Monday, November 24, 2003
The government says the scheme involved demolition of a public eyesore.
CLEVELAND -- Two Austintown men are charged with conspiracy to bribe a Warren public official to give the company for which they worked the contract for demolition of the Mahoningside Power Plant and site cleanup.
Anthony Cervone, 53, of Rome Drive, and Matthew Mesaros, 36, of New Road, both employees of Innerscope Technical Services, were charged federally in a one-count information with violation of the Hobbs Act, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release.
They are charged with agreeing to pay about $75,000 in kickbacks to an unidentified Warren public official in exchange for that official's assistance in getting ITS the demolition and cleanup contract from the city between 1998 and 2000.
The demolition of the more than century-old landmark plant was a public spectacle, with its towering twin smokestacks toppled by explosives March 17, 1999. It had become an eyesore.
But site cleanup, estimated to cost about $3 million, was still being delayed by funding problems this past spring.
The government contends the owner of unnamed contractor No. 1 informed Cervone and Mesaros that ITS could obtain the contract in return for paying $75,000 to the public official, and ITS was awarded the contract, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Sometime in 1999, the unidentified public official asked Mesaros to give him an initial payment of $10,000, and Mesaros told Cervone of this request, the press release said.
Cervone agreed to pay $7,500 and told Mesaros to obtain a check payable to T & amp;J Construction Inc. for that amount, with the understanding that James F. Nicolaus, owner and operator of T & amp;J, would provide the proceeds of the check to the public official, federal prosecutors allege.
The public official told Nicolaus he would share the money with a second unnamed public official, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Sometime in 1999, Mesaros delivered a check from ITS for $7,500, payable to T & amp;J, to the first public official, who asked Nicolaus to create a fictitious invoice for $7,500, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in the news release.
After receiving payment on that invoice from ITS in late February or early March 1999, Nicolaus retained $1,500 and gave the remaining $6,000 to the first public official, knowing that it was in exchange for that official's help in obtaining the Mahoningside contract for ITS, federal prosecutors said.
Because of a dispute between ITS and a second unnamed contractor, no further payments were made to the first public official by means of Nicolaus supplying fictitious invoices to ITS, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
In September or October 1999, questions arose about whether T & amp;J had actually performed work at Mahoningside, the U.S. Attorney's Office said, without stating the source of the inquiry. To further conceal the scheme, Nicolaus, at the request of the first public official, Cervone and Mezaros, obtained a fictitious invoice for $4,250 from a third unnamed contractor to support the previous fictitious invoice and make it appear that T & amp;J actually incurred expenses and performed work on the Mahoningside project, the U.S. Attorney's Office alleged.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attys. Ann C. Rowland and Matthew B. Kall after an investigation by the FBI's Youngstown office and the Warren Police Department.
Nicolaus, 46, of Hazelwood Drive, Warren, pleaded guilty in July to one charge of extortion. He was sentenced to serve one year and one day in prison, followed by two years' probation, and was ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution to Warren.
From the early 1990s until June 2000, Nicolaus paid kickbacks requested by an unidentified public official in exchange for that official's assistance in winning public contracts in Warren for his company and other contractors, a 16-page plea agreement says.