Thursday, March 03, 2005

NJ government corruption arrests may cause halt to construction of pool at Deal Yeshiva


At 5:05 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Residents: 2 officials should resign

Published in the Asbury Park Press 03/3/05

Gone were last week's strong words of support from West Long Branch Borough Council members for Mayor Paul Zambrano and Councilman Joseph DeLisa, arrested in last week's corruption sting, as residents asked the council Wednesday "to step up to the plate" to remove the embattled officials.

Instead, Council President Richard F. Cooper Jr., read a statement at the start of the meeting that indicated the council considered the extortion charges against the two men as "very serious charges." The statement stopped short of asking Zambrano and DeLisa to resign. The two did not attend the meeting, the first since their Feb. 22 arrest.

"On a personal level as friends and colleagues of Mayor Zambrano and Councilman DeLisa, we offer our heartfelt concern and prayers for the Zambrano family and the DeLisa family," Cooper read. "On an official level, as members of the West Long Branch Borough Council, we consider the charges, if proven in a court of law, to be a breach of the public's trust and a violation of the oath of office we all took when we were elected."

In other action related to the arrest last week of 11 officials throughout Monmouth County on corruption charges, Middletown Committeeman Raymond O'Grady made a surprise appearance Wednesday night at a budget workshop meeting of the Township Committee.

Earlier in the day, O'Grady's attorney, Mitchell Ansell, said he will not step down despite calls from the governing body for his resignation.

In Asbury Park, Councilman John Hamilton, who also was charged with extortion, did not attend Wednesday night's council meeting. City Manager Terence Reidy said Hamilton called in before the meeting and said he had to meet with his attorney.

In West Long Branch, Lori Schuttinger of Stevens Avenue asked the council to put a halt to controversial issues in town such as the construction of pools at the Deal Yeshiva. "Now everything comes into question," Schuttinger said. "It just seems prudent to stop everything until it can be proven it is being done for the best interest of the town and not for the monetary benefit of others."

Kathleen Elfner of Parker Road asked officials whether they had met individually or as a group with Zambrano and DeLisa. "If I was sitting in one of those chairs and associated on a governmental level, I would want to meet with them, talk with them and I probably would want to suggest (to) them that they step down."

Officials said Borough Clerk Lori Cole and Chief Financial Officer Gail Watkins determined no town work had been assigned to contractor Robert J. "Duke" Steffer, who cooperated with the FBI in the sting.

"Since Feb. 22nd, Mayor Zambrano and Councilman DeLisa have been the focal point of negative and detailed media attention," according to the statement. "This will likely continue throughout the lengthy judicial proceeding. The extent to which the publicity affects the governing body's ability to conduct normal borough business may hinge upon whether Mayor Zambrano and Councilman DeLisa remain on the governing body throughout the judicial proceeding or elect to voluntarily step down. We trust they will do what is best for West Long Branch when considering their options."

Elfner noted that with all the new development in town, the mayor's retaining a seat on the Planning Board was cause for concern.

"For the present, he is the mayor and member of the Planning Board," Cooper said.

"Does that make you nervous?" Elfner said. "That makes me very nervous that he continues to serve and this governing body does nothing" to ask the officials to step down, at least until they are cleared.

Mary Lynch, Locust Avenue, asked whether officials asked the two men to resign for the good of the borough.

"Not at this time," Cooper told her.

"Then why aren't they here, facing the people they're supposed to be serving?" she asked.

3 Mayors, 8 Other Officials Arrested In New Jersey Sting

POSTED: 10:51 am EST February 22, 2005
UPDATED: 8:34 am EST February 23, 2005

NEWARK, N.J. -- Three mayors and eight other local and county officials in Monmouth County were arrested Tuesday, charged in a corruption sting by federal authorities.

Ten officials were accused of extorting cash bribes and free work from a contractor who was working undercover for the FBI, and the other official was charged with money laundering, federal prosecutors said.

Among those arrested were the mayors of Hazlet, Keyport and West Long Branch.

Secret recordings made by the FBI depicted the defendants as eager to compromise their offices for cash. One told a colleague, "Nobody watches, nobody hears, nobody sees." Another told an undercover agent posing as a corrupt middleman not to worry about getting caught because he "could smell a cop a mile away."

In a series of 6 a.m. raids, a dozen teams of six to eight federal agents fanned out across shore communities, rousting surprised municipal and county officials from their beds, and leading them away in handcuffs.

Arrested were Keyport Mayor John J. Merla; Keyport Councilman Robert L. Hyer; Middletown Committeeman Raymond O'Grady; Hazlet Mayor Paul Coughlin; West Long Branch Mayor Paul Zambrano; West Long Branch Councilman Joseph DeLisa; Asbury Park Councilman John J. Hamilton; Neptune Deputy Mayor Richard Iadanza; Joseph McCurnin, operations manager for the Monmouth County Division of Transportation, a.k.a. "Joey Buses;" Patsy Townsend, deputy fire marshal for Monmouth County; and Thomas Broderick, assistant supervisor, Monmouth County Division of Highways.

All but Broderick were charged with extortion by an official. Broderick was charged with money laundering. Both charges carry up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

"It's incredible to me that after three years of doing this, that public officials are still taking envelopes of cash in New Jersey," Christopher J. Christie, U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said during an afternoon news conference. "I don't know why it continues. No matter how many times we're right around the corner with the FBI, they continue to think they're not going to get caught. But they are going to get caught."

The suspects, charged under complaints signed by the FBI, were released on $50,000 bail each.

During hearings in a courtroom so packed with defendants, relatives, attorneys and reporters that many lawyers had to stand in an aisle, the suspects sat in two rows of the jury box, their wrists cuffed before them. Most wore casual clothes and glum expressions and stared at the floor.

Eugene LaVergne, attorney for Zambrano, said his client maintains his innocence.

"It's obviously a very distressing time for him and his family," LaVergne said. "We're looking to resolve this as quickly as possible."

Lawyers for the other defendants declined to comment after the hearings.

The arrests are the latest in a series of corruption cases around the state. In Monmouth County, prior cases have involved the mayor of Ocean Township, as well as Asbury Park's former mayor and a city council member, and a Marlboro utilities commissioner. Christie said his office has either charged or convicted 76 public officials over the past 37 months.

"That's two a month, every month," he said. "There's an epidemic in New Jersey of public corruption, people selling their offices for envelopes of cash."

The contractor identified himself to the officials as someone involved in construction work in Florida and in illegal loansharking, telling them his equipment was mostly in Alabama and Florida, according to the FBI complaints. At times, two undercover law officers posed as employees.

The complaints cite recorded conversations with the officials, and detail exchanges of money.

Here are some of the specifics against each defendant, according to the complaints:

--Merla and Hyer: Merla got $9,000 from the contractor on Sept. 11, 2003, and Hyer got $1,000 later the same day from the contractor, who later got two contracts from Keyport, for bulkhead removal and chipping trees. Merla later got $2,500 in cash for steering the bulkhead project to the contractor, and unspecified other cash payments.

--Zambrano and DeLisa: Zambrano got $5,000 from the contractor on Sept. 30, 2003, with Zambrano being asked to give $1,500 of it to DeLisa. Zambrano got $2,000 in cash from the contractor on Oct. 16, 2003, $1,500 on Nov. 18, 2003, $4,000 on Jan. 29, 2004 and $1,500 on Nov. 17, 2004, for future work in West Long Branch.

--O'Grady: Accepted $1,000 from an undercover officer on Oct. 21 in exchange for securing future contracts in Middletown, and got $5,000 in cash on Feb. 17. According to court documents, O'Grady was caught on tape bragging to an undercover officer that he would never get caught because "I could smell a cop a mile away."

"He was distinctly closer than a mile away," Christie said. "Mr. O'Grady should have his olfactory senses tested immediately."

--Coughlin: Received $3,000 in cash from the contractor in exchange for future Hazlet contracts, including the City Hall demolition.

--Hamilton: Had a driveway installed for free by the contractor in August 2001 that was worth $5,000. Hamilton agreed to secure public jobs for the contractor.

--Iadanza and McCurnin: After a series of meetings they had with the contractor and undercover officers, Iadanza took $1,500 in cash from the contractor on June 25 in exchange for arranging work in Neptune. Iadanza also got $1,500 on Nov. 17.

--Townsend: Accepted $1,000 in cash from an undercover officer on Nov. 17 in exchange for steering fire-related jobs to the contractor.

--Broderick: In a discussion about the contractor's loanshark operation and dealing with the large amounts of cash, the contractor on May 4 offered to give him $50,000 in cash in exchange for a $45,000 check, with Broderick keeping the $5,000 cash as his fee. The contractor and undercover officers gave him a bag with $50,000 later in the day in exchange for the $45,000 check. On May 17, Broderick gave a check of $22,500 in exchange for $25,000 in cash, and the same amounts were exchanged on Sept. 14.


Probe led to Konvitz’s exit from bank board
Long Branch
businessman was among founders of Monmouth Community Bank
After it was reported that his phone was tapped as part of a federal corruption investigation in January, Phil Konvitz was asked to step down from his position as a director of Monmouth Community Bank.

James Vaccaro, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the bank, said, "Phil (Konvitz) was a director when the investigations first came out. We had a conversation and he resigned from the board as a director. It was in the best interest of the organization."

Konvitz, 91, of Ocean Avenue in Long Branch was among the founding directors of the bank.

While his name does not appear in the U.S. attorney general’s court filings in the recent extortion conviction of Ocean Township Mayor Terrance Weldon, information in those filings strongly suggests that Konvitz is the "associate" who is in discussions with Weldon about the matters for which Weldon pleaded guilty.

No charges have been filed against Konvitz relating to Weldon’s crimes.

Konvitz, despite his resignation, remains a major shareholder in the bank which has headquarters in the city.

Recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings show he beneficially owns 54,862 common shares, or slightly more than 5 percent of the outstanding common shares of the company.

Konvitz, who could not be reached for comment, has substantial holdings beyond the bank, including real estate and a large interest in International Fidelity Insurance Co., Newark, an A.M. Best A rated provider of surety bonds, including contract and performance bonds for the construction industry, license and permit bonds guaranteeing the performance of small and medium-size businesses and bail bonds.

Vaccaro said he does have a general concern about the investigations by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a citizen, a CEO and for the local institution (the Monmouth Community Bank).

However, "none of the things we have seen thus far have any affiliation with our organization, nor will they," Vaccaro said.

Anthony Giordano III, a Long Branch city councilman, who is the chief financial officer for the bank and treasurer of its holding company, Monmouth Community Bank Corp., declined to comment about the situation regarding Konvitz and his role at the bank, but he did comment on Weldon.

"What Terry Weldon did in Ocean Township is disgraceful," said Giordano. "Unfortunately, it causes a bad reflection of the 99.9 percent of local elected officials who work very hard for their respective communities each and every day."

Regarding Long Branch specifically, Giordano said, "I am 110 percent confident that what happened in Ocean Township did not happen in Long Branch or any of the other local municipalities as well."

Regarding the bank, Vaccaro said, "Our only concern is for the well-being of this organization; nothing that I know of would impair that."

Vaccaro noted that he is not aware of any investigations into his bank regarding Konvitz.

While Konvitz is the only bank director to have stepped down as a result of the corruption probe, he is not the only director with ties to Weldon.

James Aaron of Muncy Drive, West Long Branch, also is one of the founding directors of the bank. He is a partner in the Ocean Township law firm of Ansell Zaro Grimm & Aaron and served as both the city and redevelopment attorney for Asbury Park during Weldon’s tenure as city manager there. Peter Falvo, another partner in Aaron’s firm now serves as city attorney in Asbury Park.

Falvo also was the attorney representing Rolling Meadows and Mark Place, two of the Ocean Township development projects that Weldon pleaded guilty to extorting.

As with Konvitz, Aaron retains a significant proprietary interest in the bank, beneficially owning 53,862 common shares.

In addition to his professional relationship with Weldon, Aaron was named as a contributor to a legal defense fund created on behalf of the now former mayor and city manager.

He said his involvement in the fund did not extend beyond making a contribution and declined to say how much he contributed.

"That is between me and Mr. Weldon," Aaron said. "It is a personal matter."

Regarding Konvitz’s role at the bank and how that affects the institution, Aaron said, "He (Konvitz) did sit on the board of directors but he resigned immediately upon the investigation a year ago. He (Konvitz) had no decision-making power and was not involved in day-to-day operations of the bank.

He said his own relationship with Weldon should not be a concern for the bank or Long Branch, where he serves as city attorney. "Weldon and I dealt only in a professional capacity," Aaron said. "He gave me projects and I did them. What I did for him did not involve anything inappropriate at any time. My association with him was to provide professional advice to the council (Asbury Park) which Weldon did not have a vote in. I also assisted in redevelopment strategies approved by the mayor and council (in Asbury Park).

John Brockriede, another founder and director of the bank, said he is not concerned for himself or the bank regarding Konvitz.

Brockriede beneficially owns 66,613 shares of common stock in Monmouth Community Bank, which equates to 6.2 percent ownership. Brockriede said his only business dealings with Konvitz was the purchase of a lot behind the bank’s offices at 6 West End Court.

According to Brockriede, Konvitz originally intended to build a garage with an apartment upstairs on the lot.

Approximately two years ago, according to Brockriede, he and the bank’s other directors, not the bank, purchased the property from Konvitz for $60,000. According to Brockriede, Konvitz holds the mortgage on the property and owns approximately 6.7 percent of it.

"We wanted to give him 8 percent interest," said Brockriede, "but he would only take 6 percent."

As with the other directors, Brockriede has significant holdings beyond the bank. He is a principal owner of Monmouth Enterprises, a real estate management and investment business, which includes ownership of the Infiniti dealership in West Long Branch and several KFC franchises as well as sizable real estate holdings.

The other directors of the bank are: Mark R. Aikens, North Ward Avenue, Rumson; Richard O. Lindsey, Hutchinson Avenue, Burlington; Nicholas A. Alexander, West River Road, Rumson; Solomon Dwek, Crosby Avenue, Deal; John F. McCann, Bingham Avenue, Rumson; Harold M. Miller Jr., Rick Road, Milford; Carmen M. Penta, DeCamp Court, West Long Branch; and Mark G. Solow, Page Drive, Red Bank.

Vaccaro noted that the bank has strictly limited its dealings with directors and their other business interests.

"Our policy at the bank for the first two years of operation," said Vaccaro, "made it clear not to lend to any of the directors for the first two years."

As an example, he noted that the bank has no financing relationships with Dwek, who is a substantial developer of real estate.

County property tax records show that Deal Yeshiva, a business owned by Dwek, sold a parcel of property along West Park Avenue to Apple Farms Development, LLC, for $700,000 on Sept. 9, 1999. The developer is one of the three Weldon admitted extorting money from.


Deal Yeshiva application back before board Tuesday
Staff Writer

WEST LONG BRANCH — After being shot down in a county courtroom, Deal Yeshiva Academy’s ongoing quest to construct two outdoor pools will go back before the borough’s Planning Board next Tuesday night.

The private school at 200 Wall St. had previously been granted a use variance by the board to construct the new facilities on its corner lot facing Monmouth Road. However, that decision was overturned on appeal last fall in Monmouth County Superior Court .

The ongoing, controversial application has now been remanded back to the local advisory board for a hearing and another decision.

Deal Yeshiva’s building, which houses pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, is a conditional use in a neighborhood-commercial zone on Wall Street, Locust Avenue and Monmouth Road according to borough records.

Joseph Hornick, a neighbor of the private school and main objector to the building plan, successfully sought the appeal that overturned the board’s initial approval.

Hornick indicated on Tuesday that he has not been able to obtain a copy of Deal Yeshiva’s latest application despite two trips to the borough offices earlier in the day.

“About a hundred” neighbors of the school have objected to the school’s plans out of concern that the pools will bring noise and traffic to an already congested area, Hornick said.

The hearing will begin at 7 p.m. inside council chambers at the West Long Branch Municipal Building on Broadway.


Deal Yeshiva pools hearing set for March 1
Planners still at work drafting age-restricted zoning changes
Staff Writer

WEST LONG BRANCH — Deal Yeshiva Academy’s proposal to construct two outdoor pools has been rescheduled for a public hearing before the borough’s Planning Board March 1 at 7 p.m.

Though the controversial application by the private school at 200 Wall St. had originally been scheduled for Feb. 8, board members present at the meeting agreed to carry the application for another three weeks.

Within that time period, school representatives are expected to present a revised building plan to the borough for review by the town’s professionals, board Chairman Joseph Henry said.

The application was remanded to the board by the N.J. Superior Court, Freehold, which last fall overturned on appeal a use-variance approval previously granted to the school to allow construction of the pools.

The private academy, which houses prekindergarten and kindergarten students, had sought to build the two new pools on its corner lot facing Monmouth Road.

The Deal Yeshiva’s building is a conditional use in a neighborhood-commercial zone located on a triangular piece of land between Wall Street, Locust Avenue and Monmouth Road, borough records show.

A group of neighbors of the private school successfully appealed the board’s decision stating that the two pools would create excess noise and traffic and prove detrimental to the area.

On a separate matter, proposed revisions to the borough’s master plan that would rezone three separate, targeted areas solely for the construction of age-restricted housing will be presented to the board sometime this spring, Henry said.

Henry and planning consultant Tom Thomas, who is crafting the changes to the town’s master plan, had hoped to present their ideas at the board’s March session. However, those plans have been postponed until further notice.

“We’re still working on it,” Henry said. “It’s a long involved process.”

At the request of borough officials, including Mayor Paul Zambrano, Henry and Thomas they are seeking to modify the master plan to accommodate developers of market-rate, housing communities limited to empty-nesters at least 55 years of age.

No school-age children would be allowed to reside in those private, age-restricted communities, which Zambrano has said would generate property tax revenue without adding to the borough schools population or draining municipal services.

Construction of age-restricted housing even in areas now zoned commercial could be accommodated either by revising the master plan or by creating an overlay zone allowing for development of such communities.

A total of about 34 acres at three separate sites are under consideration as age-restricted housing zones.

The defunct Frank’s Nursery and Crafts site on Monmouth Road, which measures about 10 1/2 acres, the nearly 6-acre Shaheen Farm located off Norwood Avenue, and the West Long Branch Golf Range, a 17-acre site at routes 71 and 36, are the three chosen redevelopment locations, Henry has said.

At 6:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JWB - your title is misleading. I live in the area. The pool construction is still a proposal. See

I personally don't think they should be allowed to build a pool over there. It's a very busy intersection, especially in the summer when people are coming down to the Jersey shore. Monmouth road is one of the main thoroughfares to get to ocean from the NJ Parkway. The area roads were not designed to properly accomodate the amount of traffic that passes through.

JWB - I am wondering what NJ government corruption has to do with the subject of this blog? Or are you intimating that perhaps there was some bribery going on between the Deal Yeshiva and the councilmen recently arrested?

At 7:17 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Please read #3 again
>While his name does not appear
>in the U.S. attorney general’s
>court filings in the recent
>extortion conviction of Ocean
>Township Mayor Terrance Weldon,
>information in those filings
>strongly suggests that Konvitz
>is the "associate" who is in
>discussions with Weldon about
>the matters for which Weldon
>pleaded guilty.
>County property tax records show
>that Deal Yeshiva, a business
>owned by Dwek, sold a parcel of
>property along West Park Avenue
>to Apple Farms Development, LLC,
>for $700,000 on Sept. 9, 1999.
>The developer is one of the
>three Weldon admitted extorting
>money from.


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