I had an accident while working in construction. I wound up partially paralyzed down my lower left side. When muscle atrophy became serious, I agreed to a back operation. The surgeon did a laminectomy (removal of a spinal disk) and followed that with spinal fusion of the area where the disk was removed. It cleared up the paralysis, but I still had constant pain. I was given total disability status and collected Social Security disability. By 1994 I had decided that I just couldn't stand staying at home anymore. A friend had a relative who was a local politician in my area. I told the friend that I was looking for something to do that would use my skills while not being too physically taxing. He made a call to his relative and I was asked for a resume. Within weeks, I was called to New York City's Public Housing Authority, NYCHA, for an interview.
I began working at NYCHA in September of 1994. I was assigned to the Contract Administration Department (CAD). On my first day, I was handed a booklet about NYCHA contract work "The Resident's Guide to Contract Modernization". It was a very poorly done publication, and I couldn't see it as something any resident would really want to read. As I had done some Desktop Publishing, I put together a draft of a new booklet over the first weekend I was at CAD. I used the same text as the initial booklet, but I included some decent graphics and used formatting to increase the booklet's readability.
I let the CAD Training Coordinator see it, and he must have brought it to Mr. Russo's attention. I only spent a week in the field as a Supervisor of Mechanical Installation, or SMI. (An SMI is commonly referred to as a Mechanical Contract Inspector.) At the end of that week, I was told that I was being transferred to CAD's Central office located at 123 William Street in Manhattan.
The Director of CAD was Mr. William (Bill) Russo. He met with me and told me that he had read of my work with computers in my resume and had seen that my desktop publishing skills had improved the Resident's Guide. He told me that he would like to use my skills at CAD's Central Office. He also said that based on his knowledge of how NYCHA worked, we'd both be "moving up the NYCHA ladder."
My first task was to continue working on "The Resident's Guide." During the next year, I was also tasked with recommending needed changes in CAD's computer operations (Click Here), creating colorful party flyers for various departments; publishing the spreadsheets and other data that CAD was forwarding to others in NYCHA, City Hall and to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I was tasked with helping the Department of Modernization with producing a computer driven multi-media report. I began to do party flyers for other departments at Mr. Russo's direction. One week, I was directed to do the research, editing, formatting and then delivering Mr. Russo's report on Jacob Riis to him at Columbia University for a NYCHA funded college course he and Ms. Sonia Martinez (Director, NYCHA-OEO) were taking.
In March of 1995, I had my first clash with Mr. Russo. This clash would also involve the office manager and a Supervisor of Mechanical Coordinators at CAD. The Supervisor and I both liked arriving early to work every morning. We both also had breakfast at the same restaurant. By now we had discovered that we were both Vietnam Vets, and we had become somewhat friendly. During the last weeks of February, this Supervisor became quite angry that he had been assigned a new secretary. He was furious about this woman being assigned to him. He began to continually use racist remarks when speaking of her. As she had a nose stud his favorite term became "that nigger with the bone in her nose".
During this same time period, the office manager of CAD began arriving to work early to meet with this Supervisor in her cubicle for 30 minutes or so each morning. The office manager had told me that the new secretary had once fought with a friend of the office manager, long before the secretary had been hired by NYCHA.
The Supervisor had been an outspoken critic of the office manager in the past. He had spread some awful rumors about her, and he had been the person who told me about her "inappropriate" relationship with the Director. So this was a really odd pairing. As my cubicle was directly across from the office manager's, I could often overhear some of what was going on. They were conspiring to find a way to fire the new secretary. They decided that the Supervisor would give the woman an awful review, and the office manager would then suggest to Mr. Russo that he fire her.
Some of the people working in the Mechanical Section along with a few other secretaries that worked on the same floor saw what was happening. As Bill Russo was still treating me as some Golden Boy, they asked me if I could speak to him about the girl being harassed. I declined, as I believed that my going to Mr. Russo would probably just escalate matters. I held the hope that the harassment would run its course and die away.
On the morning of March 17, I saw the secretary leave the Director's office, and she was crying. I asked her what was wrong. She said that Mr. Russo had told her that she was going to be dismissed from the Authority. I told her nothing of what I knew about the conspiracy to get her, but decided I would now have to approach Mr. Russo myself. But there was still that problem of his friendship with the office manager.
Mr. Russo socialized with the office manager, and she spoke about it with me constantly. I knew that as a "new guy" I had better try to stay away from getting her involved in my talk with him. So I decided that I would only tell him about the Supervisor's prejudice and how racism was behind the Supervisor's poor reports on the woman's efficiency. And so that's what I did. I met with Mr. Russo for about 10 minutes, and explained to him about the Supervisor's discriminatory attitude.
At the end of my tale, he stared at me for such a length of time that I began to feel extremely uncomfortable. Then he gave me a speech on how loyalty was the attribute he most cherished in his underlings. (He gave similar "loyalty" talks in future meetings.) He explained that loyalty could only be shown when someone had to support a decision on which one didn't really agree. Further, I had to realize that he knew what was best in the "overall scheme of things." However, he did say that he would seriously consider what I had told him. And, although I knew that I wasn't as popular with him as I had been before I had just walked into his office, I assumed that he'd now have to keep the secretary. Once he was informed of prejudice being behind the poor review, he would have to keep her. Right?
Well wasn't I surprised when I saw the secretary leave Mr. Russo's office at lunchtime. She was crying again, and said that Mr. Russo had reconfirmed his decision to have her dismissed.
(Again, please allow me to interrupt myself. I've spent near 30 years working in heavy construction. I worked with whites who hated blacks, blacks who hated whites and Hispanics who hated both. I was laid off from a good job when the courts forced integration onto the local union, and I wound up having my wife and two children on welfare when 800 minority members were given our construction jobs by court order. I was in the Army for 3 years and Vietnam for one of them, and I've seen courageous Blacks, Whites and Latinos, and cowardly Blacks, Whites and Latinos. I've known white bigots, and I've known bigots of color. I am not easily shocked by prejudice and I have not been active in any civil rights campaigns. In short, until joining NYCHA I had never been an activist of any stripe.
But I was shocked to see that an Executive for a government Agency/Authority was so cavalier in his handling of an individual whom he had been warned was being racially discriminated against by her Supervisor. I expected, at a minimum, a quasi-hearing to be held in his office so that "truth" might be found. But, that wasn't meant to be.)
I didn't see any options. I knew that after the idiotic "Loyalty" speech I had received, I was expected be a "good boy" and just shut up about this whole thing. But this had crossed over some internal line in my conscience. This woman was losing her livelihood due to the machinations of a bigot and another woman with a personal ax to grind. So, I wrote an email to Mr. Russo, told him that I wouldn't be back, and I punched out and went home. (Click here)
That evening I received a call from him. He asked me to reconsider and to return to work on Monday. I explained that I couldn't do that as long as he continued to condone racism in the office. I was NOT diplomatic during this conversation. I told him that I thought much less of him, as a man, than I had until now. After 30 minutes of conversation, he agreed to allow the secretary to remain with NYCHA. But I insisted that she also be transferred, as she couldn't be treated fairly in her present situation. Mr. Russo finally agreed, and I agreed to return to work on Monday.
That Monday, I went to check and see if the secretary had indeed been transferred. I was stunned to find her exactly one desk away from her old cubicle. It turned out that, while I am certain Mr. Russo understood that I was requesting she be transferred out of CAD, he chose to understand that transferring her to the nearest other supervisor was sufficient to cover his agreement. The poor woman was now in a position where the new supervisor realized Mr. Russo had been forced to keep the woman, but that Mr. Russo also didn't want her. Also, she still worked under the same office manager. So, this poor secretary lived through a little hell every day. And I was stuck. Were I to renew my threat, she would surely be fired as a result. And, to add insult to injury, I was called into the office manager's cubicle. She told me that Bill Russo had played back a tape of our conversation to her, and that she thought that I had been "too tough" on him. She said that he looked up to me as a result of my Army decorations, and that my saying that he was now less of a man in my eyes hurt him. She asked me to apologize to him. I refused. She got quite angry, and told me that I had made a big mistake by sticking up for that secretary.
I was so mad at the fact that Bill Russo would tape my call and then play it back for her amusement that I just walked out of her cubicle. Later, she came to my area and tried to explain that Mr. Russo, as a Director of NYCHA, needed to tape many conversations, both on the phone and in his office, so that he had proof of exactly what was said if he ever needed it in some legal setting. She told me that Peter Trifoli, at that time the Supervisor of a new Construction Management Section of CAD, also carried a recorder and surreptitiously taped certain conversations. She added that I had made a big mistake sticking up for that secretary, and I should just be glad that I was back at work.
I began to see that NYCHA was certainly not an employee friendly agency.
Later, when I attended a Computer Services party, I became more aware of how NYCHA's executives treat their employees. Mr. Bruce Gatewood had just been brought in as Director of Computer Services. At this party, he surprised me by asking if I would accept a promotion to Deputy Director of PC Services. I mentioned that I hadn't heard of such a title, and he said he would have no trouble having it created. He spoke of the work I had done for Computer Services in the past, and how his staff was up to date on a Networking environment, they didn't have much expertise on the desktop PC's. Well, as that salary would be nearly double what I was earning, and I loved working with PC's, I quickly accepted.
The night wore on, and Mr. Gatewood asked me if he could dance with my wife. She was sitting next to me, and I told him that it was up to her. She agreed to dance. He asked again maybe twice during the next hour. On the 3rd dance, I noticed that my wife hadn't returned after the song had finished. I looked across the dimly lit dance floor, and saw her struggling with him. He had her by the arms, and she looked frightened. As I got up, I signaled her to push him hard. She did, and came quickly to our table. Bruce went the other way.
After she took some time to compose herself, she explained how Bruce had grabbed her, molested her and told her that if she wanted me to get the new job she's have to meet him on the following Monday. She was to allocate a couple of hours over lunch to have sex with him, and if she told me I'd never get a good job at NYCHA.
Some have since chastised me that I didn't think "Lawyer" right away. But I've never had any doubt that I handled this in the best manner possible. I confronted Bruce, and he told me that my wife was a lying bitch, or words to that effect. We went outside the bar, and Bruce again questioned my wife's honesty. And he made the mistake of trying to punch a very angry man. Bruce had 3 or 4 inches in height over me, and a good 40 pounds to boot. But I had enough adrenaline running through me to make me forget all that. When I left him to return to the party, he had now admitted to the assault on my wife. He swore his "girl friend of 30 years had left" him and that he was so depressed about it that he wasn't acting like himself. He told me this while he was on his knees, holding his head and crying, and swearing he'd never do anything like that again.
The next morning, I turned over in bed and saw black and blue marks on my wife's shoulders. The bastard had really played rough. If I had known how bad this 6'6" monster had treated my wife, I might have hoped he suffered a much worse allergic reaction. As it was, however, he took a week off to recuperate from this night. He had called his office and told them that he was having real bad headaches and he had a very sore throat.
For some reason, at any future NYCHA parties my wife and I attended, Bruce would immediately leave.
Of course, we all have now heard that Bruce Gatewood was quite the sexual harasser. The names of other victims have been reported, and lawyers were retained. And NYCHA may soon have to cough up some cash to some of his many victims. Also, some reports have said that this sexual harassment is what caused the dismissal of the NYCHA Chair, Ruben Franco. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving group from any Agency/Authority or City government.
Oh! I somehow never received the job Bruce had promised.
In an Issue of the Housing Spotlight, I tell the story of how Norberto Caballery and Henry Coira, two prominent NYCHA Executives, wanted me to join them in making use of Bruce's attack on my wife. Norberto told me that all of us could gain power over Bruce, and that would give us carte blanche for anything we wanted out of Computer Services. Norberto also promise that Kalman Finkel, now NYCHA's Acting Chair, would then be under "our" thumbs.
Where the hell does
NYCHA/City Hall get these guys!!!
Are they all ex-felons that
Rudy once prosecuted?
In August of 1995, the office manager finally thought that she could extract her revenge for my ruining her plan to have Ms. Rivera fired. She took a minor incident and blew it up into a major affair. I wound up getting an official counseling memo from the Director that they told me would be placed in my file. (Click Here)
I read the counseling memo, and couldn't believe my eyes. The scenario described in that memo had never happened, and I was shocked that Mr. Russo would have written that up without checking on the story.
So, I refused to sign the memo, and asked if I had any options that I could use to defend myself. Mr. Russo replied that the only option available to me was to write a reply. (Later, I found that there were numerous other options, like requesting a hearing, going to the union etc.. But the only one mentioned was the written reply.)
So, after doing some checking myself, I wrote a reply. (Click Here)
Mr. Russo called me into his office, told me that he had read my reply, and he tore up the original counseling memo. He didn't look happy, but he knew the memo just wouldn't stick.
Within a week, I was back in his "good graces." He had me doing color charts and floral posters for certain friends retirement parties. I was tasked with formatting more of CAD's paperwork, and other Units of CAD had to give their data to me so I could make it pretty. While I now knew that I needed to watch my back in this cut throat office environment, I was still doing work I liked.
In early September 1995, Mr. Russo directed me to come up with a proposal for a new Computer Operations and Reports Section (CO&R) of CAD. CO&R would be tasked with publishing good looking reports based on data supplied to me by CAD's various sections, such as the Mechanical Section, the Structural Section, the Security Section, etc.. It would also be expected to conduct computer training for CAD staff. He would submit the finished proposal through NYCHA channels for approval. He wanted a "good looking" proposal, with a list of materials (computers, phones desks etc.) needed to get this section up and running. While we waited for approval, he would assign me the same work with which the new Section would eventually be tasked. (Click Here)I had been doing much this same work, all along. But with the 5 additional employees that I would now have working under me, I could increase both the quality and quantity of reports and charts.
Shortly after Mr. Russo told me that he had been given assurances that the proposal was going to be approved, but prior to our being assigned our first task (a report on Security Contracts), Ms. Millie Sanchez came to my cubicle. She was crying. She told me that all the Security contracts data on the CAD computers had disappeared over the past weekend and that she was now being blamed for the missing files. I believed Ms. Sanchez when she swore she hadn't done anything to the files. (Click Here) I was astonished that someone would enter a directory containing over 400 files, and just delete the databases that contained the information on the Security Section contract data. And I knew that there weren't many people in CAD that had the knowledge to accomplish such deletions. So I had the data restored and asked the Director to ascertain with building management just who had signed into the building on the preceding Saturday and Sunday. I told him that I believed it was a felony to intentionally delete these files. Mr. Russo declined to investigate the deletions.
Within a few hours, I knew why he refused. I was told by a person who was in the CAD upper echelon, and who was also connected to City Hall, that he had seen Bill Russo, Hallima Ali and a woman from Computer Services visit the building over that weekend. He had seen them park a car, enter the building and leave less than an hour later.
Although I now had a good idea of who had done the deleting of the databases, I was still stumped as to what could be their reason for the file deletions? I was soon to realize why those files needed to disappear.
Our first assignment under our new Section was to publish a report from the CAD Security Section dealing with the number of contracts for intercoms, locks, exterior lighting etc..(Click here) During that past year, (Click Here) Security Section reports had been my constant nightmare. (Click Here) Figures didn't add up, dates were wrong, listings of each Contract's official Inspector were wrong, among other contract tracking mistakes. I tried explaining that the problem seemed uncorrectable, as the Security Section would never agree to standardizing their data formats. But it didn't matter. It began to become obvious that the Security Contracts weren't meant to be easily tracked. (Click Here) Obfuscation was the operative mode.(Click Here) Even when the Security Section were told that the data was incorrect, they still continued to supply misleading figures (Click Here). And I continued to inform my superiors of the problems. Eventually, even Bill Russo was forced to admit some of the problems with the Security Section's figures (Click Here) , but was also forced to admit that my work had been fine. (Click Here) Well, my work was fine up until this point, anyway. But little did I know that I was about to commit a capital offence in NYCHA-land. I was going to do my job and find those contracts for which we had no inspection records.
Now the whole scheme
begins to become obvious!
The Chair of NYCHA needed this report for an important hearing on the Mayor's Management Report. So Mr. Russo's boss, Dominick Catania, was the one told to get a good Security contract report to the Chair. I did a quick draft of the report by myself, as Mr. Russo had not yet decided which people he would assign to the new section. This first draft of a Security Contracts report was sent to all interested parties. Mr. Catania's aide, Mr. Robert Sharak, told me that he was very impressed with the draft. Mr. Sharak wrote a memo to all parties stating that the report was a big hit with the folks at Intergovernmental Affairs. I was finally assigned 3 other people. (And Mr. Russo had agreed to my request that I be assigned the secretary who had almost been fired due to racism on March 17.) Everything was coming up roses(Click Here), or so I thought.
A couple of days later, Mr. Sharak came to my office, and he was agitated. He said something derogatory about my computer skills, and tied that remark onto a tirade about my "missing a single Security contract on that report." I answered by stating that every contract and all accompanying info on that Report came from the head of the Security Section, Mr. Nat Parris. I explained that I just take the data they give me, and I dress it up.(Click Here)
Mr. Sharak didn't like that answer,
and he continued his disparaging remarks.
So, to be quite honest, I decided that it was time to try another tack. I thought carefully of how to extract myself from what was looking like a career killing argument between Mr. Catania's aide and myself. So I said: "Do you want me to get the data on that single contract from the FMS system?" Mr. Sharak looked dumbfounded and said "Of course. If you could have cleared this up by doing so, you should have made the corrections prior to sending out the draft of the report." As he continued with some other nasty remarks while his tone dripped with sarcasm, I could see that I was going to be setup to be the fall guy for this problem. For some reason, the people running the Security Section were not going to be blamed for their awful record keeping. Instead, the fingers would be pointed at me. Therefore, I decided to go out with a bang. I asked him "Do you want me to see if any other Security contracts aren't listed in the report?" He angrily answered, "Of course I do. What's the matter with you?", or words to that effect.
What Mr. Sharak didn't know was that some months earlier I had attempted to resolve wrong contract information on data that I received from the Security Section by accessing the NYCHA Financial Management System (FMS). However, when Mr. Russo happened by my cubicle and saw that the FMS was on my computer screen, he directed that I never access that system again unless he personally directed that I do so. (I had already noticed discrepancies on 2 contracts that I had accessed, and whose payment records I had found on the FMS.) I followed Mr. Russo's directive until it was time to do this CO&R report, and someone above Mr. Russo in the NYCHA chain of command overruled it. Mr. Sharak, as he was Mr. Catania's aide, was just that person.
I, and a great Staff Analyst who had been assigned to our Section, spent a couple of days comparing data from CAD's system, Contract Tracking and FMS. We were shocked at our findings, so we double and triple checked the contracts. The Financial Management System (FMS) showed that checks had been issued on many contracts that CAD was NOT tracking. I contacted the Design Department and cross-referenced their data to try and find if there was some explanation for our findings in their contract data. When we were finished, we did it all over again.
Finally, I sent a new draft of the Security Contracts Report to all concerned.
It showed that 142 contracts, valued at over $50,000,000, were not being tracked on CAD's computer system. Neither CAD nor the Design Department had any paper trail for these contracts. But FMS had issued checks to contractors!
(Click Here to view the spreadsheet
listing the Missing Security Contracts)
The contracts did not exist on any of the Security Section's databases. The databases/spreadsheets that would normally have Award Dates, Completion Dates, Current Percentage of Completion, Notes (on items the Inspector of Record found to be important) were non-existent ONLY ON THESE $50,000,000 in Security Contracts. Hundreds of other Security contracts were entered into the records. All contracts were updated weekly. This would mean that somehow, hundreds of contracts were updated, but every week the same 140 +/- contracts were somehow forgotten.
Could the Inspectors on all of those jobs have forgotten to submit their Daily and Weekly Reports on those select jobs for up to a few years? (While still sending in data on all their other contracts?) But for that to be so, then all the Area Supervisors would then have had to forgotten to ask for those reports from the Inspectors working under them. And, all the Coordinators back in Central Office would need to somehow fail to notice all the still-blank spaces where there should have been contract information. The Chief coordinator, Mr. Leon Michel, would have to fail in his duty, which was to provide oversight over all those contracts. And his boss, Mr. Parris, would then need to fail in his duty, for he is the person given overall authority and responsibility for insuring that a full data trail is kept on all those Security Contracts. Yet, even with all those supposed checks to insure that data trail, we had absolutely no record of inspections, payments, safety record, or any other normal contract tracking data always stored on CAD's computer system. In a data-intensive government agency, the only factual information we had regarding these contracts was that NYCHA had authorized checks to be sent out. In a Department called "Contract Administration", we could gather NO details on any of these contracts. All we knew for certain was that $50,000,000 passed out of NYCHA's accounts in checks made out to some contractors!!!
Quick Flashback: Remember that weekend when the CAD/Security Section databases were intentionally deleted? And I couldn't figure out why? Well, I was no longer stumped now that I did this Security Report. You see, if those deleted CAD files had been unrecoverable, I would have no way of comparing our CAD files with the payments made through FMS. I would have had to accept any info I received from FMS as the final figures, and would have to assume that the same data had been contained in the CAD files. Now, as I had the backup of the files restored, I could see that FMS and CAD were not in synch. Contracts were being paid for that weren't being inspected/administered.
(And a supervisor at CAD had seen people visit CAD's office over the weekend that those files were deleted. He gave me the names, and I gave them to the NYCHA IG. Who knows what happened after that.)
During the 1-2 days after I submitted the "missing contracts" report, Mr. Russo directed that Nat Parris provide me with information to "fill in the blanks" now left in our data. Mr. Parris would come to my cubicle with data for a dozen or so of the missing contracts. I asked where he was "finding" this data, but I was told that I didn't need to know that.
Out of each bundle of data he brought, I'd find some problems with 2-3 of the contracts. He might have written that a certain contract was 50% complete, but I'd show him that the FMS system showed that NYCHA had paid 70% of the contract price. Mr. Parris would then cross off his 50% figure and write in something like 85%. This worked in an opposite manner, also. And other changes were made. To the point that a smart house plant would realize that we were playing a game of "Let's Pretend." If the figure Mr. Parris gave was too high or too low, we'd pretend the first figure was a mistake. And he'd give it another try with different figures.
Within a few days of sending the list of missing contracts around, and after I finally submitted a report that "looked like" it had good and official data on it, I was told that there was no longer a need for the Computer Operations and Reports Section. We were so new, I was still waiting for Computer services to hook me into the LAN. Two of our members had not even had time to move into our Section yet, and we had only done one report. Yet, everyone was being transferred back to his or her old units.
I, however, was not going back to my computer duties. I would be nowhere near a NYCHA computer. Instead, I was being sent to the field to inspect boilers, something for which I had no background. During the week that I was told to sit in my cubicle and wait for my assignment, my secretary from CO& R, Mr. Charles Berrouet, received two odd phone calls from the Security Section. In the first one, he was told that Mr. Parris, the head of the Security Section, was interested in the contracts I had found on FMS and that I had then copied to the CAD system.
Mr. Parris wanted Charles to delete,
from CAD's computer system,
every missing contract I had found!
Charles spoke with me before he did the deleting. I called James Martonik, the Deputy Director of Administration at CAD, and he came to our area. He directed Charles to call the Security Section and request either a signed memo or an email directing the deletion. Security refused, and the files remained on the computers. Then, Security tried again. They called Charles back and directed that he delete all the new contracts that were listed as 100% complete. Charles again told me; I called Mr. Martonik. Mr. Martonik gave the same direction, and Security again refused to commit the delete order to paper.
A short time later, the Security Field office in at least one Borough was ordered to delete all the files on their computer.
At this time, Ms. Sanchez told me that she wanted to make an appointment to visit the IG's office. Nat Parris had told her that she was going to be dismissed because of the missing contracts. Millie knew, as did I, that she had nothing to do with these contracts not being on CAD's computers.
Mr. Martonik accompanied me to the NYCHA IG's office. We reported what had occurred, and the IG investigator (John Kilpatrick) said "I smell money changing hands here!"
That was years ago, so I have no idea if those contract files still exist on CAD computers or if they've been "modified". I know that nothing was ever done by the DOI/IG. I know that both Leon Michel and Nat Parris received big promotions and large pay raises.
I will add much Millie Sanchez info here, including the IG's unfulfilled promise of alternate employment for her.
(I know! I was supposed to post another audio tape here. But, after the NYCHA/Spotlight series ran in Noticias Del Mundo and City Limits did an article on our little rag, I'm now hearing some encouraging words as to whether someone other than the NYC Dept. of Investigation is looking into the NYCHA problems. I don't want to say more than that. If it starts to look like nothing is happening, than more tapes will be posted.)
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