State construction scandal bared in Massachussetts

A sordid story of illegal political payoffs and poorly designed, shoddily constructed public buildings is being told in Massachussetts. Investigators for a special state commission probing the selection of designers and contractors for public construction projects between 1968 and 1978 have painted a grim picture of crumbling walls, sagging ceilings, and other defects in schools, hospitals, and prisons.

The results so far have already besmirched the reputations of several past or present public officials, some close to at least three former governors.

While the extent of corruption may never be known, it appears that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars were squandered in the design and construction of state and county buildings.

Correcting these flaws, which in some cases have rendered large areas of new buildings unusable, would cost the commonwealth in excess of $130 million.

Also uncovered by the probers is the expenditure of some $20 million on the design of structures that will never be built. Much of this work was done by politically connected architects.

Records of a Worcester-based architectural firm show that it subsisted for two decades almost entirely on state and county contracts, receiving more than $ 5.4 million for its work on 132 projects.

In sworn testimony before the special commission, which opened two months of hearings March 20, Frank Masiello Jr., who formerly headed the oft-favored architectural company, conceded that during the 10-year period "it was virtually impossible to get a state contract without making a political contribution."

Now a resident of West Palm Beach, Fla., Mr. Masiello has been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. He cited his involvement during 1963 and 1964 in the shuffling of architects and engineers into a Boston hotel room for meetings with Gov. Endicott Peabody. The meetings were followed by "political contributions" solicited by the governor's fund-raisers.

One architect seen by Mr. Masiello at these meetings was David R. Thissen, the head of a firm which later won lucrative contracts with the Massachusetts Port Authority when his close friend Edward J. King, now governor of Massachusetts, was the agency's executive director.

In other testimony, Mr. Masiello alleged that a Los Angeles architectural firm paid at least $26,000 to Albert P. (Toots) Manzi, chief campaign fund-raiser for former Govs. John A. Volpe and Francis W. Sargent, in exchange for help in landing a $1.4 million design contract. One $6,000 payment, he testified, was made in $5 bills at Mr. Manzi's Worcester supermarket.

No testimony has been presented that either Mr. Volpe or Mr. Sargent had any knowledge of the alleged payoffs.

Throughout the administrations of both former Republican governors, Mr. Manzi was widely known to be a man of considerable influence at the State House. Mr. Masiello recalled delivering a $3,000 cash "contribution" in 1965 to Mr. Manzi within Governor Peabody's executive suite in payment for his help in securing a state contract.

Interlaced in the Masiello testimony have been several references to an engineering firm headed by Anthony Mansueto, who was introduced by Mr. Mansiello to Mr. Manzi in a room ajoining Governor Volpe's executive suite in 1967. The special commission is scheduled to delve into how the Mansueto firm (called MBM) was selected in 1969 for what proved to be a lucrative contract to oversee construction of the Boston campus of University of Massachusetts.

It was in connection with a legislative probe of this work that two state senators -- Democrat Joseph J. DiCarlo and Republican Ronald C. MacKenzie -- were indicted in 1976 by a federal grand jury. They were later convicted and sent to prison. Democrat James A. Kelly Jr., also then a state senator and chairman of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.

Among dozens of faulty design and construction projects singled out by the commission is one done by the Masiello firm at the state prison in Concord, Mass., including a guard tower where a helicopter must be used in replacing the searchlight bulb.

Amherst College president John William Ward is Chairman of the commission.

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