of the industry”, Landi responded, “We wanted to test the waters.”
Looking back at that County Legislature Committee On Solid Waste meeting, chaired by Tom Abinanti, and the control, one legislator at a time, exerted by Larry Schwartz, standing in the doorway to the meeting room, and summoning them out into the hallway and lobbying them to approve the ripoff of County taxpayers, the whole affair very much resembled the Ardsley Partners ‘white elephant’ shoved down taxpayers’ throats two weeks ago.
However, with respect to the City of Mount Vernon, two thoughts come immediately to mind: Firstly, anyone familiar with the prior administration knows that nothing ever went on under Ernie Davis that he didn’t have a hand in. Given that fact, one can only assume that
those boxes carried out of City Hall by FBI agents last fall; an action that was heavily criticized by Ernie’s cronies as “politically motivated”, may soon yield justification.
Secondly, what about our District Attorney, the one who goes around telling everybody that she’s from Mount Vernon? How could all of this corruption have been going on, right under her nose, in her home town, no less, and she knows nothing, and does nothing, about it.