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Extortion?

By BILL BYRON
Gazette Reporter

ROTTERDAM - Police are investigating a former town employee over allegations that he extorted money from a local septic hauler to allow him to dump at the town's wastewater treatment plant, authorities confirmed on Thursday.

Michael A. Tessitore, 40, of 2701 Maida Lane, resigned from his job as a wastewater treatment operator after accusations of extortion, insubordination and equipment misuse arose in April.

Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton said his department has been investigating the potentially criminal activity since April 25, when town Supervisor John Paolino asked the chief to look into the matter. He would not elaborate on how much Tessitore is alleged to have received in payments and for how long a period of time.

No charges have been filed against Tessitore.

Nobody from the septic hauling company that made the accusation, Big Willy's Septic Service of Delanson, returned phone calls to their office on Thursday.

Tessitore denied the allegations, blaming the situation on his recently appointed supervisor, Karl Shafarzek, who he said has a relationship with Big Willy's. Paolino confirmed that Shafarzek originally made the allegations of insubordination and equipment misuse. Shafarzek declined comment when contacted by a reporter.

"It started in April, and there was a newly appointed supervisor. He claimed that I directed profanity at him, and I was put on administrative leave, with pay because of that," Tessitore said Thursday. "On May 6 . . . town Supervisor Paolino terminated me, and more charges were added, including some false statements by a waste hauler. Coincidentally, previously [the hauler] worked at the same treatment plant with [Shafarzek]."

Rather than battle Tessitore in court, town officials said, they have agreed to pay him a cash settlement for his unused vacation - $4,366 - and the salary that he would have earned between his termination on May 6 and June 10, the date of his resignation, which is approximately $3,600.

Town attorney Andrew Brick said the cost of litigating the case would likely run between $35,000 and $45,000.

"One of the considerations is the cost involved in prosecuting the matter straight through arbitration," Brick said. "That can get expensive in terms of legal costs. . . . And you always run the risk of losing."

The town will also continue to provide Tessitore and his family with health insurance until September. If at that time Tessitore does not have any other insurance, the town will provide him health coverage for himself until December.

"This resignation included paying me a cash settlement for the time I had been out of work, but there was an agreement that I had to drop my grievance and any pending action against the town," Tessitore said.

He added that he will probably accept the settlement, although he believes that he has until the end of the week to revoke the agreement.

"I felt like I'd be going back to an environment where I'd have a bull's-eye on my back," he said.

Tessitore has been working for the town for 10 years. He complained that Shafarzek had only been there only one year when he was promoted to a position above Tessitore.

He also said that he never had the power to issue dumping permits and could not have granted Big Willy's Septic access to dump. That duty rests with town engineer Liz Mastrianni, he said.

"Richard Foster [of Big Willy's] said I was demanding the money from him, and if he didn't give it to me, he wouldn't be allowed to dump there," Tessitore said. "If I was so guilty of all these charges, why would the town ask for and accept my resignation?"

Submitted by: Werner Hetzner 

Source: Gazette Newspapers

 

 

 

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