By Anna Merlan
By Albert Samaha
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
By Carolyn Hughes
By Chuck Strouse
By Albert Samaha
Happily for the Fekete family, after a year of motions and three days of trial, Judge Miller disagreed. She ruled that while the photos had unquestionably been fixed, Hershey Fekete was not to blame. For one thing, she found that Fekete—who was ably represented by a former buildings department counsel named Stuart Klein—had credibly testified that he had nothing to do with the fakery: He had simply obtained the photos from his clients. For another, wrote Miller, expediters are not professionals and it would be "unreasonable to hold them to the same standard of care." (As reported by Brian Kates in the Daily News, the judge ruled that engineers do not have the same excuse, and the agency has since moved to ban Fekete's associate. He has appealed.)
As for Fekete, who was described during the trial as the scheme's mastermind, buildings department spokeswoman Kate Lindquist said the agency is "exploring ways to enhance the qualifications to be an expediter."
Brooklyn assemblyman James Brennan, who authored a new law that lets the agency bar misbehaving professionals, said he would be glad to help. "The misconduct in this case was staggering," said Brennan. "There's clearly a gap in the law that needs to be filled."
It is not the first time that the Fekete brothers have shown this kind of talent and resilience.
Back in 1998, Jacob Fekete was publicly credited with what has long been hailed as the crowning achievement in the world of building expediters. This was after he warned the buildings commissioner for Brooklyn that if he didn't stop objecting to Fekete's permits, the commissioner would be out of a job. Borough commissioner Joseph Trivisonno scoffed at this bully talk. Trivisonno continued to maintain that a condo project Jacob Fekete was representing on Heyward Street in Williamsburg was too large for the site and lacked a code-compliant entrance ramp. Fekete did some dialing on his cell phone to his City Hall contacts. Trivisonno soon found himself forcibly retired.
"You had to ruin my day?" Trivisonno said last week when Fekete's name was mentioned.
After Trivisonno was forced out, former colleagues told him that Jacob and Hershey Fekete now had the run of the Brooklyn office. "I heard they got tremendous after I left," said Trivisonno.
But Jacob Fekete's string of good luck was interrupted when a massive late-night fire broke out in a warehouse on Evergreen Avenue in September 2002. The three-alarm blaze drew 245 firefighters, injuring two. When the smoke cleared, a health-care and beauty-aids firm facing money problems had sadly lost much of its stock. The company, owned by associates of Fekete, tried to collect $100 million from its insurers. The insurers declined, citing an official finding that the fire had been intentionally set.
According to a federal indictment issued in June 2004, it was Jacob Fekete's task to find someone willing to revise the arson report. Court rec-ords show that Fekete went straight to an old friend in the buildings department and asked him to recommend a fire marshal who would understand that the fire was just one of those things. The introduction was quickly made. To buttress his argument, Fekete agreed to pay the marshal $100,000 in cash provided by his friends. Fekete had already paid $54,500 of this bribe when the bad news hit that the fire marshal was only pretending to be corrupt.
Federal prosecutors and Fekete's lawyer declined to discuss the matter, but court rec-ords show that Jacob Fekete pled guilty in 2006 to bribery. According to sources, the plea came after Fekete agreed to cooperate, telling all he knew about the scheme. He is to be sentenced next month.
Alan Lewis, Fekete's attorney, insisted that whatever happened in the arson case, it had nothing to do with either Jacob's or Hershey's activities as buildings expediters.
"Jacob Fekete is probably the most thoroughly scrutinized expediter in the history of New York City," said Lewis. "If the authorities who conducted the investigation had found anything that impugned Mr. Fekete's integrity as an expediter, they would have acted on it. The fact that they haven't speaks volumes."
Undoubtedly so. Not to mention that a knack for getting in and out of trouble without apparent damage can be very helpful in the expediting business.