Syosset man indicted in alleged kickback scheme

Donald Russo, 54, of Syosset, has been indicted

Donald Russo, 54, of Syosset, has been indicted on charges that he took part in a kickback scheme to steer millions of dollars into electrical supply companies and a portion of the proceeds into his own pocket, New York City authorities said Wednesday. (Credit: Photos.com)

A Syosset man has been indicted on charges that he took part in a kickback scheme to steer millions of dollars into electrical supply companies and a portion of the proceeds into his own pocket, New York City authorities said Wednesday.

Donald Russo, 54, who Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said was a purchasing agent for Unity Electric Co., is accused of creating a shell company, Bar Electrical Consulting Inc. in Plainview, in order to "accept bribes from companies who wished to do business with Unity."

Prosecutors said he would inflate the costs of contracts he managed so that a portion came to him in exchange for granting Unity's business to a company that accepted those terms.


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"Through these commercial bribery and larceny schemes, between 2008 and 2012, Russo pocketed more than $600,000 from five electrical supply companies in exchange for his steering business to them," Vance's statement said.

Russo, who could not be reached for comment, faces charges of second-degree grand larceny, falsifying business records, first-degree offering a false instrument, fourth-degree criminal tax fraud and second-degree commercial bribe receiving, Vance said in a statement.

Russo is not alone.

As many as 17 people and 15 companies were implicated in the scheme, and as much as $14 million is scheduled to be returned as a result of a three-year investigation, with $1 million going to the New York State Tax Department. And $150,000 will be repaid to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 employee benefit fund.

"Bribery and fraud in the construction industry remain a concern," Vance said in the statement. "This long-term investigation exposed nearly two dozen industry professionals alleged to have engaged in illegal activity for the purpose of self-enrichment.

"As a result of kickback schemes like this one, New Yorkers are footing an inflated bill for public construction throughout the five boroughs," Vance said.

A Huntington man, Alan Brite, 65, president of Benfield Data Comm in the Bronx, "is charged with paying bribes to purchasers at various companies to win business, including increasing bids to Unity in order to pay Russo a kickback," according to Vance's statement.

Brite faces second-degree grand larceny allegations and other charges.

Benfield Data Comm, Benfield Controls and Benfield Electrical Supply Company are charged with first-degree falsifying business records, second-degree commercial bribe receiving and second-degree commercial bribery.

Two other men, Ira Friedman, 52, of Larchmont, and Todd Ehren, 46, of Port Washington, pleaded guilty to falsifying business records for classifying more than $1 million of their own salaries at IG Federal Electrical Supply Corp. as expenses, authorities said.

"Mr. Ehren, a respected and trusted figure in the business community, has accepted responsibility for his lapses in judgment related to misclassifying expenses," said Ehren's attorney, Robert Altchiler of Manhattan. "This is an aberration and a blemish on his otherwise spotless record."

The other defendants and their attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Friedman is scheduled to be sentenced to 6 months in jail on Jan. 23. He will also turn over $650,000 and pay $260,000 in back taxes to the state, Vance said.

Ehren, who will be sentenced on March 5, is expected to serve 4 months in jail and must turn over $650,000 and pay $255,000 in back taxes to the state, Vance said.

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