Mayor of Paterson, N.J., Is Indicted in Corruption Inquiry

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Mayor of Paterson, N.J., Is Indicted in Corruption Inquiry

 

The mayor of a northern New Jersey city has been charged with official misconduct after an investigation found that the mayor had asked public employees to work on personal projects while they were being paid by the city, the New Jersey attorney general announced on Tuesday.

Jose Torres, 58, the mayor of Paterson, the state’s third-largest city, was accused in the scheme along with three public works supervisors.

“This is a case of old-school public corruption and abuse of power,” Christopher Porrino, the state attorney general, said in a news conference. “Mayor Torres allegedly treated city workers like his personal handymen and treated taxpayer dollars like they were his own.”

Mr. Torres and the three supervisors, Joseph Mania, 51, Imad Mowaswes, 52, and Timothy Hanlon 30, were charged with conspiracy, official misconduct, theft, tampering with public records and falsifying or tampering with records, among other charges. Prosecutors declined to immediately provide the names of the lawyers for the three supervisors.

Mr. Torres’s office said it would release a statement but offered no further comment.

The charges are the latest in a string of political scandals and investigations that have plagued New Jersey, ensnaring two of the past three governors, one if its current senators, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and several local governments. And it is a repeat for Paterson, which in 2002 saw the mayor at the time, Martin Barnes, indicted on federal charges and spend about two years in prison.

The investigation in Paterson found that Mr. Torres asked several city employees to work at a warehouse leased by his daughter and his nephew, under the name Quality Beer. The employees were supposed to be working for the city but instead were doing things like painting, carpentry and electrical work, prosecutors said. Mr. Mania then falsified overtime records to ensure the workers got paid by the city.

In addition to Tuesday’s charges, Mr. Torres’s has faced other controversies while mayor. In February, he issued an executive order canceling the city’s tire recycling program after an investigation by WNBC-TV revealed that private companies were skirting city fees in order to dump thousands of tires. The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a subpoena for city records after the report.

The investigation by the state into Mr. Torres’s actions was prompted by a tip from a private citizen, Mr. Porrino said, as well as “ongoing investigative reporting” by WNBC, which first broadcast video of city officials in March doing work on Mr. Torres’s home while on the clock for the city.

The footage showed two men carrying a large beer cooler into Mr. Torres’s house, while other footage showed men identified as city employees performing various odd jobs around his home: moving boxes, carrying tools and washing his scooter.

The workers were sometimes shown wearing Department of Public Works uniforms, or driving city vehicles to and from a site where Mr. Torres was said to have directed employees to perform construction work on a potential business for his nephew.

The reports involving the mayor have struck a chord in a city facing a budget crisis so severe that disputes involving overtime pay for city workers have become routine, and occasionally heated, at council meetings.

Since the initial television reports, Mr. Torres has repeatedly denied the allegations, claiming to have done nothing illegal and saying that employees were doing work on their personal time. He claimed to have paid them out of his own pocket and said that they were close friends, telling The Paterson Press that one of the worker’s daughters referred to him as Papa Joe.

Mr. Torres was first elected mayor of Paterson in 2002, having served on the City Council since 1990 and lived almost all his life in the city.

 

Source: The New York Times; Written By: Nick Corasaniti