NY Attny. Gen. Eliot Spitzer announced on Feb. 10 the arrest of 18 school custodians and a cleaning contractor on charges of bribes, rigged bids and kickbacks involving each schools cleaning contract. They were arraigned in the Bronx County Sup. Ct. the same day. The latest indictments come a little more than a year after 11 custodians were charged with similar crimes.
Acc. to the latest charges, 17 of the custodians arranged for Thomas Robinson to get the schools window cleaning contracts without considering at least two other bids, as required by the NYC Dept. of Educ. for services costing over $250. Robinson himself provided phony bids, some from firms that didnt exist. After being selected, Robinson would pay the custodians a kickback of 10-50% of each contract, which ranged from $1,000 to $4,000 cash. The scheme is alleged to have occurred from 1996-2001.
Local 891 of the Intl. Union of Operating Engineers, which represents the 850 custodians, has long been the subject of corruption scandals in NYC. In 1996, five custodians were indicted for stealing school money by manipulating time clocks and other abuses. In 2001, the Attny. Gen. and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the NYC School Dist., concluded that there was too much money and too little incentive to discourage corruption in the cleaning contract process. The union’s contract allows the custodians to control more than $40 million set aside for cleaning services. And since they can keep a portion of the unspent budget, there is little to discourage those who choose to engage in such corruption. The custodians earn as much as $92,000 a year.
If convicted, Robinson and the custodians face prison sentences ranging from four to 44 years. [NY Attny. Gen. 2/10/03, New York Daily News 2/11/03]