NEW YORK – A former government official hailed for helping two people escape the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was sentenced Friday to at least a year in prison, his second term behind bars after two separate bribery cases turned his story of heroism into a tale of graft in the wake of the attacks.
Friday's sentencing was specifically about a case in which Mark Jakubek took payoffs to let a company overbill for work on the trade center cleanup and other projects, but it was peppered with broader references to the terror attacks and Jakubek's role in rescuing people from them.
While Jakubek said he was suffering continuing psychological problems from the disaster, a prosecutor questioned whether his valor had been overblown.
His voice faltering, Jakubek, 52, proclaimed his innocence and traced a trail of personal losses.
"I always told the truth. ... I was totally unaware that these wrongful activities were going on," Jakubek said.
He noted that his legal problems had cost him his job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and ended his 22-year marriage. He also said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder "as a result of the attack on the World Trade Center and my heroic saving of two employees."
Jakubek's former port authority colleague Anthony Fontanetta, 63, was convicted in the same case and also was sentenced Friday to one to three years in prison — the minimum possible for a racketeering conviction that could have gotten each man up to 25 years behind bars. They were allowed to stay free for at least a week to ask an appeals court to give them bail during a planned appeal.
"Their obligation was to ensure that the port authority got the goods and services they paid for," Manhattan assistant district attorney Michael Scotto told the court. "The only goods and services that the defendants were concerned about were the ones they received ... for violating that trust and allowing the theft of thousands of dollars from the port authority."
On the day of the 2001 attacks, Jakubek and some co-workers were scrambling down the stairs from their World Trade Center offices when they heard screams coming from an elevator. He and the others helped find a way to pry the elevator door open, he later told the New York Post, which included him in a list of "New York's heroes" in 2002. The state Legislature gave him a commendation, said his lawyer, Glenn Abolafia.
But Scotto noted that another account — "102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers," a 2004 book by New York Times writers Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn — said that the men in the elevator wedged the door open slightly themselves. Jakubek then found a post to force it open wider and wire-cutters those in the elevator used to free themselves, Dwyer and Flynn wrote.
"This was hardly heroic," Scotto said.
"It was considered heroic by our Legislature," Abolafia responded.
Two years after the attacks, Jakubek pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case, admitting he had taken nearly $20,000 in kickbacks to speed payments to contractors whose billing records had been destroyed in the attacks.
At the time, Jakubek said the terror attacks had left him with profound psychological scars. "In helping save two people's lives, I lost a part of my own," he told a judge, who noted that thousands of other people had lived through Sept. 11 trauma without committing crimes. Jakubek spent about a year in a federal prison.
By the end of 2004, Jakubek had been indicted again, in a sweeping state court case surrounding asbestos-cleanup firm Specialty Service Contracting Inc. Jakubek, who had managed the authority's environmental field operations, was accused of taking sports and concert tickets and other bribes to let the company get away with padding its bills.
Specialty Service worked for the agency at John F. Kennedy International Airport and on cleaning up crushed police cars, pieces of steel and other artifacts from the trade center site, which the authority also owns.
The company inflated equipment expenses and plumped up its payroll with no-show workers, one of whom actually was in jail on a day he was listed as working, prosecutors said.
The firm stole more than $60,000 through the ground zero cleanup project and millions of dollars overall, prosecutors said.
Jakubek and Fontanetta, an engineer, and their lawyers said the two didn't know about the billing practices. Fontanetta and Jakubek both said Friday they had taken some tickets, but Fontanetta said he had paid $50 toward the $75 price of a pair of tickets he received, and Jakubek said he never did anything in return for those he accepted.
Fontanetta said he had "lost everything in my life ... because I refused to admit to something that I did not do."
"On my life and on my children, I knew nothing about what was going on — nothing," he added.
State Supreme Court Justice Bruce Allen told the two that "I understand your positions and your belief in your own innocence, yet I must also tell you that a jury verdict is a powerful thing."
Abolafia and Fontanetta's lawyer, Mark Macron, said that while they disagreed with the verdict, they were pleased with the minimum sentence. Prosecutors had sought a four-to-12-year term for each man.
At least 11 other people pleaded guilty to or were convicted of various charges. That includes three Specialty Services co-owners, two of whom were sentenced to two to six years in prison; the third got probation.
Jakubek and Fontanetta were convicted in December 2009 of charges including enterprise corruption, New York state's version of racketeering. Their sentencing was delayed by various post-trial issues and efforts to challenge the verdict.
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