The drama continues in Mount Vernon City Hall. In the first four months of the new administration, we have had alleged check fraud, the controversy of who can sign checks, Council members accused of breaking in the Planning Department, Mayor Richard Thomas changing the locks, Civil War in City Hall, the zombie home controversy, illegal dumping in Memorial Field, the Council serving Mayor Thomas and others subpoenas, the firing of Public Safety Commissioner Robert ‘Bob’ Kelly, the public feud over more firefighters, Mayor Thomas taking the City Council and Councilman Wallace to court, siblings of the mayor being arrested, the credibility of the mayor being called into questioning, the conviction of former water commissioner, the abrupt resignation of the Water Dept. Supervisor and lets not forget the controversy over The Music School on top of many accusations, miscommunications and other complications. And that was just January, February, March and April.
With each and every situation being highly publicized, Mount Vernon residents are hesitant to even turn on the news, read a newspaper or even go online, in a constant and continuous ‘waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop’ mind state. The way the month of May is starting off, the trouble in city hall shows no signs of slowing down. The sad thing is that as bad as it’s been it probably and unfortunately is going to get much worst before it gets better. On to the latest episode in the reality TV show, we call Mount Vernon City Hall.
Yonkers Tribune editor and publisher, Hezi Ariz reported on April 26, that Mount Vernon Councilman André Wallace is suing the City of Mount Vernon for more than $187,000 for private work allegedly conducted by his firm on a still inoperable emergency operations center at a city owned Firehouse. Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas sued in response demanding to gain proof that Councilman André Wallace and his firm Creative Development Construction & Design, LLC, provide backup for the money Wallace is demanding. Central to Mayor Thomas obtaining proof the prevailing wage was paid to workers properly trained.
“Basically André Wallace’s big issue is he wants to get paid,” YT Editor Hezi Ariz tells BW when we followed up with him about his article. “Except that he took a position as a city council person before he got paid. So doesn’t that negate his ability to get paid, now that he is a servant of the city? Also he didn’t complete the job and he didn’t pay the prevailing wage.”
I asked Ariz had he spoken to the councilman personally and he replied;
“No, not at all. I didn’t talk to him. He [Wallace] didn’t make a statement. He needs to make a statement before the city perhaps through your paper to be quoted saying ‘He did pay the prevailing wages,’ that would be fine. But he said that his subcontractor is the one who paid and he [Wallace] is assured that the subcontractor paid the wage appropriately.”
We reached out to Councilman André Wallace and invited him to our radio show to address the allegations from Mayor Thomas and the Yonkers Tribune article for the record (see video below).
So far BW has not been able to corroborate the accusations in Mayor Thomas’ lawsuit against the councilman and his construction company. What we able to find out is, written arguments were due in court on the morning of Wednesday, April 27th and there should be a ruling by the judge shortly.
While BW also has not been able to corroborate it, a local blog Democrats Exposed sent out an email blast out, April 27th, reporting that YT Editor Hezi Ariz, who used to work as Editor-In-Chief for the Westchester Guardian, is on the payroll of Mayor Richard Thomas’ advisor and honorary MVPD Deputy Commissioner Joseph Spiezio.
Again while the Ariz/ Spiezio connection could not be confirmed and Hezi Ariz categorically denied even speaking to Joseph Spiezio in over eight years, when BW questioned him about the Wallace article, his response led to the unexpected. In either an effort to distance himself from any association with Spiezio or to just change the subject, Ariz began to insinuate that Spiezio knew a little something about not paying prevailing wages himself.
“Of all people, Spiezio should know about not paying prevailing wages,” Ariz informs BW, “cause he didn’t pay a prevailing wage when he was doing his downtown waterfront development in Yonkers. He was taking people that were not even union members and he was paying them off the books.”
In his January 14th, Journal News column, Phil Reisman writes; “Perhaps the harshest accusations involve the mayor’s supposedly close relationship with Joseph Spiezio, who is a controversial, politically connected developer with a penchant for litigation and a Zelig-like knack for popping up in many different places — from Yonkers to Yorktown…” Well now he is in the City of Mount Vernon.
Hezi Ariz was unable to provide BW with any proof of the allegation of what was written about Wallace in the YT article. There have been several Facebook rants from a blog named Cure Mount Vernon [which has since been taken down and the Facebook account deleted] and Facebook accounts under the name, MV Watchdog and Melvin Purves, that BW is told were started by Spiezio and Butch Thomas from a Thomas campaign worker. (see screenshots below – click on each one to make larger)
On the blog and in Facebook rants they consistently wrote about Wallace going to jail for not paying any prevailing wages, and being under investigation by the Labor Department. So the only place we could find anything at all was from the Thomas administration, from Spiezo and the mayor’s older brother Butch on Facebook.
In order to have a case of workers not being paid prevailing wages, one would think you must have workers come forward and say they haven’t been paid prevailing wages. Where are the workers who haven’t been paid prevailing wages? To date we have been unable to find anyone who hasn’t been paid or proof from anyone those making the allegations. Just like Prince’s lyrics from When Doves Cry, the lead single from his 1984 album Purple Rain, ‘this is what it likes like when workers who haven’t been paid prevailing wages cry…’
According to court documents (see below) obtained by BW, Gregory Yunga, Antonio Chogllo, Edgar Marcelo Rodriquez, Antonio Guaman, Osvaldo Mejia, Jose Chogllo, Oswaldo E. Orgega, Oscar Soto, Freddy Delgado, Jaksson Ramon, William Mejia, Jorge R. Ludizaca, Richard Mejia, Tito Hernandez Gomez, Fernando Mainato, Alberto Eduardo Valencia Vega, Daniel Sandoval, Segundo Palchispaca, and Genaro W. Ortega all Latino males all worked various time periods between February 2000 through July 2005 for Defendant Joseph Spiezio 0f 22 Beachfront Lane, New Rochelle as a laborer with respect to various construction projects including: 1211 North Broadway, Yonkers, New York; 1214 North Broadway, Yonkers, New York; 45 South Broadway, Yonkers, New York; 55 Main Street, Yonkers, New York; 92 Main Street, Yonkers, New York; 296-324 Long Beach Road, Island Park, New York; a privately owned property situated in Long Beach, New York; a building in Bronx County which apparently belonged to Spiezio’s mother; Defendant Spiezio’s home in New Rochelle, New York; and a shopping center known as Centuck situated at Tuckahoe Road and Central Avenue, Yonkers, New York.
Latino Workers File Suit Against Developer Joseph Spiezio III by Black Westchester
Hezi Ariz reported in the May 22, 2008 online edition of The Yonkers Tribune, that; ‘approximately 50 Latino immigrants, supported by civic leaders rallied against Westchester County based developer Joseph Spiezio III who maintained an office for the conduct of business at 55 Main Street, Yonkers, for alleged abuse and mishandling of his workers.’
In the May 29, 2008 edition of The Westchester Guardian, the front page story titled, “Connected Developer Joe Spiezio Calls His Latino Workers Spics And Steals Their Wages”, informed readers of a federal lawsuit filed by some 20 Latino workers, employees of Yonkers developer Joe Spiezio, charging Spiezio, his accountant and his bookkeeper with violations of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as New York State Labor Law.
The Westchester Guardian confirmed what the aforementioned court documents read; Spiezio was specifically charged with a number of intentional unlawful acts, including violation of Wages And Hours Laws, as well as failing to pay overtime wages “for work in excess of forty hours per week” (several workers worked an average of fifty-five to sixty hours a week) as well as “periodically requiring work on Sundays without compensation at all.” In addition, the Summons and Complaint led by civil rights attorney Jonathan Lovett, of White Plains, alleged that Spiezio appropriated, in cash, for his own benefit, twenty percent of the wages paid to all of the Latino manual laborers and carpenters on the false representation that it was for “taxes to be withheld for, and paid by, Defendants to federal, state and Yonkers tax authorities.” In actuality, that money, beginning in 2000, was stolen and not paid to any taxing authority.
According to court documents, in Jose Chogllo’s last week of work in July 2005, although he worked over sixty hours, he was paid nothing for that week. Also Segundo Palchospaca was entitled to two weeks paid vacation annually. But in 2003, 2004, 2005, he was required by Spiezio to work both weeks of his vacation and not paid for the vacation time he was due.
While the burden of proof in the allegations against Councilman Wallace seems to be un-met, baseless and another attempt to discredit Wallace as we have seen Mayor Thomas’ critics attempt to do to him as well once or twice. We have displayed what it looks like when workers aren’t being paid prevailing wages and there is an investigation, in the court case against Spiezio. We can’t just jump up and rally behind every accusation without proof. Same can be said for Spiezio’s rumored relationship with organized crime. While the allegations are there, I have not been able to find any proof, which in itself doesn’t make it not so, he could just have a great legal team and know how to cover his tracks well.
With all the political gangbanging and misinformation slanging on social media especially Facebook, many residents have become desensitized to the madness and are just ready for all of this to be over, so our elected officials can move the city forward. Like Mr. Archer who called into the radio show to ask Councilman Wallace a few questions, many are tired of the back and forth and are asking what is it going to take to move forward?
Are the allegations true about Councilman Wallace? Is this a smear campaign by Mayor Thomas who is not getting his way? Are the allegations about Mayor Thomas and his administration true? The judge will rule shortly on these current lawsuits and counter claims. Once again we are left with more questions and answers, but BW will keep asking the questions and keep dispelling the rumors and accusations
With any hope the judge will rule and put these frivolous lawsuits to bed. We will have an answer for once, to one of the many situations going on, but the sad thing is; despite which side the judge rules on, there are so many other mini-battles being waged at the same time, we are far from a united and functioning government that can work together and get things done to better the city.
Its time the residents of Mount Vernon make the elected officials lives as difficult as their fighting is making ours. We have some up for election, we have some we just elected, but the common thread is we elected them. Its time to make our voices heard and I absolutely do not mean on Facebook alone. It’s not about taking sides, or who we may like as individuals or even have voted for, but its time for the people to get together and let the elected officials know we are on the side of right, we are all on the side of the people. Who ever is not willing to fall in line can be removed from office the same way the people put them there. No elected official is more elected than any other, they all are as Hezi Ariz said servants of the people.
I’ve told the Mayor recently and several council members they need to go in a room and lock the door and not be permitted to leave until they can find a way to work together. Despite who wins this current lawsuit, once again the big loser will be the people of Mount Vernon! REAL TALK!
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show. AJ is a Father, Brother, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Hip-Hop Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.