Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and three public works supervisors pleaded not guilty on Monday afternoon to theft and other corruption charges at the Hudson County Superior Court.
Torres, 58; Joseph Mania, 51, of Randolph; Imad Mowaswes, 52, of Clifton; Timothy Hanlon, 30, of Woodland Park were charged 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.
The state offered the mayor a plea deal in which he will forfeit his office, be barred from public employment in future, and serve five years in state prison without parole.
The three supervisors were offered non-custodial probation. Each would also forfeit their city jobs and be barred from future public employment as part of the deal, said deputy attorney general Peter Baker.
“We can’t even get to that until we do discovery,” said John Azzarello, attorney representing the mayor, when asked about the offer extended to his client.
Robert Galluccio, attorney for Hanlon; Joseph Afflitto, attorney for Mowaswes; Ray Flood, attorney for Mania, made similar comments.
“It’s a favorable plea offer considering the charges,” said Afflitto. Under the plea offers, all four men will have to pay restitution, according to attorneys representing the state. He said misconduct charges usually carry five years in prison.
The generous plea deals require the supervisors to take to the stand against their boss. “The plea agreement offered to the employees is contingent upon them testifying against the mayor,” said Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
“We haven’t considered anything,” said Afflitto when asked about the plea offer. “We haven’t received a stitch of paper.” He and the other attorneys are waiting for the grand jury transcript and evidence prior to considering the plea offers made by the state.
The attorneys indicated the offers were made prior to today’s court appearance before New Jersey Superior Court judge Sheila Venable.
The four men have 45 days to decide whether to accept the plea deals, said deputy attorney general Cynthia Vazquez. Afflitto said the cut off date for accepting a plea deal is September 1st, 2017.
Torres appeared at the courtroom accompanied by his wife, Sonia. The mayor did not make any remarks after the brief proceeding. If he is convicted of the charges, Torres could face a far longer prison sentence.
“It’s a big if. Right now, he’s prepared to fight the charges,” said Azzarello to reporters stationed in front of the courthouse steps.
The mayor and three public works supervisors were indicted by a grand jury in early March for using public resources to renovate a warehouse on East 15th Street leased by the mayor’s daughter Clarissa Torres and nephew Manuel Torres.
The niece and nephew formed a company called “Quality Beer” which leased 82 East 15th Street in an effort to open a beer distribution facility. The company could not secure the needed state permits to open the facility.
Mania, Mowaswes, and Hanlon at the behest of Torres supervised other employees to renovate the warehouse, according to authorities. The three supervisors allegedly billed taxpayers overtime while working on the mayor’s private projects.
Since fiscal year 2014 and up to their suspension, the three men collect almost half-million in overtime pay, according to government records.
Mania collected $181,787; Mowaswes received $144,969; and Hanlon took $124,426 in overtime pay since Torres took office.
A developer involved in a permit dispute with Torres’ administration hired a private investigator who captured video footage of the supervisors working at the warehouse. The private investigator, Harry Melber, also captured workers handling private jobs at the mayor’s Arlington Avenue home.
New Jersey attorney general Christopher Porrino has said the indictment unsealed on March 7th, 2017 does not cover the alleged work public works employees completed at the mayor’s Arlington Avenue home. Melber’s footage aired on NBC New York which ultimately resulted in the indictment of the three supervisors and their boss.
The three supervisors have been placed on unpaid suspension while the mayor continues to collect his $119,000 salary.
No confidence vote
After the indictment was handed up by the grand jury, the city council unsuccessfully attempted to pass a no confidence measure demanding the mayor’s resignation. Several dozen Torres supporters protested the measure.
Council members voted 6-2-1 to reject the no confidence measure. Council members Maritza Davila, Michael Jackson, Shahin Khalique, Alex Mendez, Luis Velez, and Kenneth Morris voted against while Andre Sayegh and William McKoy voted in favor. Ruby Cotton abstained from the vote.
City activists last week blasted the six council members for voting against the measure seeking the mayor’s resignation.
The council does not have a mechanism to oust the mayor; the resolution urged the mayor to hand in his resignation letter and focus on his legal defense.
Venable scheduled the next court date for June 19th, 2017.
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This report was updated on April 17th, 2017 at 4:06 p.m.