5 former Grid workers charged in kickback scheme are in plea talks
Five former National Grid employees charged in a multiyear kickback scheme are in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors, according to recent court filings.
Court papers filed in mid-July in a case that accuses the five men of taking hundreds of thousands in cash payments and other bribes in return for handing out lucrative maintenance contracts indicate all five defendants have waived certain government filing deadlines because "they are engaged in plea negotiations," according to the documents.
Lawyers for four of the men either declined comment or did not return calls seeking comment. The five men, including four from Long Island, are Patrick McCrann, 57, of Selden; Jevan Seepaul, 36, of Rockville Centre; Richard Zavada, 65, of Hicksville; Devraj Balbir, 33, of North Bellmore; and Ricardo Garcia, 48, of Stroudsburg, Pa.
The employees, who were released on bonds ranging from $75,000 to $250,000, worked for National Grid for periods from a few years to 37, and one recently retired. None currently works for National Grid, which has said it has ""zero tolerance for unethical and illegal behavior."
Jonathan Rosenberg, an attorney for Garcia, said, "The government is acting in good faith as to all the defendants. At the end of the day that’s all we can ask for."
Federal prosecutors accused the five men of conspiring to violate the Travel Act by accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, including tuition payments, landscaping work, international travel and even an RV, for "steering contracts to certain Long Island-based contractors," including one awarded $50 million in facility maintenance work.
National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd, in a statement, noted that "to our knowledge the companies" that conducted the outside contracting work for National Grid "have not been made public, however, we can confirm that we no longer do business with East End Group," a maintenance and construction firm that until last month had listed National Grid and PSEG among its clients. The East-End Group web page, which had also listed as clients several Long Island municipalities as clients, has been taken down.
Federal prosecutors in their court filings have not named National Grid, the $50 million Long Island contractor or subcontractors they've accused of paying the bribes, some of whose officials have pleaded guilty in the case and are cooperating, according to court papers.
East End Group’s outside lawyer Glen Kopp declined to comment "at this time." The company and its officials have not been named in any court papers.
LIPA last week announced it had begun a formal audit of PSEG’s procurement of general contracting, facilities maintenance and snow removal in response to the federal charges. An official told LIPA trustees the audit includes reviewing contractors' bid documents, contracts, purchase orders and invoices for vendors that performed general contracting, facilities maintenance and snow removal for PSEG Long Island.
"This audit is a result of employees of another local utility allegedly accepting vendor kickbacks," Kathleen Mitterway, senior advisor for audit at LIPA, told trustees, referring to the former National Grid employees.
Separately, PSEG Long Island spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said the utility is "continuing to look into this matter and that includes reviewing our vendor relationships."
According to Patrick Guidice, business manager for Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents unionized PSEG and National Grid workers, the union has been advocating to take back the work previously performed by East End Group, including snow removal.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.
In June, then-acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Mark Lesko, the former Brookhaven supervisor, alleged the "defendants made corrupt demands for bribes and kickbacks to line their own pockets and upgrade their lifestyles, while putting the contractors at risk of losing business if they did not comply." The alleged scheme took place between 2013 and 2020.
The primary contractor "paid bribes to ensure that the defendants did not slow or stop disbursement of project funds to the contractor, provide negative performance reviews regarding the contractor’s work, or otherwise claim that the contractor’s work did not meet contractual specifications," according to prosecutors.
A source who formerly worked for East End Group said considerable amounts of work went to PSEG, which leased space at National Grid-owned work yards and other facilities, including millions of dollars a year for snow removal.
The New York State Department of Public Service has launched a separate probe of National Grid following the revelations, one that will seek to reimburse customers for any illegal payments made to two outside contractors cited in the report.