Thursday, September 29, 2016

Lawsuit claims that RVCC officials engaged in "unlawful and fraudulent" conduct.

On May 25, 2016, the former head of the Massage Therapy Program filed suit against her former employer, Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), claiming that she was fired after raising concerns that college officials "perpetrated a fraud" by "improperly receiving grant funds" from state and federal agencies.

In her lawsuit, Marlene Hudson claimed that she was surprised when she was asked to produce curriculum materials for the massage therapy program when she was hired in 2015 because RVCC had been receiving state and federal grants for the program "for several years."

She said that Jacki Belin, RVCC's Vice President for Strategic Programs & Development, "responded angrily" during a September 2015 when Hudson raised her concerns.  Hudson claimed that she was fired at an October 30, 2015 meeting at which Belin, Workforce Director Michelle Boronkas, Vice President of Human Resources & Labor Relations Nancy Moore and Human Resources Director Cheryl Wallace were present.

The allegations in Hudson's complaint are merely allegations--nothing has been proven--and the burden of proof is on Hudson. The matter will either be settled or proceed to a trial.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ethics charges brought against South Amboy attorney who counsels two local housing authorities.

On August 26, 2016, the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics filed a formal complaint against a South Amboy attorney who allegedly held onto $249,621.60 from a September 27, 2013 real estate sale until finally releasing it to his client on March 24, 2015.  According to the same lawyer's April 11, 2016 Financial Disclosure Statement, he serves as counsel to the Middlesex County Board of Social Services, the Old Bridge Housing & Redevelopment Authority and the South Amboy Housing Authority.

According to the complaint, Thomas E. Downs, IV, who maintains an office at 415 Main Street in South Amboy, was retained to distribute the assets of the estate of Joseph Makara who passed away on March 5, 2013.  One of Makara's assets was real estate in the Parlin section of Sayreville that was sold on September 27, 2013.  Downs deposited the $252,051.93 in sale proceeds into his trust account and, in a series of checks written between September 27, 2013 and February 13, 2014, paid himself $11,250 in legal fees out of those proceeds.. 

According to the ethics complaint, there was little contact between Letitia Makara, the decedent's sister and executrix of his estate, and Downs during the Spring and Summer of 2014 because of Downs' "busy trial schedule."  Ms. Makara's numerous requests to Downs for an account of the estate's funds were allegedly unanswered.  Ms. Makara hired another attorney, Avram Segall, to get an accounting from Downs.  According to the complaint, Downs failed to respond to two letters that Segall had sent him.

It was only after Ms. Makara filed an ethics grievance on February 18, 2015 that Downs finally responded.  According to the complaint, Downs sent Segall $249,621.60 which included the $11,250 in fees that Downs had previously paid to himself.  $1,485 of the difference between the amount Downs received and distributed was spent for the internment of Mr. Makara's ashes.

The ethics complaint, signed by Office of Attorney Ethics Director Charles Centinaro, charges Downs with gross neglect, lack of diligence and failure to communicate with his client.

This isn't Downs' first brush with the attorney disciplinary system.  On March 26, 2016, he was censured for having failed to promptly return $2,500 to a client and for failing to cooperate with ethics authorities.  On April 19, 2013, Downs was admonished for failing to communicate with his client and refusing to cooperate with ethics authorities. 

This is only a summary of the complaint and readers who want more information and context are directed to the filed documents which are on-line at the links above. None of the allegations against Downs have been proven. The charges will be tried before an ethics panel and the burden is on the ethics authorities to prove their allegations.

At the time of this writing, Downs had not yet filed an answer to the complaint.  He has been invited to submit a copy of his answer and if he provides it, his answer will be included in this article.

Since 1995, attorney disciplinary hearings have been open to the public.  Anyone who is interested in being notified in advance of any hearings on this matter may complete and send a hearing request form to the Office of Attorney Ethics in care of Barbara Cristofaro via fax to 609-530-5238.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rumson Police Sergeant files whistleblower lawsuit.

On June 20, 2016, a 20-year veteran with the Rumson Police Department, who has been a sergeant for eleven years, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Borough of Rumson (Monmouth County).  Unfortunately, the lawsuit is short on details about the allegedly criminal or unethical acts that the sergeant said that he observed at the police department on May 31, 2015

In his lawsuit, Sergeant Peter Koenig, represented by Richard P. Flaum of Warren, said that he witnessed some events at the police department on May 31, 2015 "that he reasonably and objectively believed were in violation of law, may have been criminal acts or unethical, were a violation of the public policy of the State of New Jersey, and placed the health and safety of members of the public in danger."  After he reported what he witnessed to "to a governmental agency" that was not the Borough of Rumson, he began to suffer discriminatory and retaliatory treatment including being required to take a sham fit-for-duty examination, being stripped of administrative duties and functions and being wrongly investigated and disciplined by the Internal Affairs unit.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sussex Corrections Lieutenant forfeits pension over steroid charges.

At its March 14, 2016 meeting, the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) Board of Trustees voted to totally forfeit a former Sussex County Corrections Lieutenant's pension benefits because of his "egregious misconduct" of "purchas[ing] illegal steroids for personal use on multiple occasions, and allowing the ongoing sale of such substances on the premises of Sussex County Jail."

The story of steroid use at the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility was first reported by the New Jersey Herald's Bruce A. Scruton in his July 8, 2015 article "Corrections officer suspended after steroid use."  That article, covered the March 2015 arrest of Kevin Cole on steroid and hypodermic needle possession charges.  The article indicated that two other corrections officers were under investigation, but County officials declined to name those officials at that time.

The PFRS minutes, however, show that one of the other officers was Lieutenant Christopher Lynch.  According to the minutes, Lynch "purchased steroids for his personal use from the other officer, and at least once purchased the drugs on the Correctional Facility property." 

The minutes reference an August 10, 2015 settlement agreement between Lynch and the Sussex County Sheriff's Office.  According to the agreement, Lynch tested positive for steroids, was suspended without pay and agreed to be barred from future law enforcement employment in New Jersey.  Lynch also agreed to cooperate in the investigation of charges against other Sheriff's Office employees.

In his response to an Open Public Record Act request, Undersheriff Lee Liddy wrote that Lynch's salary was $109,591 and that he worked for the County from November 15, 1999 until his termination on August 10, 2015.  The PFRS minutes indicate that Lynch was suspended without pay on April 10, 2015.  No criminal charges were brought against Lynch.

Liddy declined to identify the second officer who was, according to Scruton's article, under investigation for steroid use or possession.  In his August 31, 2016 OPRA response, he wrote "there was no separation for the second officer suspended therefore N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 does not apply, and their Personnel Record is otherwise exempt under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10.  Therefore, I must deny the request regarding the second officer’s records."