A former executive of a Uniondale engineering firm was sentenced Tuesday to 3 years of probation and a fine for altering an engineer’s report of a Valley Stream home damaged by superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Matthew Pappalardo, 39, of Whitestone, Queens, who once worked for HiRise Engineering PC, had admitted he deleted language from the 2013 report that indicated the house was structurally unstable without consulting with the engineer who inspected it.
The report was used by flood-insurance adjusters and federal officials to reimburse the homeowners.
Pappalardo did not speak during the brief court proceeding before acting state Supreme Court Justice Jerald S. Carter in Mineola.
“Sir, do you wish to say anything at this time?” the court clerk asked Pappalardo.
“No,” he replied.
Pappalardo, who left HiRise in 2015, was also fined $10,000.
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office in August 2016 charged Pappalardo and HiRise Engineering with 25 counts of forgery in connection with falsified flood-damage reports. Pappalardo was also charged with 25 counts of unauthorized practice of a profession — engineering.
Schneiderman’s office had accused Pappalardo and employees he supervised of making changes to reports that engineers had submitted after they inspected the storm-damaged homes covered by the government-run flood-insurance program. However, no charges were brought against anyone else.
Six months later, Schneiderman’s office allowed Pappalardo to plead guilty to one count of unauthorized practice of a profession. The remaining 49 charges levied against him were dismissed.
Asked why Pappalardo was allowed to plead to just one count out of the 50 in the indictment, Doug Cohen, a spokesman for Schneiderman’s office, said: “This type of resolution is not abnormal given that he had no previous criminal record and was charged with the lowest level felonies, which do not require jail time.”
Pappalardo’s attorney, Avraham Moskowitz of Manhattan, said the changes his client made were “not substantive” and neither the homeowners nor the insurance company lost money.
“They were not edited to deny people coverage or to provide people coverage. They were edited to get the facts right,” Moskowitz said after the sentencing. “Mr. Pappalardo was the sacrificial lamb in a political prosecution brought by the attorney general’s office.”
Pappalardo didn’t want to spend the time and the cost to fight the charges, Moskowitz said, given that the negotiated plea deal allowed his client to avoid going to jail. He said this was an overzealous prosecution.
“All cases are brought on the merit,” Cohen said in response. “The fact that Mr. Pappalardo pleaded guilty to these charges speaks for itself.”
The engineering firm, HiRise, pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree criminal-solicitation violation. The company agreed to be permanently barred from receiving contracts and providing services under the federal flood-insurance plan, and to pay $225,000 in costs.
Allegations began to surface in 2014 that companies processing superstorm Sandy claims for the flood-insurance program cheated homeowners. Schneiderman launched an investigation after an attorney who represented owners of Sandy-damaged homes alerted his office that engineering reports had been doctored.
Last summer, Schneiderman’s office issued a report, called “Murky Waters,” which called on federal authorities to increase oversight and provide better transparency of the National Flood Insurance Program to ensure that homeowners are treated fairly when they file claims for damages.