Ex-public official convicted in WTC cleanup case

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2009 7:15 PM

Sept. 11 made a hero of Mark Jakubek, lauded for his key role in rescuing two people from an elevator in the burning World Trade Center. But the aftermath of the attacks became a forum for his crimes.

The former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official was convicted Friday of taking bribes to let a company overcharge for work on projects including the World Trade Center cleanup. Five years ago, he went to prison for a separate bribery case related to records destroyed in the attacks, saying the disaster had left him with deep psychological wounds.

He now faces another mandatory prison term of at least a year _ and as many as 25 years _ after Friday's conviction. A Manhattan jury found him and ex-colleague Anthony Fontanetta guilty of charges including enterprise corruption, New York state's version of racketeering.

Their trial was the first from a sweeping, five-year-old indictment surrounding asbestos-cleanup firm Specialty Service Contracting Inc. Ten other people have pleaded guilty.

Jakubek, 50, and Fontanetta, 61, remain free while their lawyers plan arguments challenging the convictions. No sentencing date has been set, but they are due in court for a status update Jan. 20.

"They're obviously very disappointed," said Jakubek's lawyer, Glenn R. Abolafia. Fontanetta's lawyer, Mark A. Macron, said his client was "despondent."

Jakubek was hailed for helping rescue people from an elevator during the 2001 terror attacks. Two years later, he pleaded guilty in a separate bribery case.

In 2004, Jakubek and Fontanetta were accused of taking sports and concert tickets and other bribes to let Specialty Service Contracting get away with padding its bills.

The company worked for the Port Authority at John F. Kennedy International Airport, as well as on artifacts from the trade center site, which the authority also owns.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office said the firm stole more than $60,000 through the ground zero cleanup project and millions of dollars overall.

Hired in February 2002 to clean up crushed police cars, pieces of steel and other objects recovered from the destroyed twin towers, the company inflated equipment expenses and plumped up its payroll with no-show workers, the Manhattan district attorney's office said. One man was in jail on a day he was listed as working, prosecutors said.

Two of Specialty Services' co-owners and eight other people have pleaded guilty to various charges, according to prosecutors. The remaining defendants, including a third Specialty Services owner, have denied the charges.

Defense lawyers argued that Jakubek and Fontanetta, an engineer, didn't know about the billing practices. Macron said any gifts his client accepted were "gratuities" that didn't influence his conduct.

"We believe that the verdict is not supported by the evidence," Macron said.

Jurors declined to comment.

Jakubek was fired during the investigation; Fontanetta has been suspended without pay.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Jakubek and some co-workers were rushing down the stairs from their World Trade Center offices when they heard screams coming from an elevator. Jakubek played a major part in rescuing the two people trapped inside.

He pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case in 2003, admitting he had taken nearly $20,000 in kickbacks to speed payments to contractors after the terror attacks. Records of what they were owed had been destroyed in the Port Authority's offices.

His lawyer in that case suggested Jakubek's behavior was due in part to trauma that from Sept. 11, though prosecutors said his corruption began before the attacks. Jakubek told a judge at his 2004 sentencing that in helping to save two people's lives, he had lost "part of my own."

He served about a year in prison.

Abolafia said he hadn't considered raising Jakubek's 9/11 experiences in the asbestos case.

"We're far removed from Sept. 11," the lawyer said.