Coppergate defendant: Nobody said I couldn’t take pipes

The attorney for a contractor accused of stealing copper pipe from the former King’s Inn during a demolition job said that his client is prepared to testify at trial that, contrary to statements made by former mayor James Sottile and former fire chief Rick Salzmann, he was never told that the pipes were exempt from an agreement which allowed him to salvage and sell fixtures from the site. The removal of the copper cost the city at least $143,000 in added demolition costs after the asbestos abatement firm working on the site said that tearing out the pipes had released the toxic substance into the air, boosting the price of the job.

“We’ll ask for a dismissal or we’ll go to trial, one of those two things will happen,” said Joseph O’Connor. The Kingston attorney is defending contractor Joseph McGowan on petit larceny charges in Kingston City Court. “He will be exonerated fully, and I usually don’t say that about any case.”

In July 2011, McGowan, a roofer by trade, was hired by Salzmann to carry out pre-demolition work at the former welfare motel which was slated to be torn down that fall. Sottile said he recommended McGowan for the job based on previous work he had done for the city. The agreement, which was concluded without a work order or other documentation required under the city’s purchasing policy, offered McGowan $4,000 and salvage rights to mattresses, sinks and other fixtures. Last year, Sottile and Salzmann both told the Kingston Times that they specifically directed McGowan not to touch copper plumbing pipes.


On Aug. 8, one week after the job was completed, Salzmann called police to report that the pipes were missing. A short time later, McGowan was arrested and charged with felony grand larceny (the charge was later reduced to petit larceny). Police say McGowan sold the pipe at an Abeel Street scrapyard for what they would only describe as “less than $1,500.”

But O’Connor said his research found that copper pipes were routinely and legitimately included in the haul of loot from other city-funded demolition jobs. McGowan, meanwhile, is prepared to testify at trial that neither Sottile nor Salzmann made any mention of the pipes during negotiation of the deal. In fact, O’Connor said, McGowan would testify that a high-ranking fire department official actually observed the pipes being hauled away. According to O’Connor, McGowan was too far away to identify the official, but noticed the man was wearing a white shirt worn by fire department lieutenants, captains, chiefs and assistant chiefs.