The city’s public works employees may have billed taxpayers for doing work at mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ home on Arlington Avenue and a planned beer distribution facility on East 15th Street connected to one of his relatives.
The seven-minute investigative news report, which aired on Channel 4 tonight, detailed numerous times public works employees were at mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ home. Video captured by a private investigator over the course of a year, shows public works employees toting a large beer cooler into the mayor’s home, removing construction debris from his property, washing his scooter, and fixing his private vehicle.
Torres, who could not be reached for comments on Thursday evening, initially denied public works employees were doing work at his home.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” responded Torres when a reporter asked him what public works employees were doing at his home.
Torres later acknowledged one or two employees helped build a bookshelf at his daughter’s bedroom in the past year. He said he paid the workers $50 out of his pocket for the work.
Private investigator Harry Melber of Glen Ridge-based AHM Investigations paid for by a local developer trailed the mayor from November 2014 to September 2015. The videos captured by the private eye shows public works employees going in and out of the home often with mechanical equipment used for construction like drills over the course of the year.
In one instance, one of the two individuals, Timothy Hanlon, who moved the beer cooler into the mayor’s home, appeared to have been doing so while on the taxpayers’ dime.
Hanlon’s timesheet obtained by WNBC shows he clocked in on Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 at 5:55 a.m. and clocked out at 2:17 p.m. He was at the mayor’s home moving the beer cooler at 11:31 a.m., according to the WNBC report.
Hanlon told the reporter the work he did at the mayor’s home was on his own time. He said a supervisor may have billed taxpayers on his behalf, according to the report.
The second man in the video moving the beer cooler is Joseph Mania who worked 6 hours of overtime that Saturday. Mania’s timesheet showing specific hours worked that day was unavailable to the reporter.
Another public employee Jeffrey Williams worked 25 hours straight. He worked from July 31st, 2015 beginning at 4:42 a.m. to August 1st, 2015 at 5:54 a.m., according to the report. He helped the mayor move boxes from a storage facility, according to the report.
Williams told the reporter he did the moving on his own time.
There’s also public works employee Jorge Makdissi who is shown at the mayor’s house on five different occasions over the course of the year. On two of those days April 14th, 2015 and August 20th, 2015, he billed the city overtime.
Makdissi’s timesheet showed overall overtime hours worked. The timesheet did not show the time during the day when he worked those hours. On Aug. 20th, 2015 he was at the mayor’s home at 7:41 p.m., according to the report.
WNBC is still waiting on the city to provide timesheets, according to the report.
Another worker Jose Toledo was also captured on video working on the mayor’s scooter. “I’ve been working on his bike even before he was a mayor,” Toledo told the reporter. He said he does it during his own private time.
“At no time no city employee on taxpayers’ dollar nor on overtime done any work at my home,” Torres told the reporter on March 8th, 2016.
The report does not stop with public works employees doing work at the mayor’s home. Two public works employees told the reporter the mayor directly asked them do construction at a soon-to-be beer distribution facility connected to his nephew on East 15th Street on nights and weekends.
Footage captured by the private eye shows public works trucks going in and out of the facility. One public works employee told the reporter he did the work free of charge. The workers said they considered it social time with the mayor.
The workers told the reporter Torres sometimes gave them free beer.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, has described the use of public works employees at both locations as “unethical.”
The report cites the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law: “No local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others.”
Former federal prosecutor Robert Ray said in the video report a high ranking city official has the ability to call on favors to get government employees to do things that they would otherwise refuse.
Ray reviewed the videos for WNBC.
“That’s a misuse of power. It’s not only a question of use of government resources and taxpayer money. But it’s an abuse of power,” said Ray.
Council president William McKoy and councilman Julio Tavarez have called for an investigation into situation on Tuesday night. McKoy called on the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to investigate.
Authorities have not said whether they have opened an investigation into the matter.
McKoy did not see the video report on Thursday evening, he said.
“A number of residents are not only calling for an investigation, but they feel like the taxpayers of Paterson have been betrayed,” said Sayegh. He said some residents are also calling on the mayor to resign.
Sayegh has been complaining about excessive overtime at the city’s public works department over the past year.
The names in the news report are no surprise to Sayegh. Mania, Hanlon, Williams have all earned more than $25,000 in overtime in 2014 and 2015, according to a Paterson Times report from September of last year.