Two schemes that shorted the paychecks of workers -- some of whom helped clean up after superstorm Sandy devastated Long Island -- illegally netted a prominent Suffolk County family and their business nearly $250,000 from government contracts, prosecutors said Tuesday.
A 492-count indictment made public in state Supreme Court alleges the padding of invoices defrauded the Town of Islip of $148,504. A different scheme denied workers state-mandated prevailing wage and put an undeserved $100,000 in the family's pockets, prosecutors said.
Three members of the Datre family -- Thomas Datre Jr., his mother, Clara Datre, and his sister, Gia Gatien -- were each arraigned on a charge of second-degree grand larceny, a class C felony that carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison, and a charge of failure to pay prevailing wage.
Daytree at Cortland Square Inc., a firm owned by Clara Datre that employed her children, also is charged with second-degree grand larceny, Suffolk County prosecutors said.
DA: 'Theft' of gov't funds
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota painted the defendants as thieves who stole from a local government and their own workers, all while defrauding taxpayers that funded a natural disaster cleanup.
"The calculated nature of the frauds demonstrated by the defendants' own records and bills submitted to the Town of Islip could lead to only one conclusion: This isn't a mistake, this isn't an error," Spota said at a news conference Tuesday. "In reality, it's a theft of government funds, pure and simple."
Members of the Datre family, along with their friends and relatives, jammed Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho's courtroom in Central Islip to hear criminal charges alleging conduct that clashed with its work as high-profile fundraisers in Islip and Suffolk County for the Republican and Conservative parties, and as the builders of homes for military veterans through its charitable foundation.
Lawyer: Charges 'abusive'
Kevin Kearon, the Garden City attorney who represented the family and the Daytree firm at this week's criminal court hearings, Tuesday blasted Spota and his investigators when speaking to reporters, the Datre family standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind him.
"All criminal charges announced against the Datre family in court today are untrue and are an abusive exercise of prosecutorial discretion," Kearon said.
He labeled the various criminal investigations "incompetent and partisan," the result of a "tortured" application of criminal law.
"This family is being abused," Kearon said.
Clara Datre, 67, of Hauppauge; Thomas Datre Jr., 41, of St. James; and Gatien, 37, of Hauppauge, pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released on their own recognizance. They are due back in court Jan. 8.
Tuesday was the second court appearance this week for Thomas Datre Jr. On Monday, he was charged along with five other people, including his father ,Thomas Datre Sr., for his alleged involvement in the dumping of toxic material at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood and at three other nearby sites.
Forty-five counts of yesterday's indictment allege fraud related to a contract Daytree at Cortland Square had in Islip for Sandy cleanup that started a day after the Oct. 29, 2012, storm hit Long Island. The firm was one of 24 Islip vendors hired after Sandy. For 17 days, a grand jury found, the firm and its employees billed the town for equipment and labor costs, plus an additional 10 percent for profit and 10 percent overhead.
When the firm billed the town for 20 workers' labor, it misrepresented the wages it paid workers as higher amounts than were actually paid in town invoices, prosecutors said.
Workers were actually paid hourly wages of $20 an hour for regular time and $30 for overtime, but the Daytree firm billed the town $40 for regular time and $60 for overtime; the company paid workers a total of $85,564 when workers should have been paid a total of $208,295, the grand jury found.
The percentage markup provision of the contract -- which allowed the firm to take in more money with a higher invoice amount -- set the stage for fraud, prosecutors alleged.
"This is pure overbilling, overpadding," Spota said.
Islip paid firm $600G
Islip paid the Daytree firm $600,021 for post-Sandy work, according to town records.
Islip's Federal Emergency Management Agency project work sheet, the document used to keep track of Sandy-related expenses by state, local and the federal governments, shows that FEMA awarded Islip $12,723,513 on May 31, 2013. Of that, $8,399,275 was for contract work, government records show.
The other 447 counts stem from a tree-trimming contract Daytree at Cortland Square won in Islip for 2013 and 2014. Thirteen workers were not paid prevailing wage, and the workers are owed more than $100,000, the indictment states.
The amount of money owed per worker varies between $700 and $33,000, a source said.
Gatien filed 222 false certified payrolls to the town between Jan. 18, 2013, and April 2014, and Thomas Datre Jr. was the one who negotiated pay with workers, Spota said.
New York State's Labor Law requires all contractors and subcontractors to pay prevailing wages and benefits to workers on public works contracts.
The state's law sets different rates for skilled and unskilled trades -- for everything from janitors and groundskeepers to electricians, laborers and heavy equipment operators. For example, in Nassau and Suffolk counties, an asbestos removal worker must be paid $40.95 per hour. A boilermaker has a set pay rate of $47.98.
Stiff penalties for violations
Penalties for violating the state's prevailing wage law were stiffened in 2008, when a bill known as "The Spota Law" made some violations of the prevailing wage law a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
"None of it's true," Kearon said of the indictment allegations.
In a written statement, Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said the town "has fully cooperated" the DA's investigations. "The town and its residents are eager to see justice served in this case," Croci wrote.
However, town elected officials have declined to participate in any aspect of the investigation into the dumping, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
After public disclosure of Spota's probe into dumping in Islip, town officials terminated Daytree at Cortland Square's tree contract.
Last spring, Islip formally said the company is responsible for the alleged illegal dumping in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.
If convicted on the prevailing-wage charges, which stem from a Suffolk investigation begun in 2013, Daytree at Cortland Square could face fines and be barred from bidding on public contracts.
With Randi F. Marshall and Jennifer Barrios