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A Batavia scrap dealer, who was accused by Niagara Mohawk of paying $70,000 in bribes to several of its employees, has been awarded $500,000 from the utility in a breach of contract lawsuit.

The damages awarded to Joseph Barsuk following a trial in state Supreme Court in Batavia could reach $2 million if back interest is applied, said Frank J. Frascogna, Barsuk's attorney.

Frascogna also hailed the verdict as vindication for Barsuk and several NiMo employees who had been accused of corruption by the utility.

Niagara Mohawk plans to ask the court to set aside the verdict, said Stephen F. Brady, a company spokesman.

"We believe the evidence indicates that he breached the contract, not us, and that the evidence was not sufficient to support the jury's verdict," Brady said.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 1990, stemmed from contracts that Barsuk's company held to buy scrap metal from Niagara Mohawk from 1970-90.

Barsuk charged that some Niagara Mohawk employees had tried to gain control over the scrap metals by illegally canceling his contract with the utility. The employees then made separate deals to try to sell the scrap metal.

At the same time, the state Public Service Commission in 1998 ordered Niagara Mohawk to refund $3.7 million to its customers over the company's management of its contract to sell scrap metal to Barsuk. The PSC said Barsuk underpaid Niagara Mohawk by as much as $3.7 million for the scrap metal from 1970 to 1990.

Niagara Mohawk later accused Barsuk of taking part in a bribery scheme that paid tens of thousands of dollars to several NiMo employee by having Barsuk place bets for them on horse races.

James Bartlett, a retired Niagara Mohawk director, said in a 1999 deposition that he won about $40,000 over a 13- to 14-year period from bets that Barsuk had placed for him, although he denied giving Barsuk any special treatment.

"The jury specifically repudiated Niagara Mohawk's claims that Barsuk had somehow corrupted and intimidated its employees, and thereby gained unfair business advantages," Frascogna said.

A pair of lawsuits that Niagara Mohawk filed against Barsuk accusing him of improper conduct and attempted extortion were dismissed by the state Court of Appeals.


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