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Ex-Westchester Schools Director Pleads Guilty To Accepting $150K In Bribes

White Plains Federal Court.
White Plains Federal Court. Photo Credit: File

A former schools director in Westchester who was embroiled in a four-year corruption scheme pleaded guilty in White Plains Federal Court on Tuesday in connection with a scheme to solicit bribes from an outside contractor to channel school district business to the contractor’s company.

John C. Gallagher, the former director of environmental services for the City School District of New Rochelle, faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of bribery.

“As he admitted today, John Gallagher demanded and received more than $150,000 in cash bribes from a contractor for the school district where Gallagher worked," said Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "As a school district employee, Gallagher was a public servant, whose job it was to do what was in the best interest of schoolchildren and taxpayers.

"Instead, Gallagher corruptly did what was in his own interests, lining his pockets with bribes. Combatting public corruption at all levels in government remains one of the Office’s top priorities.”

The City School District of New Rochelle, which receives federal benefits significantly in excess of $10,000 each year, has a Buildings and Grounds Department. It is responsible for, among other things, maintenance and repair of facilities used by the School District to educate the children. To do certain maintenance and repair work, the School District uses outside contractors.

Among the outside contractors used by the school district are companies with specialties – in, for example, masonry, electrical work, plumbing, and carpentry – sometimes referred to as “bid vendors” or “time and materials” contractors.

These contractors bid annually, using set rates, and if awarded contracts, are paid by the school district to handle any projects within the contractors’ specialties that do not exceed a certain threshold cost. (As of 2009, that amount, per New York State law, was $35,000.)

A more costly project that exceeds the threshold is offered for bid and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, unless the project is deemed a health and safety emergency (i.e., a major plumbing leak during the school year), in which case, the time and materials vendor may be asked to do the job, regardless of the cost.

As director of environmental services overseeing the school district’s buildings and grounds, the 53-year-old Gallagher had influence over which contractors were awarded work by the School District, and over whether, when, and how contractors were assigned work and paid for work, Kim said.

Mauro Zonzini owned and wholly controlled a construction company in Westchester County that contracted with the school district to do masonry work, and was hired each year by the district as its time and materials contractor for masonry work, Kim said.

From in or about 2009 through in or about 2013, Gallagher engaged in a corrupt, criminal scheme, in which he solicited, demanded, and accepted bribes in the form of cash payments, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with the school district’s business and transactions with the company, according to Kim.

Kim said that the bribe payments that Gallagher solicited, demanded, and accepted were paid by Zonzini.

Routinely, after the school district paid the company for work performed, Gallagher and Zonzini met in a parking lot where Zonzini provided Gallagher with a kickback in the amount of 10 percent of the payment the company had received from the school district, KIm said.

Gallagher received dozens of cash bribe payments from Zonzini over the course of at least approximately four years, which together amounted to more than $150,000, according to Kim.

To avoid detection of his corrupt scheme, Gallagher concealed the cash bribe payments he received from Zonzini, and admitted during a secretly recorded conversation, by keeping the payments “in my car or in my trunk," according to Kim.

In some instances, he used the cash to make payments directly toward living expenses, without depositing it in his bank account, noted Kim.

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