Press Release Article


Date: Jun 19, 2008
Press Release Number: 61-2008

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Inspector General Robert E. Van Etten today announced the arraignment of a Long Island construction contractor on two felony and two misdemeanor charges stemming from the underpayment of wages to 13 laborers in excess of $25,000 on a public construction project.

Gerard Ippolito, president of Liberty Tree Service, Inc., and his corporation face numerous charges, including Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree - a Class E felony - and Failing to Pay Wages, a misdemeanor. The defendants entered not guilty pleas today in Queens County Criminal Court.

According to court papers, between October 18, 2004 and December 31, 2005, employees of Liberty Tree Services, Inc. worked on a Port Authority project involving landscaping for the John F. Kennedy International Airport Van Wyck Corridor Beautification Program, which followed the path of the AirTrain. The contract was subject to the state's prevailing wage law, which dictates the hourly rates that must be paid to employees on public work projects.

The weekly certified payroll records submitted by the defendants in the case showed the workers being paid the legal hourly prevailing wage rates of $51.11 per hour. However, the contractors' employees were actually paid hourly wages much less then the prescribed hourly rate. The defendants are charged with filing false certified payroll records in an effort to conceal underpayments of $27,484.72 to 13 employees.

The case was investigated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Inspector General's Office and then referred to the New York State Attorney General's Office for prosecution.

Port Authority Inspector General Robert E. Van Etten said, "Firms doing business with the Port Authority are legally bound to pay their employees the fair and prevailing wage. Here, however, the defendant chose to enrich himself at the expense of his own workers. These charges serve notice to all contractors that the Port Authority will not tolerate wage fraud or any other cheating on Port Authority projects."

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said, "My administration is committed to prosecuting any contractor who underpays the prevailing wage and who secures payments from a contracting authority by providing false payroll records." Cuomo said, "the failure of a contractor to pay the wages mandated by law and the underlying contract is unconscionable. The contractor cannot justify padding his profit on the backs of its work force, and as such the employees must be compensated for the money they rightly earned, but were not paid."

The charges in the case are allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven otherwise by a court of law.

The Port Authority's Inspector General's investigation was conducted by Investigator Robert Ward and Supervising Investigator Jeffrey Schaffler, under the supervision of Investigative Manager Ed Kennedy and Director of Investigations Michael Nestor.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Richard Balletta of the Attorney General's Labor Bureau and Investigator Brian Ford of the Investigations Bureau. The case is being supervised by Mylan Denerstein, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice, and Felice Sontupe, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
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The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates many of the busiest and most important transportation links in the region. They include John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro airports; AirTrain JFK and AirTrain Newark; the George Washington Bridge and Bus Station; the Lincoln and Holland tunnels; the three bridges between Staten Island and New Jersey; the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) rapid-transit system; the Port Authority-Downtown Manhattan Heliport; Port Newark; the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal; the Howland Hook Marine Terminal on Staten Island; the Brooklyn Piers/Red Hook Container Terminal; and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan. The agency also owns the 16-acre World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.

The Port Authority is financially self-supporting and receives no tax revenue from either state.

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