New Jersey mayor charged with corruption in warehouse scheme

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 07, 2017 10:39 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - The mayor of Paterson, New Jersey, has been indicted on public corruption charges accusing him of conspiring to put city employees to work at a warehouse leased by his relatives in a scheme to furnish free labor to his family at taxpayers' expense.

Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres and three supervisors in the city's Department of Public Works were named in a state grand jury indictment unsealed on Tuesday charging them with conspiracy, official misconduct, theft, falsifying public records and other offenses.

The indictment, announced by state Attorney General Christopher Porrino, mark the latest in a series of public misconduct scandals to embroil elected officials in New Jersey during the past few years.

Last year, two former associates of Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were convicted of orchestrating the shutdown of access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 in an act of political retaliation known as "Bridgegate."

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has been fighting criminal corruption charges filed against him in 2015.

Torres, a Democrat whose city is about 15 miles (24 km) west of Manhattan, said in a statement he had been aware of being under investigation for "some time" but professed his innocence.

"I fully intend to vigorously defend myself against these allegations and I look forward to the opportunity to present all of the facts in a court of law," Torres said.

The most serious counts facing Torres and his co-defendants - conspiracy and official misconduct charges - each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to Porrino's office.

"This is a case of old school public corruption and abuse of power," Porrino told a news conference.

According to prosecutors, Torres ordered the three men and their subordinates to work at a warehouse leased by a company called Quality Beer, formed by the mayor's daughter and his nephew.

The work, which included painting and carpentry, was performed by the municipal employees during their regular work hours for the city in 2014 and 2015, Porrino's office said.

The mayor's daughter and nephew ended up terminating their lease for the warehouse without ever using it after failing to obtain necessary permits, according to prosecutors.

The mayor gave no indication he intended to step down, saying in his statement he remained "committed to continuing with the work" he was elected to perform. The third-term mayor of the city of 145,000 residents was first elected in 2002.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman, Robert Birsel)