All in the Name

In Pataki land, the name Velella came before the taxpayers. Everyone wanted to help.

"What do you think, he's doing it because he's a lawyer? . . . You've got to be kidding, Nick. Why did this guy say, the commissioner say, 'We'll meet with you next week.' Why? Because he's a lawyer? . . . The name. The name. The name."

No sooner had the three men sat down at transportation department headquarters than commissioner Boardman walked into the room. "I'm in the middle of another meeting, but I told Jim [Cantwell] I'd like to meet you and say hello and welcome you here," said Boardman. In regard to their problem, he said, "I think there are some long-term ways we can work on this."

After Boardman left, Cantwell explained that, like officials at the MTA, his agency's people had safety concerns about awarding Keystone a contract to paint the Dunn Memorial Bridge in Albany. Rejecting Keystone's bid would normally be a "slam dunk" for the department, Cantwell said. The agency would have ruled Keystone "non-responsible" and gone to the next lowest bidder. Such a finding of non-responsibility would be the most damaging thing that could happen to the company, since it would have a negative ripple effect with other government agencies.

And Cantwell wasn't going to do it. Because of Vincent Velella's "persuasiveness," he said, "we are going much, much farther than we would ever go with any other contractor." What he would do instead, the lawyer said, was simply void all of the proposals, and rebid the contract later.

"Quite frankly, I'm costing the taxpayers money by not going to the second bidder," the agency's top lawyer said. He was doing it, he said, because of the Velellas. "I have a great deal of respect for Vincent, and for his son," he said.

Margaritis and Gonzalez left the room, leaving Vincent Velella and the counsel alone together for about 20 minutes. Outside, Gonzalez whispered that things had gone well. "I think I read it right. They know the senator. He's a very powerful person up here. They want to ass-kiss."

Three weeks later, D.O.T. indeed rejected all the bids for the bridge contract. When it was rebid in the spring of 2000, Keystone was the winner, and this time the agency moved to make the award. It wasn't quick enough for the Velellas, however. Prosecutors were tipped by an agency insider that Senator Velella was calling Cantwell and Boardman to tell them to "hurry up" the award to Keystone.

Cantwell later retired from the state and couldn't be reached for comment. Boardman, still Pataki's transportation commissioner, did not return calls.

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