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New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution - Part VI

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New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution - Part VI

February 14, 2015 - 21:56
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This is Part VI in a series.

Over the past year, Vigilant Resources International, a major private investigations firm out of New York City, worked for the City School District of New Rochelle to investigate allegations of corruption in the New Rochelle school system. They were hired by then-Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff who retired at the end of last year. The purpose of hiring them was to respond to a request by Brian Conway of the Public Integrity Bureau of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office that Korostoff provide Conway with reports from a private investigator on three individuals suspected of corruption; based on those reports Conway would make a determination as to whether to open a criminal investigation. This is on top of information I had provided to Conway and his boss in 2013 on corruption in the New Rochelle schools, and a report previously prepared for the DA by the New Rochelle police department in 2013 about corruption in the New Rochelle schools, and a report by Michael Orifici of Capital Projects Consulting on corruption between Aramark and outside contractors doing work for the district.

By the time VRI was finished in September of 2014, they had compiled 22 reports - not 3. These files were opened largely based on names and information provided by me, directly or indirectly, to Jeff Korostoff and from him or me to VRI. The reports were supplemented by their own research including surveillance of district workers and interviews with district employees often based on tips provided by me directly to VRI or to Korostoff or through my sources to either of them. In other words, I know an awful lot about what is in the VRI reports and as the District is refusing to cooperate with law enforcement I am going to share what VRI learned with my readers.

With the hiring of Dr. Brian Osborne, the momentum for making criminal referrals — the entire point of hiring VRI in the first place — was lost. VRI made a presentation to Osborne and other senior school officials in October 2014. VRI never made a presentation directly to the Board of Education. Instead, in early December, Jeffrey Kehl made a presentation to the board in which he recommended that no one be fired and no criminal referrals made. The board readily agreed to this proposal, citing concerns that firings and arrests would bring bad headlines to New Rochelle schools and validate the reporting of Talk of the Sound. Got that? It’s more important for school board members to let criminals roam free, to leave them on the payroll, than get press or admit that what we have been warning about here for years is true.

As a result a decision was made to withhold the files from the DA and treat the entire matter as an internal disciplinary matter with no firings. And there have been no firings. Since the meeting with the board in December, Talk of the Sound reported on two new incidents involving Jimmy Bonanno and Anthony Raffa one of which included Phil Rossetti who also had his own separate incident. Bonanno and Raffa were subsequently suspended with pay in December and remain suspended but have not been fired. There has been no disciplinary actions on any of the other employees.

Part of the justification of Kehl’s recommendation was the lack of evidence of crimes like theft of school equipment and supplies, misappropriation of school vehicles or falsified billing records because the district has no inventory management system, no time clock system and, until recently, no GPS tracking system. Not addressed was the deliberate decision not to purchase and implement these things under the administration of Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn in league with FUSE President Martin Daly and with the support of board members. I raised these issues many times, and the large scale theft that was occurring as a result of not having these systems.

Rachel Relkin, now Vice President of the school board, has previously argued that having time and attendance systems would be demeaning to the professionalism of the teachers. Of course, this was the usual misdirection tactic that tries to assert that creating accountability to the taxpayers for how their money is spent (or stolen) is an attack on school teachers, baseball and apple pie. As Relkin posed as a defender of school teachers, Quinn, Gallagher and others oversaw an operation that was looting the school district for millions of dollars.

One of the few Buildings & Grounds employees that is known to some school board members is Scott Empara, a working-foreman electrician. Empara was hired by the district effective May 11, 1988. In 2011, the last full year on file with the state, Empara was paid $111,842, making him one of the highest paid employees in the B&G department.

Empara is often at board meetings because he is given overtime during school board meetings and budget forums at the New Rochelle High school library where he sets up and breaks down chairs for a few minutes but mostly he sits in a chair in the back of the room and daydreams - all while getting paid four hours of overtime at each meeting. No board member has ever thought to ask why a working-foreman electrician would be getting time and a half to move chairs around the library when any employee, the lowest-paid employees in the district, could do this work and at far less cost. It is worth noting that taxpayers pay for this largess twice — once in his paycheck and again because his pension will be increased due to the inflated income from this sort of overtime work.

What makes this comical is that as Empara sits there, doing nothing for hours, getting paid time-and-a-half, school board members pose and posture as good stewards of taxpayer money.

If ever there was an odd-couple it was the cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed, uncouth Empara and Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John “Poindexter” Quinn. But Quinn had good reason for loving Scott Empara because Scott Empara saved Quinn a lot of money by obviating the need for expensive asbestos abatement work by magically making asbestos disappear from schools without the need to hire expensive asbestos removal companies. Empara could do this because while he was (and still is) illegally removing, storing and dumping asbestos, he was being designated by the school board as the Asbestos designee for the district as required under Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). In other words, he is the person that is designated under federal law to make sure other people do not illegally remove, store and dump asbestos. Scott Empara is also a member of the Districtwide Health & Safety Committee - another example of the fox watching the hen house.

It was Empara who played dumb while Gallagher, with the connivance of Quinn, hired unlicensed outside contractors like George Wood, to remove asbestos material from schools. Sometimes Empara would remove asbestos material himself by simply ripping it off pipes in schools, placing it in garbage bags and storing it in hiding spots throughout the district. I personally took Fred Baldino of VRI to one such asbestos hidey-hole near the gym at New Rochelle High School.

Even after the incident at Davis which resulted in a $6,500 fine and threats of further sanctions, even after the disclosure of the hidey-hole at the high school, even after VRI was provided information about Empara’s numerous violations of federal and state law regarding the handling and disposal of asbestos material, he remains as the district’s AHERA designee.

Quinn loved Empara so much that he bent over backwards to accommodate Empara’s every wish. Empara rarely had to do work — he has for years spent most of his day sitting in his office. And what an office! Empara has a second-floor office at the district building on Grove Street. Quinn approved Empara’s requests for thousands of dollars in expensive office furniture and a reported $7,000 to install heated floors. Empara had not just one but two district computers so he could surf the web or play solitaire on one computer while looking at porn on the other. And not just any porn but a special, highly illegal kind of porn.

Empara is an avid hunter. He owns a house upstate in Gilbao, NY. He spends a good deal of time visiting hunting and fishing web sites on the web and meeting with other hunting and gun enthusiasts during the day, often in his office or at their homes. Empara owns a lot of guns and has stored them at his school district office. He would load the guns in his office.

With all the guns, and porn and general goofing off by Scott Empara, he is always afraid of getting caught and so has taken elaborate measures to make sure he never does. Empara installed his own security system. He has a heavy bolted door with his own private key. He has security cameras set up in the hallway leading to his office and the stairs leading up to the office. He set up an alarm system in the stairs so he knows if anyone is coming up the stairs and he disables the elevator so that the only way up to the second floor is by the stairs.

Empara’s set up generally works very well but not on days when he is not there and someone breaks down his door. This is precisely what happened on Sunday January 13, 2012 at about 1 p.m. when the New Rochelle Fire Department responded to an unintentional alarm at 88 Grove Street, the district-owned building which houses the B & G mechanics, including Scott Empara’s office.

NRPD Incident Report 2012-1200265 dated 1/13/2012 obtained by Talk of the Sound under a Freedom of Information request indicates that there was some sort of errant testing of the system by ADT that inadvertently brought the New Rochelle Fire Department to 88 Grove Street. The report states a report of a fire was called in by ADT. The system was being tested by ADT. Upon arrival, E-22 officer (Lt. Joseph M. Narciso) confirmed “all clear” and that a system test was taking place.

Five NRPD vehicles responded to the scene. Engine 21 responded with Lt. Michael P. McElroy and firefighters Gregory L. Rigos, Daniel Moxey, and Nicholas Triscari. Engine 22 responded with Lt. Joseph M. Narciso, and firefighters Peter Miley, Robert J. Richards, and Nicholas S. Williams. Ladder 12 responded with Lt. Kevin Gillen, and firefighters Fred Taylor, and Hugo Perez. Tower Ladder 11 responded with Lt. Andrew DiMaggio, and firefighters David Guiliano, Frank and Rainone. A Chief Officer car with ICT Robert J. Zaccagnino and Deputy Commissioner Robert Benz also responded.

Also responding on behalf of the District was the “key holder” for the building, Anthony Rigos of Aramark. The fire department maintains a list of who to call in the event of a fire, the “key holder”.

Not contained in the report is any mention of what several sources have told Talk of the Sound, that in inspecting the premises before giving the “all clear”, neither Rigos nor the firefighters were able to open the door to Scott Empara’s office so they forced it open.

Inside Empara’s office, they found a cache of weapons — mostly long guns - and ammunition.

No mention of this is made in the NRFD report. I contacted Fire Chief Lou Dimiglio and City Manager Chuck Strome about this incident and the apparent failure to report the weapons in their own incident report, not reporting it to the New Rochelle Police Department or to the City School District of New Rochelle. Dimiglio said he did reach out to some of those on scene but they stated they knew nothing about it.

It is worth noting that firefighter Gregory L. Rigos is the brother of Anthony Rigos.

Sources tell Talk of the Sound that Anthony Rigos did report the guns to his boss, John Gallagher of Aramark but that no action was taken against Empara.

All of this information and more has been reported to the district by a variety of people, including me, and yet Empara remains employed as a working-foreman for the district.

Empara’s fascination with guns is particularly worrisome given his anger management issues. Judy Badillo, his ex-wife and a teacher at Barnard Childhood Center, has told many district employees that she is frightened of Empara.

In just the past few days Empara has turned his wrath on district employees.

Empara routinely smokes cigars in schools and in his work van, both against district policy and New York State law. Despite this, he can often by seen chomping on a cigar.

Upset with two of the painters working for the district for parking their van in “his spot” he left his chewed up cigar on the pavement below the door of the van and a “calling card” in the form of brown spittle which covered the driver-side window.

Upset with a plumber working for the district, Empara defecated into a toilet at Grove Street, then used a cotton swab to remove his own feces from the toilet bowl and smear his feces on the door knob of the plumber’s office so when then plumber returned to his office his hand was covered in Scott Empara’s feces.

For many years, Scott Empara has been permitted to directly order and take receipt of supplies and equipment with a Purchase Order under his own authority. Among Empara’s favorite vendors are said to be Grainger Industrial Supply in Elmsford, NY and Rockland Fasteners & Supply in Pearl River, NY.

By some estimates, Empara has stolen over $100,000 worth of supplies and equipment. He either sells them, uses them for private work or barters them with other people and companies. For many years, the supplies were stored in the garage of a house in New Rochelle, NY but have since been moved to a house Empara owns at 170 Chapel Road in Gilboa, NY (southwest of Albany, NY).

Empara’s method is simple.

One approach is to take supplies he wants to steal, place them in plastic bags, puts them in his assigned work van E-87 and, at the end of the work day, parks his van next to his personal vehicle. He then moves the stolen items from his work van to his personal vehicle and leaves for the day. This is why Empara is so protective of “his” two parking spaces at the Braemar parking lot near the tennis courts at New Rochelle High School. This is why he spit all over another district vehicle when it was parked in one of “his” spots. This is why there are no security cameras in the Braemar parking lot.

Another approach is to work with accomplices at vendors who supply the district. He places an order for one amount of items, signs for that amount but actually takes delivery of far less than the amount ordered. In this way he builds up “credit” with the vendor which is cashed in by Empara in the form of whatever he wants that the vendor can deliver — often power tools.

Since there has never been an inventory control system in place in New Rochelle schools Empara has always been free to loot and pillage. Before he was fired last June, John Quinn used to tell gullible board members that he kept a “close eye” on inventory. In reality, Quinn had no way of knowing what was going on with inventory and instead relied on John Gallagher of Aramark who made Empara look like a piker, ordering supplies for New Rochelle and then shipping them off to the Mount Vernon School District, another Aramark customer.

John McFadden is the President of Rockland Fasteners & Supply and a pal of Empara. For years, Empara was able to order supplies through Rockland Fasteners as they were on an approved vendor list for Rockland County. I have explained this in detail in a previous article but in New York State, a school district like New Rochelle can place orders through vendors directly approved by New Rochelle or approved by other government agencies — Westchester County, Rockland County, New York State. When Rockland County dropped Rockland Fasteners & Supply off their approved vendors list, New Rochelle was no longer allowed to order from them. Empara became very aggressive in pushing for Rockland Fasteners to become a direct vendor of the City School District of New Rochelle, something that is not typical for a company on the other side of the Hudson River.

McFadden was a regular at Empara’s Grove Street office who was part of Empara’s kickback scheme, according to sources.

Once Rockland Fasteners was put on the list of New Rochelle’s approved vendors McFadden expressed his gratitude by sending Scott Empara an expensive, high-end Honda pressure washer as a kickback. There was nothing particularly unusual about this kickback except what happened afterwards.

The Honda pressure washer was big. It took two men to lift it.

When the Honda pressure washer was delivered to Grove Street, Empara ordered two district employees to remove the pressure washer from a pallet in a delivery van and load it into his personal vehicle (a blue truck). Empara then drove off with the pressure washer which was never seen again by district employees.

The two workers were Scott Benevento and Frank Vallelonga.

Frank Vallelonga is by all accounts an honest guy who had a bad relationship with Scott Empara because Empara felt threatened by Vallelonga who knew more about electrical work than Empara (many have questioned whether Empara is qualified at all). At one point, Empara fabricated a story and reported to the district that his life was threatened by Vallelonga.

Vallelonga was offered a position with the New Rochelle Fire Department (he graduated from the Westchester County Career Chiefs Fire Academy in June, 2014). Before he resigned he went to City Hall to meet with John Gallagher and Anthony Rigos about the Honda pressure washer. 

Gallagher did nothing.

Rigos was very interested in the Honda pressure washer and pursued the matter aggressively. He sought to obtain paperwork for a delivery to Rigos but could not find anything about a Honda pressure washer. He confronted Empara, who denied knowing anything about a pressure washer. Rigos called John McFadden at Rockland Fasteners and confronted him about giving Rigos the pressure washer. McFadden denied giving Empara a kickback and threatened to call the police, Rigos told McFadden that if McFadden called the police he would be the one in trouble. Rigos, who has his own issues, left the employment of Aramark and by extension the school district soon thereafter, in March 2014.

Gallagher would have many reasons to cover for Empara but one of them, and I will get into this issue more in other stories, is that Empara was one of many district employees who did free work for Gallagher at his personal residence. Gallagher rewarded those who did free work for him with protection, overtime, promotions and more.

The foregoing has been an account of the reporting I did and the information provided to the district and to VRI as part of their investigation which ended last fall.

In December, a new voice was heard from — a blast from the past.

Patrick Clark was, for seven, years, an electrician working under Scott Empara. By all accounts he was mentally and verbally abused by Empara for many years. Clark has his own issues — he was arrested in a “Dateline NBC” sting trying to hook up with an underage girl through the Internet and fired by the district (one of the few people ever actually fired by the district; even Jose Martinez was allowed to resign).

In December, 2014, Patrick Clark sent a series of three letters, two addressed to “Whom It May Concern” and one to Dr. Christine Coleman. They are a bit rambling at times but they cover a lot of ground, confirm in many cases my previous reporting and identify new examples of corruption by Empara. Clark is no Hemingway, so without changing the meaning I have fixed misspellings, punctuation and grammar to make his statements more readable.

He begins in a way that is troubling:

“I worked under Scott Empara for 7 years as his slave and chauffeur. He treated me worse than any human being every got treated. He is the worst and most useless piece of shit the board of education ever had, he does nothing all day.”

I have heard this many times, from many people, how badly Scott Empara treated Patrick Clark.

Clark describes Empara treating him like a slave and chauffeur:

  • When he took sick days he would call me to leave work so I could pick him up and buy him Kaopectate and diet coke for his fat stomach.
  • I went to CVS for his viagra and other prescriptions.
  • I had to buy his lunch every day at 9:45 a.m.
  • At 1:45 p.m. he would call and say pick up and that meant stop work and go Dunkin’ Donuts and bring it to him at the shop.
  • I had to pick up mice for that stupid snake he keeps in the shop (why is that allowed any way?).
  • I had to pick up liquor and pizzas so he could bring them upstate on the weekends.
  • He used to make me leave early so I could bring paperwork to his divorce lawyer’s office.
  • He sent me to motor vehicles to register his trailers.
  • He made me leave early to go to Dutchess County to buy Hess trucks for his son.
  • I had to drive him to his doctors appointments at 150 Lockwood Avenue, twice a week, for years. He would make me circle the building until he called.
  • He would make me drop him off to the hair cutter on North Avenue and circle until he called.
  • He would make me take him to the auto parts store, Costco, the liquor store, and his friends house who sells hunting equipment.

Clark describes examples of private work being done on district time, incriminating himself in the process:

  • He sent me out during the day on his own jobs.
  • I had to change all the switches and outlets in his aunts house near barnard, her 3-family house on Beechwood Avenue.
  • He sent me to his surgeon’s house in Scarsdale to wire a house generator.
  • He used to send me to his jeweler’s house during the day to fix things.

Clark describes examples of theft and kickbacks involving Empara:

  • When big shipments of screws come in the bill would say $6,000 but only $5,000 would come in, the other $1000 would be his personal items.
  • 25’ Stihl chainsaw with accessories.
  • Stihl 2-handle weed whacker with a ton of accessories.
  • 2 Wilton Vices got delivered one day (he made me put one in his truck).
  • Stihl electric chain saw sharpener.
  • A very big tool cabinet.
  • Another former employee told me he just got a Honda pressure washer.
  • He also made me load the district’s big generator on his blue truck.
  • Ladders, tools, electrical supplies.
  • He gives Benny’s tree service New Rochelle Board of Education tools and in turn he gets logs; he used to bring me there during work time in his pickup truck and we would fill it for free.
  • He got kickbacks from the motor guy (why do you think it costs $250 to rewire a $100 motor).
  • Everytime he walked into a school he made somebody give him something or he wouldn’t do any more work for them.
  • At the DPW City Yard where he fills his van for gas he brings a 5 gallon container for himself, when he did the Albert Leonard graduation ceremony he filled 2 five gallon containers for himself claiming it was extra for the Honda generator which needs very little gas.
  • His laptop is district property (I don’t know where he got it).
  • His ex Judy Badillo from Barnard said he bought stuff home everyday, that their garage looked like a supply store.

Clark describes examples of time theft by Empara:

  • Each afternoon while we sat there doing nothing he would me how lucky I was that I could sit with him and do nothing all day while the other asshole was out working.
  • He sits in his office looking at hunting and fishing sites all day.
  • He spends hours playing solitaire (hours after hours like a retard).
  • When he looks at pornography he brings in his laptop so the pornography is not on the office hard drive.
  • He used to re-load bullets in his shop.
  • He made fishing weights in his shop.
  • He drives to schools and sits there for hours (that’s how he keeps his GPS moving); he will drive to one school and sit there for an hour or two and make the custodian sit with him and then drive to another school and sit there for an hour or two; when I’m with him thats a foreman, an electrician and a custodian doing nothing for an hour or two.

Clark offers his version of the “fire alarm” story:

“One time the building alarm went off on a Sunday. Anthony Rigos and the fire department had to break down his office door. They found he was storing guns and ammo in there. Rigos called Gallagher and Gallagher squashed it. I guess Empara and Galalgher were making too much in kickbacks from the outside people to get him fired."

Clark explains how Empara create a paper trail that makes it appear that he is a hard worker:

“He can’t do nothing he can’t do anything on his own he needs a slave to do the work so he can put his name on every ticket we do. How do you think he has more jobs every month than his men, falsifying records. I’m sure he still does it. He has to, he does nothing all day except to talk to his friends all day about his ex-wife.

In his letter to Dr. Christine Coleman, he warns:

“Don’t tell Larry (Swack), they are buddies.”

After the date on the letter from Clark, Christine Coleman seized Empara’s desktop computer. It has been two months and Empara is still employed so it appears safe to say that that Coleman has reported that nothing incriminating was found on Empara’s computer. The way this works in New Rochelle is that when they do not want to find anything they make sure they do not. If this went according to the normal “cover up” protocol, Coleman had Larry Swack, who works in her department, handle the issue. The problem is that Swack is a crony of Empara and would be the perfect person to tell Empara how not to get caught and to clean up any incriminating evidence for Empara and then report to Coleman that the computer was “clean” so Coleman could do likewise up the chain of command. This Sergeant Schultz routine has worked for years.

Clark offers one little tidbit that is sure to displease Empara:

“Every day I picked up coffee pot and spit in it, sometimes I pissed in it to fuck him.”

Clark states that Empara made racist comments:

“He used call Joe Williams the dumbest ni---er he ever met in his life.” (Williams, the Assistant to the Superintenent for Human Resources, is black)

Clark closes with a warning and ends with a plea:

“Whoever received this letter first better not show him. I’m giving you ways to get rid of him that only me and him know about (the gas, etc.). Right now I’m sending this to Artie Rivera and Joe Williams and after a couple of months to all ten (sic) board members, the Superintendent and Talk of the Sound.  Do something.

It has been more than two month since Clark sent these letters and the district has not done something.

NEXT: New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution - Part VII

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