By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Bartolotti and the school's custodian, Robert Steiger, also repeatedly called Marrone's supervisors, noting his persistent absence from the job, with Bartolotti insisting that nothing would improve unless Marrone was replaced. Bartolotti told the Voice that though the SCA protocol required Marrone to appear daily, he was at the school only "occasionally," and left her with "no direct means of getting to him." Marrone lives only 10 minutes from P.S.131.
The $57,000 project officer position ordinarily requires "a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college," but Marrone had only two and a half years at Miami Dade Community College, and left without an associate degree. Minimum qualifications for the SCA post do permit the hiring of someone who has "a satisfactory combination of education and experience," suggesting that Marrone's claimed seven years of construction experience as a "project manager" may have been used as the basis for hiring him.
The most recent job on Marrone's resume was with Hercules Construction, a company that was barred from doing business with the agency and was under federal investigation for bribing and defrauding Board of Ed and SCA officials at the time of Marrone's hiring. Hercules president Gregory Rigas--another associate of Mike Long's, who contributed the legal maximum years earlier to Atanasio's congressional campaign--pled guilty to two federal felonies four months after Marrone left the company to join the SCA. Rigas agreed to pay $189,000 in restitution to the agencies he'd defrauded, most of it to the SCA.
Marrone's resume describes him as project manager for Hercules's New York City Housing Authority work from 1992 through 1995, and Rigas was charged with filing false certified payrolls with NYCHA for precisely that period. The SCA IG's office played a pivotal role in developing the criminal case against Rigas.
Rigas was also accused of setting up Aim Construction--a phony WBE (Women's Business Enterprise)--to win affirmative action contracts. NYCHA records indicate that after Hercules was forced to drop the allegedly fake WBE in 1994, Rigas briefly replaced it with Builder Nine, a company that listed Fran Marrone as president and Gary Marrone as vice president. Sources indicate that the Marrones may have tried to certify the company as a WBE--an irony in view of the Conservative Party's fierce opposition to set-aside programs. Gary Marrone still drives a car with a BUILDER9 license plate.
In addition to Gary Marrone's questionable hiring, Fran Marrone's employment at the agency may violate the city charter, which bars employing "a member of the state committee, an assembly district leader, or an officer of a county executive commitee of any political party" in any position "with substantial policy discretion." Since the state legislation that created the SCA makes its employees subject to this charter provision, the agency's brass reportedly challenged Fran Marrone's hiring in 1995, arguing that she held all three party titles. But lawyers at the agency ruled that her position did not involve substantial discretion.
Fran Marrone has bounced from one political job to another since walking into Long's Brooklyn party headquarters two decades ago--working for State Senator Chris Mega and the state Crime Victims Board as well as the term limits committee. Her only other known employment was as an officer of construction firms run out of the family home, one of which still has an Internal Revenue lien against it.
It is unclear how she got the SCA to waive its rules and hire her husband. The agency's HR-15 procedural rule expressly states that it "will not hire relatives of SCA employees to prevent any favoritism or conflict of interest," and lists "spouse" as the first familial relationship whose hiring "would violate the Authority's Nepotism Policy." SCA officials declined to answer questions about why Gary Marrone was exempted from this prohibition. Citing the ongoing work of the agency IG and the city's Department of Investigation, an SCA spokesman denied access to either Gary or Fran Marrone's resume. The Voice did manage to obtain some resume information from other sources, however.
Not only did Gary Marrone's connections at the highest levels of the SCA get him the job, they apparently insulated him for months despite the mounting criticism of his P.S.131 performance. Bartolotti's "many, many calls" to the missing Marrone's supervisor had no effect on Marrone's assignment, or the supervisor's willingness to sign Marrone's time sheets. The district superintendent, Francis DeStefano, said the construction supervision was "terrible" and that the SCA "wasn't being responsive to a school community that told them the job wasn't being done right."
Ellie Engler, an industrial hygienist for the United Federation of Teachers who was frequently at the school, said that 70 per cent of the top-floor classrooms were damaged by water leaking from the roof, teachers and students were exposed to asbestos, gates and doors to the pitched roof were left open, and that the SCA did little about any of it. "We tried to register complaints with the SCA, and the SCA didn't listen," Engler said. Finally, in October 1997, Randi Weingarten, the UFT president, went to the school and got Deputy Chancellor Spence to meet with teachers, parents, and the principal.
"There was an uproar in the school," Spence says. "I promised I'd do everything I could to clean it up. I went back to the SCA and told them it needed immediate attention and supervision. As a result of that intervention, the project officer was removed." Though Marrone was reassigned from the school on October 17--well before the Zhao incident--the subsequent investigation blasted him for a 17-month failure to insist on a sidewalk shed, and his willingness to allow the fence to be removed from the area where the child was killed.