January 17, 1996
People I respect have told me to contact you, as they believe you to be a fair and honest person. Based on their assessment, I'm appealing to you in the hope that you may force a conclusion to what has been directed harassment of me that has lasted almost a year now. I have a problem that I believe results from discrimination against me for a job well done. It is, in my opopinion, a classic "whistleblowing" type of affair. With the exception of the normal press coverage, all other indications fit that mold. I'll attempt to give you a brief, or at least as brief as possible, outline of events in this document. For a fuller view of the facts, I have documentation that I feel to be relevant. I saved copies of most of the email that relate to the unreported Security contracts, and the ones that pertain to the attempted firing of the minority (Hispanic) employee. If you'd like copies, please let me know. .
I was with NYCHA, at C.A.D., for only a short time when I found myself confronted by a situation that was disturbing. My cubicle was directly across from the Office Manager's office. For a period lasting a few weeks, I heard a conspiracy against a C.A.D. employee taking place. The office manager and a supervisor of coordinators were both planning ways to force the dismissal of a new secretary, Lee Rivera. (Ms. Rivera had been working under the aforementioned supervisor.) I'm not proud of the way I listened, and did nothing, while this plot developed. I heard the office manager giving a terrible reference to someone inquiring about having Ms. Rivera transferred to another department. I sat with the supervisor while he bragged about getting rid of Ms. Rivera due to her race. And I did nothing.
Finally, after those weeks, the plot succeeded. I heard that Ms. Rivera had been told she was being dismissed. I went to the Director's office and asked if I could speak with Mr. Russo. In his office, I explained about the plot against this woman, and asked that Mr. Russo reconsider the dismissal in light of the underlying prejudice exhibited by her supervisor. I reported on the supervisor's bigotry, even though that supervisor and I were friends. I explained to Mr. Russo how the supervisor would brag about the plan for getting rid of Ms. Rivera to others at the coffee shop where the supervisor and I had breakfast.
When I finished, I was surprised at the director's reaction. Instead of questioning me to ascertain if my report was factual, Mr. Russo elected to lecture me on loyalty? How loyalty to him, and the other supervisory personnel at C.A.D., was essential if one planned on having a career at NYCHA. From the time I finished telling him of the discrimination, until the time I left his office, not another word about the employee or her plight was mentioned. As I was leaving Mr. Russo's office, I had to be sure that he understood my message. So, I asked him if he would rescind Ms. Rivera's termination. He said that he would take what I had said "under advisement." That afternoon, I saw Ms. Rivera leave Mr. Russo's office in tears. Someone told me that her termination was a "done deal", as Mr. Russo was close friends with the office manager.
I sent Mr. Russo an email, telling him that I could not work in an environment where prejudice was allowed. I added that I would resign, or he could fire me, but I wasn't staying at C.A.D. under these circumstances. I further wrote that if Ms. Rivera decided to instigate charges against C.A.D., I would appear as a witness to her discrimination. I then left C.A.D.. That evening, I received a phone call from Mr. Russo. He spent over 30 minutes asking me to reconsider my leaving C.A.D.. When he finally promised to keep Ms. Rivera, and assign her to a different section, I agreed to return. But I was aware that I hadn't made a good impression with my Director. Aside from Ms. Rivera's small victory, one other good thing came of this affair. The supervisor in question, after verbally lashing out at me, agreed to discuss the sequence of events. After I pointed to what I knew, and quoted the supervisor's own words at the coffee shop, he realized that he had behaved in a discriminatory manner. He apologized for his tirade at me, and we shook hands. The office manager, however, berated me for my "nerve" in lecturing Mr. Russo in both my email AND on the phone. I told her that I didn't think that I was too harsh with Mr. Russo on the phone. And she stated that she heard what I had said. It turned out that what I assumed to be a private conversation between Mr. Russo and myself, was actually being monitored by the office manager. And, unlike the supervisor, she was not about to shake hands with me. So that ended my first problem at C.A.D..
Much later, the same office manager had Mr. Russo write a counseling memo about me. I was, at that time, the Training Coordinator for C.A.D.. I received an email from the Office Manager with some suggestion on Training. Shortly after, I received an email on the same subject from the Director. Although both email were innocuous, their content was very similar. I replied to both, stating that I had already attempted to get Staff Development to implement the suggestion, and they had explained that they could not comply. When I next saw the office manager, I mentioned that Mr. Russo had come up with the same idea as her, and at the same time. She took offense, and stated that I was "paranoid" if I thought that she had "blind copied" her email, to me, over to Mr. Russo. As I had never mentioned copying, and especially not "blind copied", as I had never used that term, I was surprised at her animosity. But, as she continued to act outraged, I apologized for even bringing up the subject and left her office. I returned to my desk and found that I had received a subsequent email from Mr. Russo. In that email, he had sent an attachment with the office manager's "blind copy" to him of the original message. I now knew what had happened, but I paid it little mind. Unfortunately, she brought it up again at our next meeting, and continued to label me paranoid. So, I went and printed out the note, with the "blind Copy", from Mr. Russo, and left it on her desk.
Later that day, I was entering the elevator with another C.A.D. employee. The office manager got on the elevator and continued to berate me. I refused to be baited, and told her I didn't want to discuss this any further. But she wouldn't stop. (She explained away the copy by saying she forgot she sent it. My "paranoia" was not mentioned again.) As she followed me all the way out of the building, and it was obvious that she had no intention of ceasing her hostilities, I went back upstairs and punched out for the day. I figured the loss of a few hours pay was well worth missing, versus an afternoon of argument.
When I entered work the next day, I was told to report to Mr. Russo. He told me that I was having a counseling memo placed in my personnel file. The office manager had reported that I was screaming and being belligerent to her in the lobby of 123 William street. I knew that I was being set up, similar to Ms. Rivera. However, when Mr. Russo mentioned the fact that Mr. Navaro was also present at this altercation, I knew that I had a chance of proving my innocence. I spoke with Mr. Navaro (Asst. to Deputy Director), and he stated that he "thought you behaved like a perfect gentleman, in light of Ms. Ali's behavior." I put together a reply to Mr. Russo's counseling memo, and included Mr. Nevaro's statement in my reply. I was told by Mr. Russo's secretary that my counseling memo was rescinded. (Months later, I received permission from the Dep. Director to make a appointment to view my personnel file. There were no counseling memos in my file.)
I now realize that those problems were my first two strikes in the game being played at C.A.D..
I had been formatting "pretty" reports from C.A.D., as I've spent years working in the Desktop Publishing field. Now, In September of 1995, I had just been made supervisor of a new Computer Operations & Reports Section at C.A.D.. Mr. Bob Sharak, Asst. to Dominic Catania, requested that I format a Security Pact report. I did, and he reported that everyone raved about the format. About a week later, I found Mr. Sharak and Mr. Nat Parris, Security Section Supervisor, at my desk. Mr. Sharak stated that one contract was missing from my report. I explained that Mr. Russo had directed that I only use data given me by Mr. Parris, and had expressly forbidden me from using my computer skills to locate contracts on my own. However, those instructions had been given to me while I had worked directly under Mr. Russo. So, I asked Mr. Sharak if he really wanted me to search the three systems (FMS, System 36 and the LAN) for the contract. He said yes. I then asked if he wanted me to report on any other contracts I found. He looked shocked, so I explained that the Security section kept very sloppy records, and that I had found many mistakes on the past reports. Mr. Sharak told me to proceed. I called my new boss, Mr. James Martonik and asked if I should comply. Mr. Martonik stated that if Mr. Catania's office needed data, it was our job to supply it. So, I proceeded. And, with the help of another person in my Section, I found over 140 contracts, worth over $50.000.000, that had not been reflected in earlier reports to NYCHA management or to the public through Freedom of Information Reports.
Within the next few weeks, the new Computer Operations & Reports Section at C.A.D. was disbanded. I was told that I would be reporting to Haber Field Office as a heating inspector. During the days that I spent waiting for my reassignment, Charles Berrouette, a member of my old Section, received some odd directives from the Security Section. First, he was told to delete all the contracts I had found. As Mr. Martonik was still our boss, temporarily, I called him. He directed Charles not to delete any files without written confirmation from Nat Parris, the supervisor of the Security Section. Charles called Security and asked for the written confirmation. He was told to forget the deletions. Later, he was directed, by Security, to delete any of the newly found files that claimed 100% completion. Again, I called Mr. Martonik. His instructions were the same as before. And, again, the Security Section would not send a signed memo, so the files were not deleted.
I don't know if the files were deleted after I left. I do know that an innocent employee wound up being dismissed. Mr. Michel, who at the time was the chief coordinator of the Security Section, told me that the Section's secretary, Ms. Millie Sanchez, was fired as a result of my finding those contracts. Mr. Michel stated that the blame for the missing contracts was laid on Ms. Sanchez, and that she was dismissed. As most of the missing contracts pre-dated Ms. Sanchez's hire, it would seem impossible for her to have been to blame. Also, I had found missing contracts on Security Reports done long prior to Ms. Sanchez's hire. And, a week before this latest report, on a Monday, Ms. Sanchez reported to me that all the Security files had been deleted from our LAN. She said that she had worked on one of the files the Friday before, but someone had deleted them over the weekend.
I notified Mr. Russo, and recommended that someone check the weekend sign-in log held by building management, as deleting those files can be a Federal Offense. (I never heard about my suggestion, again.) I contacted a friend in Computer Services, and they returned a backup copy from the server. Ms. Sanchez asked me to show her how to change her password, as her current one was known by others in her Section. She was so upset, that even if it were physically impossible for her to have been the cause of the $50,000,000 in missing contracts (as she wasn't working for NYCHA at the time), I would have doubted that she could have been involved in any unauthorized deleting. Anyway, Ms. Sanchez took the fall for whoever was responsible. After her dismissal, I was asked to meet with the Inspector General's office, as Ms. Sanchez had filed a complaint. I brought the requested records. The gentleman representing the I.G. said that he saw obvious miss-management after viewing what I brought. He also stated that he smelled money passing hands, but that it would be hard to prove. So, he could actually not report anything. He stated that miss-management was not one of the items they were permitted to report to the Chair, and any illegalities would take a long time to prove. So, Ms. Sanchez was next seen working as a waitress in a downtown restaurant.
I arrived at Haber, and it became obvious that I was being set up for dismissal. I had explained to James Gleba (Asst. Director/Mechanical) that I had been hired as a mechanical inspector, and that I had no experience with Boilers or Underground Storage Tanks, yet I was being shifted into the Heating Section. He said he would check on switching me back to the Mechanical Section. A little while later he, told me that Mr. Russo had ordered that I go to the Heating Section, under Mr. James Timpanaro, and that there was no chance of that being changed. As the Heating Section was new, and was heralded by Mr. Russo as a section composed of experts in Boilers, I was confused as to the rationale in placing me amongst these experts.
Later, after I found out about the special instructions given to Mr. Timpanaro, I would realize why this assignment was important. As you'll see in the attached documents, I was to be given discriminatory treatment. There can be no doubt as to what was expected. I would eventually be dismissed from NYCHA, and the Security Report would not look like the culprit. However, due to some luck, and some incompetence on the part of Mr. Leon Michel, I thwarted the attempts to set me up. Four attempts were made at getting me into a position where I could be "justifiably" dismissed from the Authority. Each one was proven false. But this has got to cease! It's getting to a point where both I and the Authority are being effected.
For example, I have received data on fuel oil spills that haven't been properly reported by the Authority. This data came to me from anonymous sources, but they were obviously sent from outside C.A.D.. The only thing attached was a note stating that my problem was getting known throughout NYCHA, and that others supported me. It's getting so that I feel I'm stuck in some conspiracy script getting put together for a movie of the week.
Dominic Catania spoke with me, and while he stated that he couldn't guarantee any results, he would tell Mr. Russo that he wanted him to resolve this situation. Mr. Catania asked what I wanted out of a resolution. I explained that I only wanted one thing. An apology, which is all I've asked for all along. Of course, although I failed to mention it at the time, I would also request assurances that this affair would not cause C.A.D. to give bad references on me, including, but not limited to, to any Department in NYCHA, should a transfer be arranged. And, thirdly, assurances that those inspectors who had the courage to come forward with information on this problem, notably James Timpanaro and Shawn Lundgren, would not be further harassed as a result of their honesty.
A week later, I called Mr. Russo to inquire if he would try to resolve this as Mr. Catania had asked. He immediately told me that I should expect no apology. He said that if he were to have any meeting to discuss this, it would not be held until I was back from Worker's Comp. I requested a meeting immediately, but he said that it was against the Authority's policy to conduct meetings with a person on compensation. I pointed out that I had been directed to attend a meeting with the Asst. Director, Mr. Gleba, while I was on Comp., and that Mr.Russo had spoken to me that day. Further, Mr. Russo and I had even discussed my compensation case while I was waiting for my meeting with Mr. Gleba at 123 William Street. After a pause, he told me that any meeting would not be held until I returned to work.
Meanwhile, people have still heard Mr. Michel claim that I was a thief, and I'm to wait for weeks to pass before I get to defend myself.
I explained to Mr. Russo that I couldn't wait that long and that I'd have to try and get quicker results elsewhere. He told me to go ahead, that it was my choice. So, I've decided to contact you. I'm hoping that you could use your offices to bring this matter to a resolution. I believe that even the single document in the next fax more than make a case for this matter to receive both serious and immediate attention. And I hope you'll agree.
John E. Ballinger
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