Liu wants probe on MTA corruption claim

By Philip Newman

A Queens City Councilman has called for a “truly independent investigation” of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, accused by its security chief of hindering an investigation into alleged corruption in the state agency.

The MTA responded to the allegations Tuesday by removing Louis Anemone, the MTA security director, and his deputy, Nicholas Casale, from their duties and placing them on administrative leave.

“Gov. George Pataki owns the MTA and must take responsibility to make sure there is a truly independent investigation of this matter, which appears to be very serious,” said Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee.

Anemone, in a story first reported by the New York Times Sunday, said MTA officials impeded an investigation of alleged bid rigging and payoffs at the agency, which oversees the Long Island Railroad, Metro-North, the city’s public transit system and bridges and tunnels.

Anemone asked to meet with Pataki on the matter, but the governor declined, saying he would see to it that “any allegations of impropriety are fully investigated and referred to the appropriate sources.”

The governor also expressed his confidence in Katherine Lapp, MTA executive director, who has denied Anemone’s allegations.

The MTA told Anemone Monday that he would no longer report to Lapp but rather to the agency’s labor relations director, Gary Dellaverson.

The state agency Tuesday issued a statement saying MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow had received a report from the MTA inspector general recommending that Anemone and Casale be fired. The inspector general said the men had interfered with an investigation conducted by the inspector general .

“Based on the inspector general report, the MTA has determined to place the two individuals on paid administrative leave and relieve them of the responsibilities of their office effective immediately,” the MTA said. “Both have been given a copy of the inspector general report and an opportunity to respond.”

The MTA said it would decide by the end of the month “the final, determination of their employment status.”

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement that he was “disappointed and quite frankly somewhat bewildered by the actions of Mr. Anemone and Mr. Casale. Nevertheless, this office will continue its investigation, working cooperatively with the MTA inspector general to determine if there is any validity to the allegations made and, if so, whether there exists any basis for a criminal prosecution.”

“This matter brings up once again the question that kept coming up these past few weeks,” said Liu. “The question is: 'How accountable is the MTA?’”

Pataki appoints or approves appointment of most of the board of directors of the MTA, a public agency created by New York state in 1968 to set policy and budgets for transit agencies in New York City and seven suburban counties.

Anemone, formerly the New York Police Department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, was hired along with his deputy, Nicholas Casale, a few weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center to strengthen security in the transit system.

Anemone told The Times that in the past year investigations into contractors on MTA projects have turned up evidence of bid rigging and multimillion-dollar cost overruns along with payoffs and kickbacks to MTA officials. Casale said the evidence had been turned over to the Manhattan district attorney, the newspaper reported.

Anemone said the MTA had at one time or another ordered a halt in investigations, refused to make records available to investigators, transferred some of his investigators and ordered him to fire Casale, an order he refused, according to The Times. MTA officials denied Anemone's allegations.

Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit watchdog agency, also called for establishment of an independent investigatory committee.

“A serious charge has been made here,” Russianoff said.

The credibility of the MTA came into question during weeks of public hearings leading up to the agency’s decision to raise transit fares by 50 cents.

Both New York City Comptroller William Thompson and state Comptroller Alan Hevesi are conducting audits of MTA books in an effort to determine whether, in their views, the 50-cent hike in bus and subway fares was unavoidable as the MTA long insisted.

In an unrelated development, a 41-year-old New Jersey man pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to charges of defrauding the MTA in a $5 million scam.

Frederick Contini of Colts Neck, N.J., the one-time construction boss of the MTA’s new headquarters in lower Manhattan, was the fourth person accused of taking part in the fraudulent operation.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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