Feds: Work crew on bridge caused peregrine falcons to abandon nest

Posted: May 23, 2014

THREE YEARS AGO, workers who were part of a painting crew on the double-decker Girard Point Bridge, which carries I-95 across the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, allegedly disrupted the peregrine falcons nesting there so much so that the birds flew away, abandoning their nest.

The birds, which are on the state's endangered-species list, left behind an egg that failed to hatch.

According to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday, it was on June 4, 2011, when two workers - Mikhail Zubialevich, 41, of Princeton, N.J., a/k/a "Russian Mike," and Walter Eduardo Morgan Gomez, an illegal immigrant - were directed to carry tools and equipment along a catwalk underneath the bridge deck, and to grind and sand in an area that was supposed to be restricted to protect the birds.

It was that activity that allegedly scared the falcons away.

Gomez, 35, of Honduras, was charged in January with an offense related to the death of the falcon egg. He pleaded guilty in February and faces sentencing June 6.

Zubialevich and two others were indicted last week for allegedly conspiring to falsify information, and for harboring an illegal immigrant by allegedly concealing that Gomez was one of the workers responsible.

Zubialevich pleaded not guilty before a magistrate judge yesterday and was to be released on $50,000 bail. His lawyer, Mark Cedrone, said, "My client professes his innocence."

The two others indicted were Nikolaos Frangos, 38, and George Capuzello, 42, both of Campbell, Ohio.

Frangos, co-owner of Liberty Maintenance Inc., one of two companies hired to paint the bridge, was arrested in New Orleans yesterday morning.

"It's not the case of the century," said his lawyer, Bill DeStefano. He said Frangos "did not hire illegal aliens."

Capuzello, the foreman who allegedly directed Zubialevich and Gomez to work in the restricted zone, was arrested yesterday in Boston, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Shapiro said.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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