No Corruption in New Rochelle Schools? Visit Barnard School Tennis Courts

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — At a recent meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education, member David Lacher flatly denied there had been corruption in the school district despite rampant evident to the contrary, including his own example of effectively misappropriating public funds by refusing to reimburse the district for over $13,500 in personal medical expenses. Lacher claimed that while there may have been waste there had been no fraud, dismissing those who would claim otherwise.

With Aramark finally on the way out of New Rochelle, effective at the end of this month, I would refer readers to our multi-part series which documents numerous examples of waste, fraud and abuse with plenty of examples of the corruption Lacher claims never happened.

One example I never got around to publishing was the Barnard School tennis court scam perpetrated by John Gallagher of Aramark and Mauro Zonzini, one of the most crooked operators in New Rochelle for many years. This is the story of how Gallagher and Zonzini turned a $5,000 job into another “full coffee-cup” windfall for themselves (I have reported previously how Gallagher was paid off by the delivery of cash hidden in coffee cups, usually in $5,000 and $10,000 increments, to his City Hall office).

The tennis courts at Barnard School lay atop a property line divide between school property and public parkland connected to City Park. No one uses the tennis courts at Barnard School. There are no nets, the surface is unplayable. The tennis courts are completely surrounded by a rusty fence. The only entrance is a door-size gate built into the fence. The school district does not use the tennis courts for tennis — or anything else. Neither does the parks department.

In the spring of 2012, the head custodian at Barnard School noticed a hole in the asphalt surface of the tennis court and reported what turned out to be a small sinkhole resulting from a broken drainage pipe. The pipe runs diagonally underneath the asphalt on the school district side of the tennis courts.

The work entailed digging out the hole, replacing the damaged drainage pipe, filling the hole back in and then finishing the surface with asphalt. The work was the proverbial “shovel-ready” project. The sink hole was described by Zonzini as 4 feet by 3 feet by 5 feet deep. Two knowledgeable sources examined the work site, after the fact, and estimated the work should have cost no more than $5,000.

Despite the lack of use and the opportunity to work over the summer, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn and John Gallagher of Aramark classified the hole in the unused tennis court as an “Emergency Dangerous Condition Sinkhole”. By declaring the work an “emergency” Gallagher and Quinn could simply hand the job to Zonzini without competitive bidding which they did.

With no competing bids to worry about, Mauro Zonzini proposed to do the work for the inflated price of $14,876.48 — about three times what the job should have cost. This bid was accepted by Quinn and Gallagher.

In his proposal, Zonzini claimed he would need a service truck with compressor, repair tools and equipment with an operator for three days at $900 a day for a total of $2,700. Also, a backhoe with an operator for two days at $1,500 a day for a total of $3,000. Also, 3 men x working 3 days of 8 hours at a daily rate of $112.00 for a total of $8,064. Also, a mason working 16 hours at $69.53 for a total of $1,112.48. Also, supplies and materials. All-in, Zonzini wanted $14,876.48 plus supplies and materials to dig a hole, fix a pipe and fill the hole.

Zonzini did not rent any equipment. One look at the property, encircled by an old fence, should have been enough to raise some rather obvious questions. The tennis courts are surrounded by an old fence yet Zonzini claims to have gotten a backhoe, a dump truck and a pickup track onto the job site. Impossible. The fence remained untouched and none of the equipment could fit through the door gate. This is the same trick pulled by George Wood with his $5,000 flag pole, another Quinn-Gallagher con job.

According to sources familiar with the work that summer, Zonzini hired off-the-books day laborers to dig the hole.

Zonzini was allowed to bill out all the laborers work as overtime work at double the normal rate — all while the mason was working at the regular rate. He did this by manipulating a P.N. contract.

For many years, the district bid out “mechanics contracts”, supposedly to lock in “low” labor rates from plumbers, electricians, masons and others to deal with “emergencies”. These contracts were handed out through rigged bids, as is widely known in New Rochelle, and in fact were used as the basis for handing out no bid work worth millions of dollars One such contract was P.N. 4278, approved by school board members including a presumably oblivious David Lacher. The contract included a pre-approved hourly mason rate of $69.53 and a pre-approved hourly laborer rate of $56.00. he contract specified overtime rates of $139.06 for masons and $112.00 for laborers where overtime included weekdays after 4:30 p.m., weekends and holidays. There is no extra pay for “emergency” work or “summer” work per se. Despite this, Zonzini proposed to charge the district $112.00 an hour for laborers. This rate was paid.

According to the paperwork filed by Zonzini, the work on the sinkhole was done between July 10th and August 8th. There are no federal holidays during that period. In order to justify paying laborers $112 an hour, he would have scheduled the laborers to work only on “weekends and holidays” or work at night.

Zonzini claims that his laborers worked for 4 days at double-time which means they worked Saturday and Sunday, took the week off and then came back the following Saturday and Sunday. The mason, meanwhile supposedly worked on regular time — during weekdays.

When Gallagher is questioned by the Purchasing Manager, he says “I have been on site for the entire time of the repairs.”

The entire time?

Beyond the obvious absurdity that the Director of Buildings & Grounds would spend his days at the Barnard tennis courts watching Mauro Zonzini dig a hole, this work supposedly occurred over the weekends in the summer. 

Did Gallagher spent his weekends in the summer of 2012 with Zonzini behind the Barnard School? No.

In an email exchange questioning the spending, Gallagher tells the purchasing manager he was on site every day (unlikely) and the work was not being overcharged (false).

By the time the invoice was submitted for payment Zonzini had added an extra day of a backhoe with operator (now 4 days at $1500 per day = $6,000), added more laborer hours (now 96 hours at $112 per hour = $10,752, added another service truck day (now 4 days at $900 per day = $3,600). And he tossed in materials costs for pipes and fittings ($400 x 2 = $800).

In this way, step by step, Zonzini and Gallagher turned a $5,000 job into $14,876.48 then $22,264.48. The increase of$7,388 was retroactively approved by John Quinn and John Gallagher. Under the Aramark contract, Gallagher had no authority to sign such an approval.

But they were not done yet. According to Gallagher more work needed to be done because “conditions are getting worse every time it rains”.

Zonzini tacked on a Dump Truck with operator (1 day at $1,000 a day = $1,000), a Pickup Truck with operator (8 hours x $58.00 = $464.00), an another day with the Backhoe (1 day at $1,500 per day), more mason hours an (16 hours x $69.53 = $1,112.48), more material costs ($350) and more laborer hours at the overtime rate (16 hours at $112.00 per hour = $1,792). In total, an extra $6,218.48 brining the entire cost to fill in a hole to $28,582.96

In mid-August, the purchasing manager wrote to Gallagher and Quinn:

“I am reviewing this PO requisition for $6,218.48 dated 8/9/12 for M. Zonzini. I was under the impression that this work was completed and therefore this would need to be processed as a claim. The original PO for this repair of the sink hole at Barnard for $14,876.48 was placed on 7/16/12. We then increased the PO due to unforeseen conditions by $7,388.00 on 7/31/12 for a total project cost of $22,264.48 to repair a sink hole.

With this new PO request, the total cost for this job is now $28,582.96. I think we need to review this to make sure we have not been double billed for some of these charges…”

Gallagher replied:

“I have been on site for the entire time of the repairs. We have not been doubled billed for anything. It is two separate jobs in two separate locations. I reviewed this with Mr. Quinn on Friday.”

Even setting aside the over-billing, the invoices should never have been paid. Certified payroll for all workers was required with each invoice. There is no record that certified payroll records were provided. There is no record of anyone observing the work or accepting the final work when completed. There are no photographs or other evidence that any of the work occurred as described. There is an Estimate from Contractor but it was not followed, the estimated contained inflated labor rates and no estimate for materials even though Zonzini supplied materials. There is a Requisition Order but based on an improper estimate.

The billing does not conform to terms of PN 4292, the annual contract, because it is charging at a weekend/holiday rate for laborers There are no Certificates of Insurance naming the City School District as “Additionally Insured” on file included. There is no specific information about time worked at each job site and the invoice does not accurately bill for labor at the specific bid hourly rate. There are no daily reports to validate work done (just Gallagher’s assurance that he was present the entire time), there is no Certified Payroll form, so it does not exist it cannot match the invoice and there is no way to confirm that workers were paid Westchester County Prevailing Wage or that workers were hired for a full normal working day.

There is no indication that any methodology used to confirm that workers were on site for the period in the invoices or that actual workers were on site for the period in the invoices.

There are lump sum materials cost of $1,150.00. Under the contract, such materials are to be provided by the District except with prior written approval. There is none. Materials costs must be itemized. These costs are not itemized. Materials costs must be supported with receipts and evidence that the materials were used for that job. Neither is the case here. The materials used were required to be be supplied by the School District as indicated in the Bid Award. There are no Supporting Documents for Materials used on the job, there is no detailed proposal for materials and there is no PRIOR written approval. The invoice is not accurate in terms of time materials used at each job site and does not indicate the precise amount of materials used. 

Zonzini did not provide receipts for all individual material items in excess of $500. There is no evidence that material was actually utilized on site. Zonzini did not provide matching Equipment Rental receipts for equipment described as rented in the Invoices.

All of this, according to Michael Orifici, the district’s construction consultant who investigated waste, fraud and abuse in 2014, was standard practice on every capital construction project and maintenance work.

It is also worth noting that the district employed a plumber (Anthony Raffa), a mason (Michael Matisse) and plenty of laborers would have dug out the hole just as well as Mauro Zonzini and his crew.

Zonzini charged the district $28,582.96 for about $5,000 worth of work, an extra $23,583.96. There are hundreds of similar examples of this sort of theft. The amounts run into the millions. David Lacher should get his head out of the sand before making the absurd claim that there has not been any corruption in the City School District of New Rochelle.