Five Lewis Library contractors plead guilty in bribery investigation
Five contractors who worked on the soon-to-be-opened Lewis Library have pleaded guilty to paying more than $100,000 in bribes to a construction manager to obtain construction contracts.
Four contracts were involved, valued between $660,000 and $1.9 million each, according to The Times of Trenton, which first reported on the case earlier this month.
The United States Attorney’s office has notified Skanska USA — the construction contracting company initially hired to oversee the construction of the metal-draped science library designed by Frank Gehry — that an employee of the company is suspected of receiving “unauthorized payments” in 2004 and 2005, Tom Crane, Skanska’s senior vice president for communication, confirmed in an e-mail.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said that he could not comment on “an ongoing investigation” and declined to name the Skanska employee who allegedly accepted the bribes because he is not currently charged with a crime.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has not informed Skanska of the identity of the employee, Crane said.
Court documents obtained by the Trenton Times and later by The Daily Princetonian refer to the person simply as “Construction Manager.”
University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 said in an interview last Friday that “no University employees were involved in the criminal activity,” emphasizing that “the University is a victim” of the scheme.
The University fired Skanska as the main contractor for the Lewis Library project in November 2006 because of "concerns about Skanska's management of the project," Cliatt said. Skanska was replaced by Barr and Barr, Inc.
“The University had no knowledge of the illegal activity at the time we made the decision [to end the relationship with Skanska]," she added.
Cliatt said that the University was informed by a federal prosecutor in Trenton that “an individual who was an employee of a construction management company that was involved in a library project” is under investigation for “involvement in criminal activity.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office did not tell the University the name of the management company or the name of the employee, Cliatt said.
A statement from Skanska in January 2005 indicated that the entire Lewis Library contract was valued at $50 million.
Cliatt declined to disclose how much the project has cost the University to date, or how much the University may have lost due to the allegedly rigged contracts.
“We’re now exploring the degree to which the University was a victim of the illegal activity,” she said, adding that there is “potential for legal action.”
None of the five contractors pleading guilty is affiliated with the University.
Multiple firms associated with bribery schemes
Since April, five individuals have pleaded guilty to commercial bribery crossing state lines in relation to the Lewis Library project, according to court papers.
The contractors who have pleaded guilty include Jack and Cathleen Macedo of New Jersey, Bruce Begg of Pennsylvania, Jay Armand of Pennsylvania and Richard Tortorelli of New York.
The court papers indicate that the Macedos run Macedos Construction, a Flemington concrete company.
Though the Macedos live and work in New Jersey, court documents say they are liable for bribery crossing state lines because they said they gave the construction manager a $45,000 check to buy a car at a Pennsylvania car dealership.
The Macedos also admitted to making payments to the Skanska manager totaling $28,500.
In exchange, court documents allege, “Construction Manager entered into an agreement to award the concrete contract [at the library construction site] to defendant Jack Macedo.”
An employee of Macedos Construction, who declined to give her name because of the sensitive nature of the situation, called the investigation “a personal matter” and did not comment further.
The Trenton Times, citing the court papers, identified Begg as the chairman of Aetna Roofing in Trenton.
When reached via telephone, Begg declined to comment on the charges, and his lawyer, Carl Poplar, could not be reached for comment.
The documents also named Armand as "an executive of a Pennsylvania company that engaged in the business of designing and installing audio visual systems."
Advanced AV, an audio-visual company based in West Chester, Pa., has a president and chief operating officer named Jay Armand, according to the company’s website.
A statement on the Advanced AV website says that Armand is also the chairman of InfoComm International, a nonprofit association of audio-visual companies.
Neither Armand nor his lawyer, Lisa Matthewson, returned requests for comment.
Begg agreed to pay $20,000 for a contract to roof Lewis Library, and Armand paid the manager $10,000 to land his own contract, the court documents allege.
Tortorelli, whom court documents describe as “a principal of a company based in New York that engaged in building maintenance,” is listed as a principal at the Syracuse, N.Y.-based Fleet Building Maintenance, Inc., in court documents from a civil suit filed against the company earlier this year.
Tortorelli is also listed as the contact person for the same company in a list of contractors on the website of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers of New Jersey.
Repeated messages left for Tortorelli on Fleet Building Maintenance’s answering machine went unanswered.
Vincent Briccetti, Tortorelli’s lawyer, declined to discuss the case when reached Monday afternoon.
Tortorelli pleaded guilty to spending $4,000 in bribe money in connection with the project.
The Trenton Times also reported that the same manager allegedly assisted Tortorelli in obtaining other contracts at Princeton.
According to court documents, the individuals who pleaded guilty each face a maximum of five years in prison and may also face fines of at least $250,000.
Drewniak said he could not speculate on the charges the construction manager may face. "In order to do that I'd be assuming that someone will be charged," he explained.
Hearings are scheduled for Begg on July 28, the Macedos on Sept. 15, and Armand and Tortorelli on Sept. 19.
A 'positive relationship' gone sour
When the University initially contracted Skanska to construct the Lewis Library, a statement on the University website enthusiastically praised Skanska.
“With Skanska, we get the A-Team,” the statement said. “Princeton University has a very high regard for Skanska’s ability to construct their most complex and demanding projects on time and within budget.”
The library is scheduled to open this fall, nearly two years behind schedule.
A spokesman for Skanska told the ‘Prince’ in 2006 that the company had “enjoyed a positive relationship with the University for over ten years.”
Cliatt said on Friday that Skanska had worked on a number of construction projects at the University prior to winning the contract for the Lewis Library, including the renovation of Robertson Hall and Marquand Library, and the construction of Wallace and McDonnell halls.
“Suffice it to say they had a history of working on projects with the University,” Cliatt said.
But the relationship between the University and Skanska soured as progress on the library project languished.
When construction began in November 2004, “the scheduled contracted date for completion of the project was mid-December 2006,” Cliatt told the ‘Prince’ in 2006.
Construction delays have since pushed back the opening three times: first to spring 2007, then to spring 2008 and most recently to fall 2008.
Peter Lewis ’55, who donated $60 million to fund the construction, said he was not concerned about the delays in the project when interviewed by the ‘Prince’ in October 2007.
“Everything takes longer than it was supposed to and costs more than it was supposed to when you build something,” Lewis said.