Submitted by CICEROSE
On Monday, April 16 jury selection will start in the U.S. vs Richard Brega trial. The trial itself should start the following day or shortly thereafter. The published list of possible witnesses and or people that will be mentioned in this trial are many. The list includes politicians, BOCES employees, former Brega employees and even New State DOT inspectors.
How and why did Richard Brega get indicted on allegedly defrauding Rockland BOCES out of Federal funds? The next few paragraphs will try to explain just that. Almost three and a half years ago a person, a watchdog of the county’s tax expenditures, was monitoring the progress the Rockland County TRIPS maintenance going out to bid. The contract was currently held by Brega DOT Maintenance.
A company wholly owned by Richard Brega Jr. He is the son and nephew of the owners of the prestigious Peter Brega Bus Company. PBB has absolutely no involvement with this case. Unfortunately, what they did get was their reputation tarnished as the Brega name was frequently on the front page of the local papers with less than favorable stories.
This all started when the County was attempting to solve an issue they were having with their diesel-powered Ford buses. New buses were to be ordered but were still more than a year away before going into the TRIPS fleet. A new Maintenance Contract was coming out, and the Purchasing Department about to try something a bit different.
The TRIPS Maintenance Contract bid specifications came from the Rockland County Purchasing Department head up by Paul Brennan. That department and Mr. Brennan had won many awards. It is one of the best in the state. Unfortunately, this contract would be a thorn in their sides.
Rockland County TRIPS consists of approximately 25 Ford E-450 Para-transit buses. At the time they were all diesel-powered. The diesel engine Ford put in these buses was both troublesome and expensive to repair. A decision was made to replace them all with gasoline-powered engines when the buses were replaced.
A new TRIPS Maintenance contract was coming out. This contract was currently held by Brega DOT Maintenance, as it was for the last two bid cycles. In the bid specifications the Purchasing Department innocently enough put one gasoline powered bus in it. The thinking was to get an idea of the cost savings on the maintenance of the gasoline buses.
Normally the entire number of buses would be in the bid specifications, but this was just to test the waters. When the bids from the companies that were vying for it came back there was a bit of a surprise. Brega DOT Maintenance was the lowest bidder and won the contract. The surprise was the gasoline bus maintenance was more than five times higher than the diesel bus. The gasoline bus was $835, and the diesel bus was $160.
When the results were made public the watchdog quickly noticed this aberration in the pricing. Brega was still awarded the contract even though everyone knew the $835 line should be changed. The county was notified but refused to make any changes. The county stated, we do not even have those buses yet, and could negotiate a change at that time. That was true, but Rockland County BOCES did have a fleet of gasoline buses, and they “piggyback” off the County TRIPS contract.
Brega DOT Maintenance had no reason not to use the $835 maintenance charge.
A year passed before the watchdog FOIL requested maintenance records on 10 BOCES gasoline-powered buses. He was not expecting to see anything. BOCES was a well-run organization and would never allow a vendor to overcharge them. Surprisingly, Brega was indeed charging BOCES the $835 preventive maintenance charge that the county was currently paying $160 for on the same maintenance on TRIPS buses.
The only difference; the BOCES buses were gasoline-powered, the TRIPS buses were diesel-powered. That’s a problem, because it is more expensive to perform the maintenance on the diesel bus – the gasoline-powered bus uses less oil and has a less expensive oil filter, among other things. What was also found was that maintenance on some of the BOCES buses was performed at intervals that fell in between the normal scheduled maintenance time and mileage. The paperwork also looked suspicious as the checklists that the mechanics fill out all had the same handwriting though ostensibly from four different mechanics.
Rockland BOCES was notified of the watchdog’s findings. It took a while but BOCES ended their relationship with Brega. Southern Westchester BOCES took over the maintenance of the Rockland BOCES fleet.
After a long investigation by the FBI, Richard Brega was indicted on multiple charges. He is said to believe he did nothing wrong.
The work orders were written by Brega employees. The information on those work orders were given to the service advisors by someone at Brega. Were the buses even brought to Brega for some of those maintenance procedures? Do the bus logs show that the buses even logged one mile on those days the buses were supposed to be at Brega for servicing?
If Richard Brega is innocent, why would William Popkave, Transportation Director of BOCES, plead guilty and why would BOCES pay thousand of dollars for work not performed. In the next few weeks the public will find out once and for all what truly happened over the course of about five years.
Popkave was the transportation director for Rockland BOCES for many years. A former BOCES auto tech instructor, a timid friendly man unfortunately seduced by the Brega charm more than 10 years ago. His transportation department’s mechanics were a thorn in his side. Something had to change. BOCES had a large repair shop, with enough mechanics to maintain the entire fleet of cars, trucks and buses. Getting them to work was the hard part.
Popkave decided he would close the shop and sublet all work to an outside vendor. A long time friend of his worked at Brega DOT Maintenance. When William Popkave met Richard Brega they did not hit it off right away. William’s friend of almost 30 years told him not to worry, he was there to look over BOCES interests. He trusted his friend. The BOCES shop closed and all BOCES vehicles were serviced from that point on at Brega DOT Maintenance. Brega also started working on Popkave’s personal cars and trucks. Work orders were written of course. But were they ever paid for?
Fast forward to about 2010 unusual things started happening. BOCES was to be charged a 25 percent markup on parts. A source inside Brega stated the markup was changed in the computer to 27 percent. Not much, who would notice? In 2011 a BOCES bus failed DOT inspection due to having no backup lamps. The Brega mechanics were having trouble diagnosing the problem.
Someone at Brega got Popkave to approve a transmission replacement to the tune of about $3,500. The only problem was the backup lamps still were not working after the replacement. A phone call to a former Brega service manager helped repair the minor problem at an electrical connector. Upon hearing about this fiasco Popkave’s friend asked why he would approve a transmission replacement when he knew it did not repair the bus. He said timidly that the bus would need a transmission someday.
That was the last time the friend spoke to William Popkave.
Today the jury is watching videotaped testimony from a frail William Popkave. His deposition recorded in Florida where he is having health issues. Popkave pleaded guilty to all charges.
It is now Wednesday, April 18. The jury has been selected and the trial has begun. On Tuesday, Brega’s defense lawyer spoke of a man that was too involved with securing lucrative contracts worth millions to be involved with fraud that only amounted to less than $100,000.
But a source within the Brega organization says Richard was a micromanager, involved with every aspect of the companies daily operation. The repair orders could not be finalized unless he looked at them first and made adjustments when necessary. Rarely would the price of repairs go down. One example was a repair on an ambulette that needed a catalytic converter. That particular part from Ford had a list price of $1,400.
A manager was able to secure an aftermarket converter to save the ambulette company hundreds of dollars. In fact, the part would only cost them $650. When the repair order came across Richards desk he allegedly changed the price to $1,400, the Ford list price. This was only one example. How about a wheel falling off a BOCES school bus on a Friday afternoon. Normally this is something that NYDOT would have to be notified of before repairing. Not at Brega DOT.
The bus allegedly had all repairs completed over the weekend. Did Brega absorb the repairs? No, BOCES was allegedly charged about $1,200. He may have been a busy man though, with upwards of 90 security camera throughout the building and property all displayed on six big screen TVs in his office, anyone would be kept busy.
A source says the service advisors that wrote up the supposedly bogus repair orders had cameras and microphones pointed at them. Their keystrokes could be monitored in the boss’s office.
Brega’s defense is lame at best. The federal government’s lawyers and investigators should have an easy time proving their case after spending over three years working the case.