A home improvement contractor married to one of Donald and Melania Trump’s former household staffers is now working as an official at the Environmental Protection Agency, the latest example of someone with a personal connection to the Trump family finding work in the administration.
New Jersey-based Steve Kopec joined EPA’s Region 2 office in New York as a special assistant on Dec. 18, according to a memo obtained by POLITICO. “Steve comes to us from private industry, where he fashioned his career around customer service and organizational efficiencies,” EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez wrote in the memo. “Steve is an experienced manager with skills in team building, management and organization.”
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According to public records, Kopec previously ran a contracting business from his home in Haskell, New Jersey, called Steve’s Tools in Motion. Kopec’s wife, Dagmara, previously worked for the Trump family in New York, according to a person familiar with her situation.
Photographs posted on Facebook in recent months show the Kopecs visiting the White House and mingling with senior administration officials.
Trump, who appointed his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner to senior White House roles, has made a habit of appointing people with close ties to his family or businesses rather than experienced policymakers or political hands. His White House social media director, Dan Scavino, started working for him years ago as a caddy , and his first security director , Keith Schiller, traveled with him from the Trump Organization to the White House.
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In June, Trump appointed Lynne Patton, a party planner who arranged events at Trump golf courses as well as Eric Trump’s 2014 wedding, to head the New York office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Scott Amey, the Project on Government Oversight’s general counsel, said there has been a pattern of “questionable hiring” across both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades, noting that presidents’ friends and acquaintances often get tapped for ambassadorships and other top job.
But hiring people at government agencies with little relevant experience can backfire, he said.
“If you put friends in high places and they don’t have the proper qualifications it can have disastrous results for the agency and for taxpayers,” Amey said. “We hope that public service positions are filled with people that are qualified to best serve the public interest.”
Steve Kopec did not answer multiple calls to his office line and didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment via email. Dagmara Kopec did not respond to multiple emails. Lopez, the EPA Region 2 administrator, also did not respond to questions about the circumstances of Steve Kopec’s hiring.
The White House declined to offer an on-the-record response to questions about Kopec’s hiring. “We appreciate Mr. Kopec’s service,” a White House official said.
It’s unclear who made the decision to hire Kopec, or whether EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was involved. Pruitt, the former Oklahoma state attorney general, has grown close to Trump in recent months and is eyeing other jobs in the administration.
“Mr. Kopec is a hard-working, dedicated employee and we appreciate his service, in supporting environmental protection efforts in New York, New Jersey, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in a statement.
An EPA official added that Kopec “performs administrative and support services” for the agency’s Region 2 administrator. The official said he isn’t writing policy for the agency and does not serve in a technical or scientific role.
Kopec, according to the official, speaks four languages and travels multiple hours a day to the EPA office in New York from his home in New Jersey.
Other administration officials stressed that Kopec does not hold a senior position at the agency, with one official saying he makes $66,215 a year.
Both Dagmara and Steve Kopec are originally from Poland. Steve often goes by his Polish name, Slawomir.
The Kopecs appear to have made repeated visits to the White House in recent months.
One photo posted in September 2017 shows Dagmara Kopec posing on the South Lawn of the White House with communications director Hope Hicks, counselor Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Photos from January — including one with Steve Kopec, Melania Trump and the president — appear to be from a White House Christmas party.
Another photo posted by Kopec in September shows a plate of food with the caption, “My first dinner at the White House.”
He also posted a photo of himself sitting in a yellow chair in what appeared to be the White House Diplomatic Reception Room. The picture caption reads: “I wait for my guest.” It wasn’t clear whom he meant.
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