New York awards hundreds of millions to sellers with criminal records

City Controller Brad Lander — who has publicly vowed to root out bad actors among city contractors — has a history of looking the other way at shady contractors with criminal records.

The city’s top financial supervisor, a socialist, is charged with monitoring the city’s contracts, checking them for waste and fraud and — if there are red flags — sending them back to the city’s issuing authority for further review. Although Lander cannot stop the execution of a contract, his office plays an important role in oversight and can in effect regulate the approval process.

In October 2022, Dragonetti Brothers Landscaping, a longtime city contractor, paid a $1.2 million fine after pleading guilty to insurance fraud, according to a press release by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg; The company had received hundreds of city contracts since the 1990s for projects such as park landscaping, sidewalk reconstruction and crosswalks. Dragonetti’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment

The guilty plea barred Dragonetti from working with the city’s Planning and Building and Business Integrity Commission for three years — though other agencies were free to continue working with them.

An ad for Dragonetti Brothers.
Dragonetti Brothers Landscaping has paid a $1.2 million fine after pleading guilty to insurance fraud.
Paul Martinka

Lander appears to have signed at least seven new contracts that the company won in October and November 2022, according to the bureau’s own website. Parks Department contracts include $7.6 million for tree planting in Manhattan, $7.3 million for tree and stump removal in Queens and $2.5 million for pruning in Brooklyn.

“I can tell you that [comptroller’s] The job has become too politicized, and the politicization of the job is starting to get in the way of how the job gets done,” said Michael Lambert. the former deputy comptroller told The Postcalling the city’s work with shady vendors “a major drop in the ball at the level of the contract review process.”

In September 2022, the city’s Department of Planning and Construction awarded a $130 million contract to LendLease US Construction LMB Inc. for the construction of Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm Recreation Center. The 65,000-square-foot facility in East Flatbush will include a basketball court, indoor pool, indoor track and gym.

In 2012, however, the same approved company to the US Department of Justice that they had defrauded public customers through systemic overbilling of projects — including many in New York. Two top executives later pleaded guilty, and the company ultimately sought $56 million in fines and restitution.

“Through this deliberate plan of charging customers for work not done, [LendLease] defrauded their customers and stole taxpayer dollars,” said then-U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.

LendLease defended its current practices. “You’re referring to a case that ended in 2012 when the company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement … and all the charges dismissed in 2014, all of which meant we avoided a plea and/or prosecution,” a company spokesman said. “The company subsequently took appropriate corrective action, including compensation payments to customers.”

In 2019, the city The Investigation Department has launched an investigation at Acacia Network, the city’s largest provider of homeless shelters, after the nonprofit was ousted for allegedly funneling $12 million to a for-profit subcontractor owned mostly by Acacia leaders.

New York Comptroller Brad Lander and other elected officials held a rally at City Hall.
Lander publicly called for good governance in New York.
Sipa USA via AP

That didn’t stop the city’s Department of Homeless Services from awarding the nonprofit hundreds of millions in new contracts in 2022, including more than $140 million for a shelter in Queens and another $130 million for another in the Bronx.

“Acacia Network is committed to providing high-quality comprehensive services to thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers each year. These 2019 claims in the media have created a narrative about the organization that is simply not true. We welcomed the additional scrutiny and complied with all requests for information arising from it. We continue to be in good standing with our city’s oversight agencies and look forward to continuing to work with our partners to fulfill our shared missions,” a company spokesperson told The Post.

Queens Councilman Bob Holden said these companies had “violated the public trust” and “should not be doing business with this city.” As custodian of the city’s finances, he said the buck stopped with Lander.

“Brad Lander is the gatekeeper. He is the person we have in there to investigate and stop and end this corruption. New York state is one of the most corrupt states in the union and the city is a big part of that,” Holden said.

“If he was doing the job he was hired to do, I don’t think we would have this problem and you wouldn’t be writing this story.”

Shady contracts fly in the face of Lander’s public games of good governance. The comptroller has long been a stickler for closing “corruption vulnerabilities in the city’s contracting process.”

The Lander team pointed the finger at the city agencies that issue the contracts.

“Councilmember Holden intends to misunderstand the basics of the City’s contracting process that gives city officials responsibility for selecting and vetting vendors, while the auditor’s office is charged with ultimate oversight of city services to ensure that the proper procurement rules were followed and that there is money in the budget to pay for the contract,” Lander spokeswoman Chloe Chik said.