Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement

Hiring Scandal in Yonkers New York: School Superintendent Angelo Petrone Resigns and is Indicted

Unfortunately, School Board President Roberto Ferrito and Mayor Philip Amicone gave their votes of confidence to Mr. Petrone, and now "inspector general, Philip Zisman, is still poking around in the Yonkers murk." City Councilman John Murtagh: "Hiring the 24-year-old was a stupid act, but it's the cover-up that does you in."

June 19, 2005
The Indelible Pietro, NY TIMES

Yonkers's many gadflies are cackling, but in the grand scheme of things, the resignation and indictment of School Superintendent Angelo Petrone do not add up to much. At least not yet.

Not when the schools continue to suffer from chronic underfinancing and brutal rounds of budget cuts that have left them stripped-down pedagogical shells, drilling children to pass competency tests but shortchanging them in art, music, science, foreign languages, guidance counseling and all the other things that make school an enriching place. Not when a budget patched together with one-shot cash infusions this year is headed to a $60 million abyss next year, and when the administration that helped create this mess - and that defended and protected Mr. Petrone for months after his ethical shortcomings were laid bare - is still in place.

But the journey to reform has to begin somewhere, and the departure of Mr. Petrone over the hiring of an unqualified 24-year-old family friend, Pietro Barberi, as a top-level accountant is as good a first step as any. It doesn't overhaul misguided spending priorities or squeeze more aid out of Albany, but at least it puts a crack in a Kremlinesque bureaucracy notorious for cronyism and misspent money, and boosts the morale of reform-hungry parents, teachers and other Yonkers citizens.

It is not clear what Mr. Petrone was thinking when he urged the school board to give Mr. Barberi the $90,100-a-year job. In a school system that has long seemed, like some phone companies, to offer a friends-and-family plan, perhaps he believed another favor for another acquaintance would go unnoticed. But people squawked, and the scandal has left an indelible blemish on Mr. Petrone's sorry tenure. Not even this year's striking rise in fourth-grade test scores - a testament to teacher and student performance in unforgiving conditions - overshadows the superintendent's ethical failings.

But Mr. Petrone did not act alone. Frank Lutz, the schools' finance director, interviewed Mr. Barberi - and only Mr. Barberi - and, incredibly, declared him the right man for the job. He and Mr. Petrone are charged with tampering with documents and perjury to thwart an investigation by the city's inspector general, thus turning an episode of civil-service tawdriness into a crime, according to District Attorney Jeanine Pirro.

But these men are far from the only ones stained by the Barberi case - the Board of Education, led by then-President Robert Ferrito, should have fired Mr. Petrone months ago, immediately after the hiring scandal erupted and Mr. Barberi quit. Instead, incredibly, it gave him a vote of confidence, seconded, incredibly, by Mayor Philip Amicone.

With Mr. Petrone gone, there is a lot to do. The City Council should pass a bill to stiffen the city's ethics laws. The entire city may shudder and slide into the Hudson if that happens, but we are prepared to take that risk. The inspector general, Philip Zisman, is still poking around in the Yonkers murk. He should be commended and urged to keep going.

Where can a 24-year-old young man with little or no experience find an accounting job in a public school system that pays $90,100 per year to start?


The answer is in the Yonkers, (pop. 200,000) New York public school system. The New York Times reports:

"The hiring of a 24-year-old man with little accounting experience as a senior accountant for the Yonkers Board of Education violated state civil service laws and created "the strong appearance of impropriety," a report by the city's inspector general has concluded.

The report, released on Thursday, stops short of concluding that cronyism was the reason for the hiring of the man, Pietro Barberi, as a senior accountant at a salary of $90,100. Nor does it recommend that the Yonkers schools superintendent, Angelo Petrone, resign for his part in hiring the young man."

Maybe asking for Superintendent Angelo Petrone to resign from his post might have been a little extreme. But on the other hand:

The report says, "The overall circumstances surrounding Mr. Barberi's appointment suggest that the rules were ignored and that he was hired as a result of his connections rather than his qualifications."

Mr. Barberi's hiring set off a firestorm of criticism last November in a city known for turmoil and upheaval, particularly in its public schools. Days after questions were raised about his qualifications, his salary and any connections to Mr. Petrone, Mr. Barberi resigned his position, citing "personal reasons." But Mr. Murtagh [Ed. a city councilman] asked the inspector general, Philip A. Zisman, to look into the matter.

At least the young man honorably resigned, we wish him well. Truthfully, we can't blame Barberi for taking the job. After all, the starting pay of $90,100 is more cash than a classroom teacher with a Masters' Degree and 20 years service receives. And accountants never, ever, have to put up with this.

Still, we were curious to know exactly what expertise Mr. Barberi might have brought to the Yonkers School District. Maybe he had some special knowledge:

Mr. Barberi's only experience came from brief internships with accounting firms and unverified employment at his family's New Jersey construction company, the investigation found.

He was not a certified public accountant at the time of his hiring.

It is also unclear whether he ever lived in Yonkers. The address listed on his employment application is for an apartment in Mr. Petrone's sister's home. Although Mr. Petrone repeatedly denied that his daughter Laine was involved in a romantic relationship with Mr. Barberi, he later told officials from the inspector general's office that his daughter and Mr. Barberi had attended Fairfield University together.

Now we see. Barberi used the old tried-and-true, "I'll date the boss's daughter and get me a good job," trick. Works every time.

Well, almost every time:

In interviews with investigators, Laine Petrone, who is a permanent substitute in the Yonkers Public Schools, said she considered Mr. Barberi a "casual friend" and that they had not dated nor was he in her "inner circle of friends."

But the report cites phone records from May to December 2004 showing that Mr. Barberi and Ms. Petrone were in contact almost daily. When asked for her cellphone number during an interview for the investigation, Ms. Petrone gave the same number Mr. Barberi had listed as his phone number on his résumé, according to the report.

Superintendent Petrone's lawyer, Raymond G. Kuntz, said that Mr. Petrone was unaware of the nature of his daughter's relationship with Mr. Barberi and dismissed the frequent phone calls as a "generational thing."

We think that Nepotism can be safely added to Petrone's administrative experience. But perhaps we shouldn't judge the Superintendent TOO harshly. After all, what kind of daddy would he be if he didn't get a full-time permanent job in the district for his own daughter? (heh.)

Perhaps it would be prudent if Superintendent Petrone did not venture outdoors during any thunderstorms in the foreseeable future:

Petrone's lawyer, Raymond G. Kuntz, said that the Superintendent was unaware of the nature of his daughter's relationship with Mr. Barberi and dismissed the frequent phone calls as a "generational thing."
The School Board is elected by the people to oversee the school District on behalf of the taxpayers. Let's see what the report has to say about those guardians of the public's trust:

The report strongly implies that Mr. Petrone and other Board of Education officials were not forthcoming about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Barberi's hiring.

Indeed, after Mr. Barberi's resignation, board officials continued to insist that he was the most qualified person for the job.

As in so many other situations of this nature, this school board may be showing their fortitude by backing their superintendent "to the hilt," in a time of crisis. That would be a brave thing to do. On the other hand, maybe the members of the board are simply Petrone's Pets:

"I think the board members see a lot of the good things that have happened under his leadership," Mr. Ferrito said. (Ed. Ferrito is the Board President.)

Mr. Petrone, who is in the third year of his three-year contract, received an extremely positive evaluation at the January board meeting, Mr. Ferrito said.

We think that the word "Pets" would be more applicable. Or maybe Petrone's Idiots would be an even better descriptor of the Yonkers School Board.

Meanwhile, all this bickering and infighting cannot be good for the kids. The parents and children of Yonkers deserve better.

Maybe it's time for the Yonkers Board of Education to remember that they work for the community and not for Angelo Petrone.

Yonkers scandal spawns silence
By DAVID MCKAY WILSON, THE JOURNAL NEWS, June 19, 2005, Inside On the Web


YONKERS - Angelo Petrone was school board Trustee Thomas Spaun's dream superintendent. He was tough on the powerful unions. He thinned the district's administrative ranks and whipped the central office into shape.
Now Petrone is under indictment for perjury, accused of lying under oath about hiring his daughter's friend, Pietro Barberi, to a $90,100-a-year accounting post at the Board of Education.

Spaun is furious.

"I was lied to, and I took it personally," said Spaun, a Yonkers Fire Department captain. "I backed the guy from the beginning. Everything was a mess when he came in, and he got it all under control. But he screwed up ethically on this Barberi thing, and that was his downfall."

Spaun's comments are the first about Petrone from any of the nine board members since Petrone abruptly resigned Wednesday, just hours before the indictments of himself and Finance Director Frank Lutz.

In fact, the trustees have said little since October, when criticism bubbled up after they voted unanimously to hire the inexperienced 24-year-old to the high-level post. They stood united behind Petrone in March after Inspector General Philip Zisman issued a scathing report calling into question Petrone's role in the controversy. And they accepted, without public discussion, the resignations of Petrone and Lutz on Wednesday.

Petrone, who was the city's highest-paid public official, and Lutz were charged with perjury in Zisman's investigation. Petrone also is charged with tampering with public records, on suspicion that he changed Barberi's resume as Zisman began his inquiry.

The silence has raised questions by parents about how informed the trustees were about Petrone's role in the scandal.

"By being quiet, it makes me wonder what they did know," said parent Earl Headley, whose daughter will graduate from Saunders Trades and Technical High School to attend Columbia University in the fall. "Until we know, I can't imagine how parents will entrust anything to them."

Parent Deborah Rose, who has two children at Hawthorne PEARLS School, said she thinks Petrone lied to the trustees, who might not have believed him, but hoped the flap would blow over.

"They wanted it to just go away," she surmised.

Now the board, which appointed Bernard Pierorazio as interim superintendent, has a host of new issues to tackle.

The trustees must decide how far they'll look for a permanent schools chief - casting a net across the nation or ending their search at Yonkers' borders. They must replace Lutz, the district's chief financial officer, and decide whether Petrone will be able to cash in six unused vacation days, worth $5,874. In 2004, the district paid Petrone $14,685 for 15 unused vacation days, though the school board had not voted to authorize the payments.

For Spaun, the indictment rekindled memories of a meeting he had with Petrone soon after The Journal News reported on Barberi's skimpy resume and allegations that Barberi and Petrone's daughter, Laine, were linked romantically.

"Angelo told me that there was no connection between this guy and his daughter," Spaun said. "He said there was nothing there, that this guy was the best thing since sliced bread. He never lied to me before. I just trusted him."

Petrone, who answered the door Friday at his Somers home, declined to comment.

Spaun said his views of Petrone began to dim in late February, following the release of Zisman's report, which criticized the superintendent for his role in the questionable hiring. The report found civil service violations, Barberi's lack of experience for the high-level post, and several links between Barberi and the Petrones. His resume listed the Yonkers home of Petrone's sister as his residence and the cell phone number of Petrone's daughter.

Spaun wanted the school board to publicly admonish Petrone when it met March 1 to review Zisman's findings. During a heated hourlong executive session that night, Spaun said, he and another trustee argued that the board needed to act. But they were only two of nine.

"I wanted some sort of public spanking," Spaun said. "But I was in a small, small minority."

Instead of censure, then-board Vice President Bernadette Dunne told the public that the trustees were focusing on Petrone's efforts to raise the district's test scores, not the "terrible cloud" under which the district was operating. Then-President Robert Ferrito added that the board was backing Petrone because it had insufficient grounds to pursue formal legal action against him.

Ferrito, the only trustee interviewed under oath by Zisman, told the inspector general that Petrone had told him Barberi was neither his nephew nor engaged to his daughter, but knew her from college, according to the report.

Both Dunne, now board president, and Ferrito declined to comment for this article, as did Trustees John Pagliaroli, Thomas Weibrecht and Gerald Sudek, who was named to the board in May. Trustees Trevor Bennett, Lisa Perito and Debra Martinez did not return phone messages.

Among those attending the March 1 meeting was Gorton High School PTA President Annmarie Smith, who waited that night for the private meeting to end so she could hear the trustees rebuke Petrone and issue an apology to the public. She's still waiting.

"They came out that night and said he did nothing wrong," she said. "Now we have the indictment. They should have all come out and given an apology."

Petrone deserved public flogging, ex-mayor says


Talking to John Spencer is always entertaining - and educational, too.
The former mayor and current Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate called me on his cell phone to share his candid, if not uniquely descriptive, postmortem about the rise and fall of Yonkers Schools Superintendent Angelo Petrone. It was Spencer who picked Petrone to lead the school system, but Petrone's career came to a crashing end last week when he resigned from his job and was indicted by a grand jury on charges of perjury and tampering with public records.

Always a straight shooter and self-styled maverick, who generously lards his one-on-one palaver with colorful language that cannot be printed in a family newspaper, Spencer issued a tough, unsparing primer of how he would have handled the debacle if he were still exalted maximum leader of the state's fourth-largest city.

"No. 1, you know me, Phil. Do you think Angelo Petrone is going to lie to me?" Spencer said with rhetorical flourish. "And when he lies to me, I would put my finger in his face and say, 'You ... you, you jerk!' "

Spencer said he would have hauled Petrone out for a public flogging months ago when it became apparent that the schools chief had personally rigged the system to hire, at $90,100 a year, a woefully inexperienced accountant whose main qualification was that he was a pal of Petrone's daughter.

Petrone would've been forced to make a public confession, the former mayor said. Spencer imagined an open lecture, something along these lines

"The superintendent made a big, big mistake. And, Angelo, tell them what you did. You tried to help somebody, and you (screwed) up. You can't do that. Apologize to the people of Yonkers and to the children of Yonkers."

Spencer came up short of saying he would have fired Petrone. Instead he would have ordered the wayward "knucklehead," to "get back to work and reform the educational system, straighten out the budget ... and that's what you do."

Gen. George S. Patton's famous slap of a shell-shocked soldier came to Spencer's mind. Like Patton, he would've figuratively slapped Petrone upside the head.

Spencer said Mayor Phil Amicone failed to act decisively and, in effect, allowed the crisis to build over too long a period. He compared the mayor to a "deer in the headlights" who attempted to be loyal to Petrone, but "he doesn't know how to be a stand-up guy."

If this sounds a bit surreal, it might be because Amicone was once Spencer's trusted deputy mayor and received Spencer's wholehearted endorsement to succeed him when term limits prevented Spencer from running for a third mayoral term in 2003. Also, Spencer's wife, Kathy Spring, remains in Amicone's administration as chief of staff.

Spencer said he did talk to Amicone during the Petrone crisis. He recalled saying to the mayor, "Listen, I'm not there. Whatever you do, make a decision and then do it. Don't make half-decisions or wind up being half-loyal.

"You can't be half-loyal or half-pregnant. You pick a course and you go with it."

It's more than obvious that Spencer's political strategy is to distance himself from Petrone, Amicone and the whole sorry mess in Yonkers. In our mostly one-sided conversation, he pointedly reminded me that it was he who created the city Inspector General's Office which, through the auspices of Philip Zisman, issued the 30-page investigative report that was instrumental in bringing down Petrone.

Zisman is a hero now, and Spencer seemed to be basking a little bit in the reflected glory.

Spencer really misses being in charge. He remains popular in Yonkers, and it's conceivable that after sitting out a term, he could try to shove Amicone aside and run again for mayor.

But right now, his eye is keenly fixed on the GOP nomination for a shot at unseating Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2006 Senate election. What makes this intriguing is that Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, a fellow Republican, also is said to be interested in running for that office, though she has not yet tipped her hand.

For Clinton, it may take a village. But for Pirro, it takes a grand jury. And it was her grand jury that indicted Angelo Petrone.

Spencer said it was "pretty far-reaching" that Pirro's case against Petrone was motivated, at least partly, by a desire to embarrass his past administration. The theory was brought up in a previous column.

Nevertheless, he said he was up to any challenge. He said he had plenty of ammunition to fire back at Pirro, whom he called a headline grabber.

"I mean, if she wants to go down that road, I'll gladly go down it," Spencer said.

The problem for Spencer is that Pirro probably will let her indictments do most of the talking. Look for her to milk the school scandal for all it's worth, in between chasing down Internet pedophiles and other threats against hearth and home.

I've always said that Spencer and Pirro are the two most interesting and toughest politicians on the local scene. In a heavyweight battle, they won't disappoint.

In Wednesday's column on the Petrone fiasco, I failed to correctly state that it was former New York Chief Judge Sol Wachtler who once said that a Bronx grand jury would indict just about anything, including a ham sandwich. It's a great line, and proper credit should be paid.

Yonkers school chief charged with perjury


Perjury charges against Angelo Petrone and Frank Lutz are based on testimony and documents from an investigation by Yonkers Inspector General Philip Zisman that was launched in November.

His report, made public Feb. 24, concluded the decision to hire accountant Pietro Barberi on Oct. 20, 2004, was inconsistent with legal and ethical provisions. It was scathing about district officials' conduct and questioned conflicting stories told by then-Superintendent Petrone, his sister, his daughter and Lutz, the district's finance director.

The report also described oddities in the documentation of Barberi's hiring. For example, three versions of Barberi's resume were given to the Inspector General's Office. The first, received Nov. 15, came from City Councilman John Murtagh along with a request for an investigation. It did not provide an address or certain work experience.

A second version, with the missing work experience included, was given to the Inspector General's Office in late November or early December in response to the first request for documents.

The third contained a local address and telephone number.

Those proved to be linked to Petrone, the report said. Barberi claimed he lived at a Yonkers residence which the investigation discovered was owned by Petrone's sister, Anna Rubillo - who gave conflicting testimony to the Inspector General's Office. The phone number was that of Petrone's daughter, Laine Petrone.

After questions were raised, "the Superintendent's responses to questions about the connections were inconsistent and lacked candor," the report stated.

An employment application dated June 5, 2004, contains information about events that could not have occurred until October 2004, the report stated. On it, Barberi said he had been a Yonkers resident for a year, a civil service requirement. The documentation he provided was a New York driver's license issued Oct. 4, 2004.

Lutz's testimony about the process of hiring Barberi was not credible, the report said. "Although professing that the retirement of the Chief Accountant created a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape the finance department by hiring a new senior manager, (Lutz) did not recruit for the position and Mr. Barberi was the only person that he interviewed," the report stated. "Apart from his education, Mr. Barberi's only accounting experience was two brief internships with accounting firms and his claimed, but unverified, employment in his family's construction company in Bayonne, New Jersey."

Two Yonkers school officials were indicted yesterday on charges of first-degree perjury in the investigation of a nepotism scandal.
Hours later, the Board of Education accepted the resignations of schools Superintendent Angelo Petrone and Finance Director Frank Lutz.

Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro announced the indictments at a news conference yesterday afternoon.

Pirro charged that Petrone and Lutz lied to Yonkers Inspector General Philip Zisman as he investigated the hiring of accountant Pietro Barberi to a high-paying job in the district's finance department.

Petrone, who was paid $235,000 a year as superintendent, also was indicted on a charge of tampering with public records in the first degree.

"This is a classic cover-up that probably has greater sanctions than the underlying circumstances themselves," Pirro said. "This should send a message to anyone in this county that when the inspector general calls an individual to testify under oath, we take it very seriously and will back up the inspector general and conduct our own investigation."

Each one of the charges is a class D felony, which carries a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison. Pirro said she is continuing her investigation of the Barberi hiring.

Petrone, 54, of Somers, and Lutz, 58, of Hastings-on-Hudson, were arraigned in Westchester County Court and will appear today before County Court Judge Lester Adler.

Zisman declined comment. Petrone's attorney, Edward Rinaldi, did not return messages. Lutz could not be reached for comment.

Pirro's indictment was the latest chapter in a controversy that began in late October, soon after Barberi, then 24, was hired as senior accountant under Lutz at a salary of $90,100, near the top of the district's salary scale. He replaced chief accountant Mitchell Wein.

Soon after Barberi's hiring, the Yonkers rumor mill buzzed with word that Barberi was the boyfriend of Laine Petrone, the superintendent's daughter, who also worked for the Yonkers public schools. Petrone denied that he knew Barberi and told The Journal News that his daughter and Barberi might be acquaintances.

Following the newspaper's investigation, City Councilman John Murtagh called for the inspector general's inquiry.

Yesterday, Murtagh called the indictments "an unfortunate thing."

"Hiring the 24-year-old was a stupid act, but it's the cover-up that does you in," said Murtagh, R-5th District.

According to Pirro, Petrone told the inspector general under oath that he knew neither how Barberi came to apply for the job nor whether Barberi and his daughter had a relationship. Pirro said Petrone told Zisman he had received Barberi's resume in June, several months before Wein's position became vacant.

Pirro said her investigation found that Petrone had known Barberi for three years, and that Barberi had visited the Petrone home on Mitchell Drive in Somers. She said Barberi and Laine Petrone were "probably boyfriend and girlfriend."

Barberi's resume, according to Pirro, was sent in September directly to Petrone, who then instructed Barberi to change it so he would qualify for the civil-service position. It had a one-year Yonkers residency requirement, and Barberi's original resume had a New Jersey address.

Pirro found that Petrone had sent Barberi an e-mail message, telling the accountant to use Petrone's sister's Yonkers address and to make sure he had a Westchester phone number on the resume. Zisman's report found that Barberi listed Laine Petrone's phone number on his resume.

Pirro said Barberi also "puffed" his resume to include supervisory experience in his father's construction firm in Bayonne, N.J.

The charge of tampering with public records relates to Petrone's action when Zisman was preparing his investigation. Pirro said Petrone tossed out Barberi's revised resume, which was dated Oct. 19, and made a new one dated June 4.

"It then looked like the application predated the opening of the position," she said.

Lutz, a longtime Mahopac resident who recently moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, was charged with perjury; he is alleged to have lied to Zisman about how and when he received Barberi's resume. Lutz told the inspector general he received the resume from the district's personnel department in July, indicating that it had been on file for several months before Wein's retirement.

Pirro said Petrone delivered the resume to Lutz in October.

"This sends a message to anyone who is in government service that there are no shenanigans that can take place," she said. "The public is in a position of expecting that they conduct themselves in a fair manner, that people don't use their influence and relationships to have access to jobs to which they are not entitled."

Commentary: New era, same troubles for Yonkers schools


After a year on the job as Yonkers schools superintendent, Andre J. Hornsby was already sizzling in the political frying pan. The rumor going around was that he was fed up and was about to pack it in.
This was 1999, but it could've been any year in the city of déja vu where history has a strange way of repeating itself and where crisis always seems to be crouching around the corner.

Hornsby's unilateral management style instantly alienated the teachers union and members of the PTA that first year, and before long he would anger the mayor and most of the Board of Education, too.

Denying whispers that he was looking for employment elsewhere, Hornsby said he was up to the Yonkers challenge and was not leaving. Asked where he saw himself in five years, he gazed into the crystal ball.

"I'll be a superintendent somewhere," he replied. "In Yonkers? Who knows. That will depend on the people who run Yonkers."

Less than a year later, Hornsby was fired. A teacher strike was probably the final nail in his coffin.

His words were nonetheless prophetic because, just as he confidently predicted, there was a superintendent's job waiting for him somewhere. In 2003, he became the chief executive of the 136,000-student Prince George's County school system in Maryland, where, halfway through a four-year contract, he makes a base salary of $200,000.

But guess what? Now Hornsby is in hot water again, only this time he must hope that jail isn't in his future.

According to The Washington Post, federal investigators are looking into the possibility that he committed a crime - though it is not clear what that alleged crime might be since no charges have been made. However, the newspaper further reported that the Prince George's Board of Education has hired a consulting group to independently review the school district's $1 million purchase of educational software and equipment from a company that happens to employ Hornsby's live-in girlfriend.

The Post said Hornsby failed to disclose his relationship with the woman, who works as a sales representative for the company.

Before this came to light, Hornsby had already ruffled feathers. Last June, he abruptly walked out of a County Council meeting after the legislative body voted down a school expansion plan.

He didn't apologize then, nor is he apparently commenting about his latest troubles. In the meantime, some observers down in Maryland are saying that Hornsby has been an utter failure as the schools chief and should be fired right away.

This undoubtedly comes as no surprise to Hornsby's detractors up here. Nevertheless, there are those who thought he was a breath of fresh air and defended him in his final hour.

He was the district's first black superintendent, and in a city that was historically roiled by an endless desegregation lawsuit, he openly challenged the status quo - perhaps most notably by criticizing the amount of school spending proposed by then-Mayor John Spencer. Under his watch, test scores rose and the gap between minority and nonminority students was narrowed, points of facts which he could've used to defend himself when he was canned.

Two months after Hornsby was dismissed, the Board of Education asked city Inspector General Philip Zisman to look into the school district's hiring and compensation practices.

Zisman's report was not flattering, and the mostly anti-Hornsby school board piled on, despite Hornsby's angry denials. Among the allegations they seized with relish was a charge that Hornsby steered a contract to Xerox Corp. in exchange for certain gratuities. According to The Journal News story, they also jumped on the report's conclusion that the hiring process was byzantine and left the district "vulnerable to mistake and manipulation" in the determination of starting salaries for new employees.

The board loved it. Hornsby was long gone, but it was like they were firing him all over again.

Zisman wrote down a wide-reaching set of recommendations, and urged the board to make the necessary preventative changes. Everybody said, in effect, "Right on. We're on the side of the taxpayers. Reforms are needed to stop the corruption."

Well, look here and what do you know. Five years later, Zisman came out with another report critical of the hiring procedures of the school superintendent. This time the findings came as a surprise, because the target was Angelo Petrone, a consummate insider who never bucks the mayor and is a friend to all who serve on the feckless school board.

They would have crucified Hornsby with such a report. But with Petrone it was different. The board backed him to the hilt. No need to fire him, or even suspend him. Forget about any reprimand at all.

Petrone is doing a great job, they said. Test scores were up, they said, ignoring the irony of the fact that Hornsby said the same thing.

Remember, this is the city of déja vu.

Six years later, the city is still facing a serious budget crisis. The teachers are angry and could go out on strike again. And the hiring practices still stink of corruption.

But here's the difference: In the city of déja vu, the concept of chicanery and even criminality rests in the eye of the beholder, or whoever is beholden to whom.

Pirro probes hiring of accountant linked to Yonkers schools chief


YONKERS - Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro has launched an investigation into the controversial hiring to a highly paid post of a young accountant linked to Schools Superintendent Angelo Petrone's family.
Pirro has issued a subpoena to the schools, seeking records relating to the employment of two people: former senior accountant Pietro Barberi and substitute teacher Laine Petrone, the superintendent's daughter, according to interviews.

Barberi, who was hired to the $90,010 job in October, resigned a month later as public furor grew over his appointment.

Board of Education Trustee John Pagliaroli said he received a copy of Pirro's subpoena Friday.

"I have concerns about it," Pagliaroli said. "No one has explained it. No one has told me anything about it yet."

School board President Robert Ferrito said school officials complied with Pirro's request for the documents.

"I'm not going to second-guess why they are requesting the investigation," Ferrito said. "We receive subpoenas every day. It's a standard operating procedure."

Pirro's investigation comes almost two months after Yonkers Inspector General Philip Zisman issued a blistering report that found the school district violated state and city Civil Service laws in hiring Barberi.

Barberi, who refused to cooperate with Zisman's investigation, did not return a message left at Barberi Bros. Construction in Bayonne, N.J.

Pirro spokeswoman Rita Adler declined to comment. Sue Garvey, assistant to the inspector general, said Zisman was aware of Pirro's investigation but declined to comment.

For Yonkers resident Eulogio Santiago, word of Pirro's inquiry came as welcome news for parents attempting to rebuild trust in the Yonkers public schools.

"We need to get to the bottom of this, because if people don't trust the system, they won't be willing to cooperate," he said.

When Barberi was hired, there were rumors that he and Yonkers substitute teacher Laine Petrone, who lived at home with her parents in 2004, were romantically involved. Zisman found no proof of such a relationship. But his report found that Barberi's relationship with Petrone's family was greater than had been acknowledged.

For example, Barberi had to meet a one-year residency requirement to qualify for the job. Zisman found that the apartment listed by Barberi as his residence was in a one-family home in Yonkers owned by Angelo Petrone's sister. The period of time Barberi said he was living in Yonkers was, according to his résumé, the same period when he was supervising the finances of his father's construction company, 28 miles away in downtown Bayonne.

"It seems unlikely that Barberi lived in Yonkers during the period that was claimed, and that he falsely claimed residency in order to try to satisfy the civil service prerequisite," Zisman wrote.

The phone number listed on Barberi's résumé turned out to be Laine Petrone's cell phone, which was billed to the home address of her father, the schools superintendent. Phone records revealed that Barberi and Laine Petrone talked almost every day between May and December 2004.

Zisman found that Angelo Petrone's statements about the relationship between Barberi and his family were "inconsistent and lacked candor."

While Petrone told The Journal News that Barberi and his daughter may have known each other, he told another reporter that there was "no association at all" between them. When Zisman interviewed Petrone under oath, he said that his daughter and Barberi had attended Fairfield University but that he did not know if they knew each other.

Zisman also questioned information listed on Barberi's job application, which was dated June 5, 2004. The application included events that had yet to occur, the report found.

For example, it referred to Barberi's New York driver's license, which wasn't issued until five months later in October. In addition, it stated that Barberi had worked at his father's company through October 2004, the month he was hired to the senior accountant's post at school headquarters.

The City of Yonkers