Grimm hires scandal-scarred aide

Fran Vella-Marrone is the new district director for Rep. Michael Grimm, despite the fact that she admitted in 2000 to using her political connections to get her husband a construction gig at a Borough Park school.
File photo by Steve Solomonson

Rep. Michael Grimm added to the controversies already swirling around his office when he hired a Dyker Heights activist who once used her political connections to land a construction job for her husband, whose incompetent management resulted in the death of a 17-year-old girl.

Fran Vella-Marrone, a Conservative party leader, and the president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, lobbied former School Construction Authority Trustee Paul Atanasio to give her husband Gary a job to oversee rehab work on PS 131 in Borough Park in 1998 — an ethics violation that ultimately led to the death of 17-year-old Yan Zhen Zhao when an unsecured brick fell from the school’s roof and hit the young woman in the head.

A city investigation into the accident determined that a “lethal combination of incompetent contractors, halfway safety measures and laissez-faire supervision” led to Zhao’s death.

Investigators blamed Atanasio for giving Gary Marrone the job, even though he had little construction experience and was frequently absent from the site. Marrone, who investigators said had been fired from his previous two jobs, was never held criminally liable.

Vella-Marrone later admitted that she lobbied Atanasio to give her husband the job — a violation that cost her $5,000 in fines.

Yet Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) said he didn’t hire Vella Marrone, a Community Board 10 member, for her checkered past — he hired her for her long track record as a community leader, a Grimm spokeswoman said.

“He was aware [of the incident], but Grimm was most concerned with her reputation in the community when hiring her — which is exceptional,” spokeswoman Carol Danko explained. “She is extremely well-qualified to effectively serve the people the congressman represents in Brooklyn, which is what he cares about the most.”

Vella-Marrone was hired two weeks ago to run Grimm’s Brooklyn office on 13th Avenue and handle constituent concerns. She declined to comment for this article.

The flap is among several currently plaguing Grimm, who was accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions during his 2010 campaign, as well as having covered up ties to a former business partner who served 18 months in prison. Cops also last week arrested Liam McCabe, an aide to Grimm, for roughing up his 14-year-old son outside of his Boerum Hill school after the youngster was allegedly found with marijuana.

Updated (Feb. 22, 12:33 pm). Story updated to make allegations clearer.

Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@cnglocal.com or by calling him at (718) 260-4507. You can also follow his Tweets at twitter.com/dsmacleod.

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