Dean Yerry enjoyed a good reputation during his 30 years at the University at Buffalo, where he rose from the position of locksmith to maintenance supervisor and oversaw work on dormitories on the school’s North Campus.
Yerry was so well-respected that in 2013 he was honored as Building Manager of the Year by the Greater Buffalo Building Owners & Managers Association. Coworkers described him as a “consummate problem solver” and “someone who goes out of his way to help others any way he can.”
Those traits may have helped send Yerry to jail.
At the same time that he was being honored, Yerry was helping Joseph LoVetro, a poker buddy who painted houses, to devise a bid proposal to paint dorm rooms for UB -- a much bigger job than LoVetro was used to doing. With Yerry’s help, LoVetro won the $1 million contract and kicked back 10 percent of the money, $100,000, to Yerry.
The scheme was discovered and Yerry eventually pleaded guilty to bribe receiving in the second degree, a Class C felony.
Tuesday morning in State Supreme Court, Yerry was sentenced to six months in prison, plus five years post-release supervision and a $40,000 fine.
But the punishment ordered by Justice Russell P. Buscaglia did not compare to what he did to himself, Yerry said.
“I am sorry for my bad judgment,” Yerry told the judge. “I wrecked my name -- and my family’s.”
Yerry’s attorney Patrick Brown told the court that Yerry’s crime was not the result of some intricate plot.
Rather, Brown said, “It was a situation that kind of evolved.”
Brown described Yerry as a “product of Buffalo,” a lifelong resident who took care of his family, owned a modest home in Sloan and worked all his life to build a good reputation, a reputation that is now shattered.
“His reputation means a lot to him, and this weighs heavily on him,” Brown said. “He blames no one but himself.”
Yerry and LoVetro executed their plan shortly before Yerry left the university. He retired in 2014, sold his house for $59,000 and moved to Henderson, Nevada.
Meanwhile, the state had questions about the painting contractor.
LoVetro had not done painting work on the scale of the UB job before and he was unfamiliar with state payroll record requirements that came with the contract. That oversight prompted a investigation by state Inspector Catherine General Leahy Scott into whether LoVetro was violating New York’s prevailing wage regulations.
Instead, investigators uncovered the bidding irregularities. From the end of 2013 through 2014, Yerry was receiving kickbacks from LoVetro.
LoVetro cooperated with investigators and wound up pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges for the payroll offenses.
Although investigators believe the amount was higher, Yerry pleaded guilty to taking $20,000 for helping LoVetro.
Buscaglia noted that the nature of the offense complicated any calculation for payback or restitution.
“We have had difficulty determining what that amount would be and who it would be paid to,” the judge said.
Assistant District Attorney Gary Ertel, who prosecuted the case, said noted that the university agreed to the contract, considered it fair and that the work was done in a satisfactory manner.
But, he added, “The money certainly should not go back to the person who paid it to Mr. Yerry.”
Ertel said that, in cases such as this, state law provides for fines that are doubled the amount that illegally changes hands. The fine would return the money to the state, which awarded the contract, Ertel said.
Buscaglia agreed that was the best solution and imposed the $40,000 fine. He gave him three years to pay the full amount and, at Brown’s request, also said that Yerry would be able to serve his five years post-release supervision in Nevada, where he made his home after he retired, if probation allows it.
The judge also chastised Yerry for his actions, saying that “trying to help a friend” did not justify his wrongdoing.
“Bribery of any official contributes to the climate of public corruption that citizens find so offensive,” Buscaglia said. “There is no excuse.”
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