Former Railroad Contract Manager Received More than $70,000 in Kickbacks
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., and Acting Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”) Inspector General Elizabeth Keating today announced the sentencing of JAMES BERLANGERO, 64, a former contract manager at Metro-North Railroad, to 1-to-3 years in state prison for corrupting the Request-for-Proposals process to award contracts to WRS ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES, INC. (“WRS”) in exchange for more than $70,000 in kickbacks. BERLANGERO previously pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court to one count of Corrupting the Government in the First Degree, one count of Bribe Receiving in the Second Degree and two counts of Contracts and Agreements for Monopoly and in Restraint of Trade.
“This former Metro-North contract manager misused taxpayer dollars and railroaded a contracting process that should have been decided based on free competition,” said District Attorney Bragg. “All of the actors in this scheme are being held accountable thanks to this inter-agency effort. I am grateful to the Office of the MTA Inspector General and the prosecutors of my Office’s Rackets Bureau for ending this scheme, which led to the misappropriation of contracts valued at more than $10 million.”
The indictment was the result of a joint investigation by the Manhattan D.A.’s Rackets Bureau and the Office of the MTA Inspector General.
“Thanks to our law enforcement partners at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the money train derailed long ago for this former Metro-North worker who was caught pocketing kickbacks from an MTA vendor,” said Acting MTA Inspector General, Elizabeth Keating. “MTA OIG is grateful that this individual was held accountable for his unscrupulous actions.”
“There is zero tolerance at Metro-North for the misuse of public funds,” said Metro-North Railroad President and Long Island Rail Road Interim President Catherine Rinaldi. “The actions of this former employee to defraud Metro-North and abuse the contracting process for kickbacks and bribes were unlawful, and I am grateful to see justice served.”
According to court documents and as admitted in the defendant’s guilty plea, in his position as contract manager for the Procurement and Material Management Department of Metro-North, BERLANGERO was tasked with ensuring the integrity of Metro-North’s contracts and free competition on contract solicitations, including Requests for Proposals. Instead, while working out of Metro-North’s midtown headquarters, he unlawfully helped WRS, which was owned by co-defendant MICHAEL RODGERS, secure contracts in exchange for various kickbacks totaling more than $70,000.
BERLANGERO acted in concert with RODGERS and WRS to undermine free competition on multiple RFPs and contract awards by disclosing confidential Metro-North information to RODGERS, which provided WRS with an unlawful advantage over its competitors:
- In February 2015, BERLANGERO served as the contract manager of an RFP for the “Transportation and Disposal of Regulated Waste from Various Metro-North Locations,” which was intended to have only one winner. However, after it was apparent that WRS was not the preferred applicant, BERLANGERO oversaw the cancellation and reissuance of the RFP so that two companies would receive an award. In April 2015, BERLANGERO provided confidential score sheets and evaluations completed by Metro-North selection committee members to RODGERS so WRS could tailor an oral presentation. Then, in June 2015, BERLANGERO gave RODGERS the favored proposer’s price proposal on the reissued RFP so WRS could undercut their price. Ultimately, WRS won a contract award of up to $4 million, receiving more than $2.7 million between November 2015 and October 2019.
- In May 2015, BERLANGERO assisted WRS in obtaining a transport sub-contract on a Metro-North contract pertaining to Hurricane Sandy damage repair, even though WRS was not initially approved to receive transport contracts at that time. BERLANGERO steered the sub-contract work to WRS by providing an accepted competitor’s price to WRS, enabling the company to submit a lower bid, and facilitated WRS’s authorization to transport and dispose non-hazardous soil. To date, WRS has obtained more than $1 million pursuant to that sub-contract.
- In October 2017, BERLANGERO served as the contract manager of an RFP for “Asbestos Removal and other Remediation Services” on Metro-North property, including Grand Central Terminal. BERLANGERO provided WRS with confidential information submitted by the two existing remediation contractors so that WRS could tailor its application. Additionally, when WRS failed to submit a required pricing sheet, BERLANGERO allowed the company to submit the document after the deadline instead of rejecting its application as non-responsive. On multiple occasions, BERLANGERO provided WRS with confidential pricing information that enabled the company to submit the second-lowest price proposal for the contract, and later, the lowest-cost task order proposals during the period of the contract award. Between November 2018 and September 2019, WRS received more than $400,000 from Metro-North pursuant to the remediation contract.
In return for BERLANGERO’s assistance, RODGERS made a variety of check and cash payments to BERLANGERO totaling more than $50,000. RODGERS wrote checks totaling more than $32,000 to pay BERLANGERO’s residential mortgage and wrote checks directly to BERLANGERO that totaled more than $14,000. RODGERS also deposited more than $8,000 in cash into BERLANGERO’S credit union account. RODGERS and WRS also gave $10,000 to BERLANGERO’s brother-in-law for an auto-racing sponsorship facilitated by BERLANGERO. Furthermore, RODGERS arranged for WRS employees to help perform a variety of services at BERLANGERO’s home, including cleaning and removing items from his basement, performing soil test sampling services prior to the sale of the home, and helping him move after the house was sold. Finally, BERLANGERO obtained a job for his daughter at WRS, and sought a job for his son.
WRS Director of Business Development THOMAS WILLIS was convicted of two counts of Contracts and Agreements for Monopoly and In Restraint of Trade for his role in the fraud and sentenced to probation in February 2022. As part of his guilty plea, WILLIS admitted that he acted in concert with BERLANGERO and RODGERS to utilize confidential Metro-North information, provided by BERLANGERO, to obtain an unfair competitive advantage for WRS in connection to the two contracts won by WRS. RODGERS pleaded guilty to one count of Bribery in the Second Degree and two counts of Contracts and Agreements for Monopoly and in Restraint of Trade in December 2021 and is awaiting sentencing. As part of his guilty plea, RODGERS admitted that he gave BERLANGERO more than $50,000 in benefits, including, but not limited to, payments for Berlangero’s mortgage, payments to Berlangero, in exchange for BERLANGERO taking actions in his work capacity to benefit WRS. A condition of RODGERS plea agreement is that he sells WRS.
Assistant D.A. Jaime Hickey-Mendoza handled the prosecution of the case under the supervision of Assistant D.A.s Michael Ohm, Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau; Judy Salwen, Principal Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau, and Jodie Kane, Chief of the Rackets Bureau, as well as Executive Assistant D.A. Susan Hoffinger, Chief of the Investigation Division. Supervising Financial Investigator Hermeet Kaur of the Forensic Accounting and Financial Investigations Unit assisted with the investigation under the supervision of Deputy Unit Chief Irene Serrapica and Unit Chief Robert Demarest. Paralegals Clare Brandfonbrener and Rachel Broomer also assisted with the case.
District Attorney Bragg thanked the Office of the MTA Inspector General, including former Principal Staff Auditor Paul Vollaro.
District Attorney Bragg also thanked Metro-North Railroad, including General Counsel Susan Sarch.
Glen Cove, NY
- Corrupting the Government in the First Degree, a class B felony, one count
- Bribe Receiving in the Second Degree, a class C felony, one count
- Contracts and Agreements for Monopoly and in Restraint of Trade, a class E felony, two counts
- 1-to-3 years in state prison