The corruption case brought against mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and three public works supervisors has been transferred from Bergen to Hudson County Superior Court due to a potential conflict of interest.
Mercer County Superior Court judge Peter Warshaw issued an order last Thursday transferring the case to Hudson County. The case was originally scheduled to be heard at the Bergen County Superior Court, but an employee at the clerk’s office there was a relative of one of the four defendants, according to lawyers.
Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman at the Mercer County Superior Court, on Wednesday said she did not have a specific reason for the venue change. The order does not provide a specific reason for the transfer, but states “all parties” agreed to the venue change.
Torres, 58, and the three public works supervisors — Joseph Mania, 51, of Randolph; Imad Mowaswes, 52, of Clifton; Timothy Hanlon, 30, of Woodland Park — were indicted on charges of 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 by a New Jersey grand jury.
Attorney general Christopher Porrino unsealed the indictments on March 7th, 2017. All four have been processed at the New Jersey State Police Barracks in Totowa earlier in the month.
The court has not yet scheduled arraignment dates for the four men, said Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, on Tuesday afternoon.
Ray Flood of Hackensack-based Flood & Basile, who represents Mania, on Thursday morning said his client intends to plead not guilty. “We’re okay with it going to Hudson County,” he said. “We don’t have any dates nor do we have any discovery.”
Robert Galluccio, attorney for Hanlon, did not return a call for comment on Thursday morning nor did Joseph Afflitto, Jr., attorney for Mowaswes.
“We were fine with it if it had stayed in Bergen County. Unfortunately, we had no authority nor ability to keep it there,” said John Azzarello of Morristown-based Whipple Azzarello. He is one of two attorneys representing the three-term mayor. He said when a judge decides there is a conflict in a particular county an attorney hopes the case is re-assigned to a county that allows for a jury of peers.
Hudson County is similar to Passaic County in its makeup and population demography.
Azzarello said Torres will plead not guilty. Torres has continued his duty at City Hall. His supporters on Tuesday night defeated a no confidence measure introduced in the City Council to seek his resignation.
When he unsealed the indictments against the four men earlier in the month, New Jersey attorney general Porrino said the three supervisors billed taxpayers overtime while working at a warehouse on East 15th Street that was leased by the mayor’s daughter and his nephew. He said overtime sheets were falsified by the employees.
The indictments stemmed from video footage captured by private investigator Harry Melber of Glen Ridge-based AHM Investigations. He was hired by a prominent local developer — speculated to be Charles Florio — to follow the mayor and capture footage. Florio had a dispute with the city over building permits. NBC New York connected the video footage with timesheets that highlighted employees were allegedly billing the city while handling private projects for the mayor.
Melber captured the employees working at the warehouse. He also captured employees doing work at the mayor’s home which the indictment did not cover.
Mania, Hanlon, and Mowaswes have been suspended without pay. Mania was earning $74,000, Hanlon $40,000, and Mowaswes $67,000, according to city records. The three supervisors earned large overtime checks that boosted their pay.
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This report was updated on March 30th, 2017 at 10:25 p.m.