Landscape Contractors in Brooklyn are Being Paid for Trees Not Planted

May 28, 2014

Landscape contractors in New York City’s is riding high on the coattails of taxpayers.

According to a story that ran in the New York Post on March 9th, a landscaping service that is based in Brooklyn has been collecting millions of dollars for services that were never rendered.

Whistleblowers Blow the Lid on Fraud

The whistleblowers in this story were both current and former employees of J. Pizzirusso Landscaping, one of several landscape contractors hired by the city’s Parks Department.

Their job was to plant trees as part of the Million Trees project started by former mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Since the project began in 2007, with the Bronx getting the first sapling planted jointly by Mayor Bloomberg and Bette Midler, Pizzirusso has been paid $12 million by the city for contracts related to the project.

Several Fraudulent Activities

The five former and current workers of Pizzirusso say they are concerned that asking for help from their union will result in their boss discovering who alleges this activity. They claim he is defrauding the city of millions of dollars and outlined several instances of questionable practices.

In some cases, his workers would freshen the site where a tree was already planted with new soil and attached a tag to its trunk. The tag indicated to the city’s inspectors that a new tree was planted when, in reality, it was not.

In other cases, the landscape contractor would order his crews to bill the city for having to saw-cut into the sidewalk to plant trees when they did not need to. The contracted fee for doing so is higher than simply planting the trees. Workers also claim they, on orders from their boss, vandalized trees so they became the responsibility of the city. The contractor is responsible for removing dead trees at his expense whereas vandalized trees are the city’s responsibility.

James Versocki, an attorney who formerly worked as a prosecutor for the attorney state general, believes the problem is widespread. He called for the city to investigate the other landscape contractors more closely.

Key Takeaways:

  • Landscape contractor defrauding taxpayers by charging for work not completed as stated.

  • Former and current workers allege this activity.

  • The workers fear repercussions from their boss if they seek help from the union.