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Official: Feds probe NYC storm slowdown reports

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TOM HAYS | January 4, 2011 10:18 PM EST | AP

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NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors are looking into claims sanitation workers sabotaged the city's snow cleanup after the post-Christmas blizzard, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.

The U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn opened a preliminary inquiry after a Queens city councilman contacted it, the official said. A city watchdog agency also is investigating.

Councilman Dan Halloran has said sanitation workers told him their supervisors made it clear workers who slacked off during the cleanup after the Dec. 26 storm wouldn't be punished.

The official said public integrity prosecutors are looking into whether workers padded overtime and violated fraud statutes. The official wasn't authorized to speak about the inquiry and spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

The Department of Sanitation would not comment on an open investigation, spokesman Keith Mellis said.

It took several days to plow the city's streets after the storm dumped 20 inches of snow.

There was some speculation that the sluggish response stemmed from a work slowdown aimed at protesting a scheduled Jan. 1 cost-cutting move to demote 100 supervisors overseeing the plowing effort.

Two sanitation union bosses have said the slowdown rumors are false and insulting.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty have said they were concerned but didn't think there was any truth to the speculation.

The Department of Sanitation faced continued criticism on Tuesday when a blog, Sheepshead Bites, reported that gravestones at a large Jewish cemetery had been knocked over and possibly damaged by a fence that fell under the weight of snow piled up against it by the city.

About a dozen gravestones might be affected, said Yana Zhuravel, who went to Washington Cemetery on Sunday and found her grandmother's gravestone knocked over by the crumpled fence.

"It's obviously a disturbing sight," the 26-year-old lawyer said. "We can't tell what kind of damage has been done."

The Department of Sanitation said that it had reached out to cemetery officials and that they can file a claim.

"Unfortunately, during ongoing emergency snow-clearing operations outside of the cemetery, the fence along the cemetery collapsed due to piled snow," the department said in a statement.

The department said anyone can file a claim. A telephone call to the cemetery rang unanswered Tuesday.


Associated Press writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.