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05/21/2014

Bridge repair crew charged with disturbance of Peregrine Falcon nest

PHILADELPHIA — Two men from Ohio and a man from New Jersey were charged May 21 in a conspiracy related to the disturbance of protected Peregrine Falcons following an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Labor, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the Amtrak Office of Inspector General, and the Office of Inspector General of the Social Security Administration.

Nikolaos Frangos, 38, and George Capuzello, 42, both of Campbell, Ohio; and Mikhail Zubialevich, aka "Russian Mike," 41, of Princeton, New Jersey, were charged with conspiring to falsify, conceal and cover up a material fact in a matter within the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Transportation, witness tampering, and harboring an alien. Capuzello was also charged with perjury and Zubialevich was also charged with making a false statement. All three were arrested May 21.

According to court documents, the three men were involved, to varying degrees, in the refurbishment of the Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia, which, for many years, had been a nesting site for Peregrine Falcons. As a condition of the work contract, the company, The Liberty-Alpha Joint Venture, agreed to refrain from working in the areas of the falcons' nests during nesting season.

On June 4, 2011, Capuzello allegedly directed Zubialevich and another worker to perform grinding or sanding in the "restricted zone" which frightened and disturbed the falcons and caused them to abandon their nest. During a subsequent investigation into the disturbance of the falcons, the three defendants allegedly conspired to cover up the identity of one of the workers, who was an illegal alien and was partly responsible for disturbing the Peregrine Falcons. Frangos and Capuzello are also charged with intimidating another person, J.W., in order to prevent or delay communication with a special agent relating to the possible commission of a federal offense.

If convicted, Frangos faces up to 35 years in prison, Capuzello faces up to 40 years in prison, and Zubialevich faces up to 20 years in prison.

A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.