Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and three public works supervisors were indicted on Tuesday for conspiring to use on-duty city workers to renovate a warehouse leased by the mayor’s daughter and nephew in a case described as “old school public corruption,” said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino at a news conference at the New Jersey State Police Barracks in Totowa.
The six-count indictment issued by a grand jury on Monday and unsealed today, charged Torres, 58; Joseph Mania, 51, of Randolph; Imad Mowaswes, 52, of Clifton; Timothy Hanlon, 30, of Woodland Park with second-degree official misconduct, pattern of official misconduct, third-degree theft by unlawful taking or disposition, tampering with public records or information, and fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records.
Mania, Mowaswes, and Hanlon are supervisors at the Department of Public Works. Mania is a supervisor for the facilities division; Mowaswes is supervisor of traffic division; and Hanlon is an assistant supervisor for facilities division.
The state alleges Mania, Mowaswes, and Hanlon, at the behest and supervision of the mayor, performed work at a private warehouse leased by “Quality Beer,” a company, formed by Torres’ daughter and nephew.
Work included renovation, painting, carpentry, and electrical work, according to authorities. The work was performed while the three supervisors and other public works employees were working for the city.
The supervisors and employees billed overtime to the city. From July 2014 to April 2015, the three supervisors and other employees worked at the warehouse located at 82 East 15th Street while on the clock. Torres directed that work be performed and supervised the work, said authorities.
“This is a case of old-school public corruption and abuse of power,” said Porrino (pictured at podium) describing the case as simple and not at all complex. “Mayor Torres is alleged to have misappropriated public resources and workers to advance a family business, and his co-defendants allegedly joined in his blatantly crooked scheme. We have zero tolerance for this type of abuse of public office in New Jersey.”
Torres and the three supervisors were not charged for private work done at his Arlington Avenue home, said the attorney general. Porrino said the investigation is “ongoing.”
Torres said he was surprised by the charges filed against him today because his attorneys have been in communication with the attorney general’s office. John Azzarello of Whipple Azzarello of Morristown and Ricardo Solano of Friedman, Kaplan, Seiler & Adelman of Newark have been engaged in an “open dialogue” with the attorney general’s office as recently as Feb. 14, 2017, according to Torres.
Torres held a competing news conference on the steps of City Hall while state authorities unsealed indictments against him and the three supervisors. He did not speak or take questions at his conference, but his administrative secretary, Patricia Cabrera, read a statement on his behalf.
Torres said he was fully cooperating with authorities.
“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,” said Torres in a statement. “I am confident that when the full story is told, I will be vindicated.”
Torres called the charges “baseless” and he said he will continue to hold onto his seat as mayor.
“Mayor Torres treated city workers like his personal handymen and treated taxpayer dollars like his own,” said Porrino. “The mayor allegedly stole from the city by deliberately misappropriating city resources for his own use.”
Torres and Mania are expected to be processed at the Totowa State Police Station tomorrow morning. Hanlon and Mowaswes surrendered to state police and were processed prior to Tuesday’s news conference.
The three public works employees charged have collected large sums in overtime pay over the past years. Hanlon doubled his salary through overtime pay in fiscal year 2014 and 2015. Mania came close to doubling his salary through overtime. For example, Mania received approximately $64,000 in overtime pay in fiscal year 2014.
Mania’s received $70,600 in overtime pay the next fiscal year. Similarly, Mowaswes also secured big overtime payments both years, according to city records.
Mania filed false overtime forms and time sheets, said the attorney general.
“Mayor Torres played the generous father and uncle, but he left the bill for his largess with city taxpayers, who paid for the overtime shifts that city employees worked at this private warehouse,” said Elie Honig, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We allege that these defendants corruptly exploited public workers and funds for their own benefit.”
“It’s another black eye on the city,” said council president William McKoy. “It does create a significant problem for our city in moving forward with our goals and development.”
When asked if he intended to ask the mayor to resign, McKoy said, “He’s going to have to look very seriously at himself and the situation and make the best decision for himself and his family. It’s going to be very hard to wage a defense at the same time you’re trying to govern a city. I wouldn’t tell him what to do. It would be in the best interest of the city for him to concentrate his effort on his defense.”
Councilman Andre Sayegh, who has criticized Torres for “abusing taxpayers,” said, “If today’s charges are proven to be true then this will be a devastating day for Paterson.” He would not go so far as calling on Torres to resign. When asked whether Torres should resign, Porrino declined to comment.
Both McKoy and Sayegh said everyone is innocent until proven guilty in court. Councilman Kenneth Morris echoed the words of the council president saying it is yet another “black eye” on the city.
The city council meeting on Tuesday night garnered little public commentary on the situation involving the mayor and three city employees. Council members focused on the meeting agenda and made no remarks on the matter.
Torres is the second mayor to be indicted while in office in recent memory. His first predecessor Martin Barnes was also indicted while in office. Barnes refused to give up office. Barnes received a three-year prison sentence. Torres defeated Barnes when the latter ran while under the cloud of an indictment.
Torres made history when he won election in 2002. He became the first Hispanic mayor of Paterson.