A Brooklyn-based tree-planting company that rakes in millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts isn’t planting all of the trees it gets paid for and routinely charges the city for work that never gets done, whistleblowers told The Post.
J. Pizzirusso Landscaping is one of several contractors employed by the city Parks Department as part of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Million Trees project.
Since 2007, when Bloomberg and Bette Midler planted the first sapling in The Bronx, Pizzirusso has raked in $12 million worth of contracts from the city to plant trees, according to the Parks Department.
Five current and former Pizzirusso workers claim their employer is ripping the city off. Attorney James Versocki, a former prosecutor with the state attorney general, believes the problem is widespread and is now calling on the city to investigate its landscapers more generally.
Among the allegations:
- Work crews would take credit for planting trees that were already there — attaching tags to fool inspectors so Pizzirusso would get paid without having to do work. “We put new [inspection] tags on old trees,” a worker for Pizzirusso said. “The reason for the tags was so [the inspectors] could see what year the tree was planted. We would refresh the soil and put down new mulch so the tree looked like it was planted not so long ago.”
- The company would claim it saw-cut into the sidewalk to plant a tree even if it didn’t — a move that allowed it to bill at a higher rate. “A lawn pit he’d [bill as] a new pit because we’d get paid more money for it,” said a whistleblower who helped prepare Pizzirusso billing records.
- Workers at Pizzirusso and elsewhere claim their bosses ordered them to vandalize dead trees so the city, not the contractor, would have to pick up the tab for their replacement. Dead trees are the contractor’s responsibility for two years after they are planted, but vandalized trees are the Parks Department’s problem. The total cost of planting a new tree is $1,450, the Parks Department says. Replacing a vandalized tree costs taxpayers $700.