Three more incidents of mayor Jose “Joey” Torres allegedly utilizing public works employees to renovate his nephew’s liquor establishment on East 15th Street at taxpayers’ expense emerged on Friday evening in a NBC New York investigative news broadcast.
Torres is caught on surveillance at the site on March 24th, 2015 speaking to public works employees at times directing them to do work in a certain manner. The three workers Timothy Hanlon, Joseph Mania, and Jorge Makdissi were all billing taxpayers while working on the mayor’s nephew’s liquor establishment.
Hanlon, who works as a main repairer, is observed on the stoop of the property at 6:16 p.m. with a bottle in hand after working inside the building being renovated for a beer distribution facility. He billed the city six hours of overtime from 4 p.m. to 9:59 p.m., according to the broadcast.
Maintenance supervisor Mania is caught on surveillance — setup by a private investigator funded by a developer with a permit dispute with the municipality – speaking to the mayor. Torres is seen pointing at the entrance roof of the building directing Mania’s attention to an overhead spot at the entryway.
Mania billed five hours of overtime from 3:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. for March 24th, 2015. Two days later, the workers were observed doing work at the same private property again.
On March 26th, 2015, carpenter Makdissi is observed at 4:40 p.m. at the site with what appears to be a ladder. He billed six hours of overtime from 3:43 p.m. to 10:09 p.m.
The three incidents further establish a pattern of the mayor using public works employees on taxpayers’ dollars for private projects. The mayor also used public works employees to do work at his home on Arlington Avenue last year.
When he was asked in mid-March about the use of public works employees at his home, Torres told investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Torres later admitted some workers did do work at his home, but he paid them out of his pocket for a bookshelf the men built for his daughter.
Torres has failed to respond to subsequent reports of him using public works employees to do private work. He could not be reached for comments on Friday night after the report aired on WNBC.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has opened a criminal investigation against Torres convening a grand jury to hear evidence. A spokesman for the office Peter Aseltine on Thursday said, “We neither confirm nor deny the status or existence of investigations.”
Authorities have subpoenaed records from the city and employees to testify before a grand jury. Those subpoenas were served more than two months ago.
“There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of activity. There’s been a lull,” said councilman Andre Sayegh, who is interviewed in the broadcast. The delay has caused the councilman to call for a committee of the whole investigation by the city council.
Council president William McKoy, who has the power to convene a committee of the whole to investigate the mayor and public works employees involved, reserved comments on the situation on Thursday night and did not respond to a call for comments on Friday morning.
Councilwoman Maritza Davila, who serves as the chairwoman of the public works committee, has called the allegations “disturbing.”
The embattled mayor is reputedly raising money for a legal defense fund. Torres held a fundraiser using his limited liability company Urban Solutions.
Torres has not publicly said how much money he raised through the fundraiser which took place on Monday at a Sussex County golfing site.