New-York News

Brooklyn landscaping firm wins $2M city contract despite recent fraud conviction

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An embattled, Brooklyn-based landscaping company with a recent criminal conviction has been awarded a multimillion-dollar contract with the city for its tree-pruning services, according to a notice that appeared in the city register Friday.

The Parks Department inked the $2 million contract with Dragonetti Bros. Landscaping to conduct invasive species removal citywide, according to the notice, which comes two years after the firm’s bigwigs — Vito and Nicholas Dragonetti — were convicted of insurance fraud for misclassifying employees who were eligible for workers’ compensation insurance in order to avoid paying more than $1 million in premiums.

In October 2022 the siblings pleaded guilty to intentionally misclassifying 217 workers with heavy-duty and dangerous jobs, including laborers, foremen and equipment operators, as florists, office workers and sales representatives, according to the indictment announced at the time by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the city’s Department of Investigation.

As a result, the company paid $1.2 million in restitution and was prohibited from doing business with certain city agencies — excluding the Parks Department. The troubled tree-trimming firm, which has done work for the city since 1998, also agreed to a monitorship in order to ensure it remains in compliance with various city business integrity requirements as well as to move the company to a new facility not owned by Dragonetti Bros. or its affiliates.

Meghan Lalor, a spokeswoman for the Parks Department, defended Dragonetti’s selection and said the company was awarded the contract based on its “extensive experience” in the field. She added that post-legal troubles, the company has taken measures to restore its business integrity, including by placing the two Dragonetti owners’ interests in a blind trust and participating in a monitorship agreement with the Department of Investigation.

It’s not the first time the city’s relationship with Dragonetti Bros. has been questioned. The Parks Department came under fire last year for awarding the company $40 million in contracts for various tree-pruning services. And just a few months later, Dragonetti Bros. took the city to court over what the firm said at the time was an “arbitrary” and “without rational basis” rejection of one of its longtime contracts. The company filed a complaint in August against the Parks Department alleging that it was unfairly passed over for more than $22 million worth of contracts in favor of another landscaper.

In a response to Crain’s, however, an unnamed representative from Dragonetti Bros. Landscaping said that it has never been dropped from a tree-pruning contract, and it has taken all necessary measures to rehabilitate its business. The company declined to comment on the litigation it initiated against the city last year but said it has been “effectively discontinued.” The status of the lawsuit remains unclear. The company did not respond to follow-up questions, and its lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. 

Neither the Parks Department nor the city’s Law Department responded to a request for comment about the litigation or its status.

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Julianne Cuba , 2024-05-20 21:55:39

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