Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres stole from the poor families that pay thousands of dollars in property taxes every year by using on-duty public works employees to renovate a warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew. However, at sentencing, Torres’ attorneys attempted to downplay this narrative.
Torres’ attorneys argued the disgraced mayor told public works supervisors to place the expenses incurred in renovating the warehouse at 82 East 15th Street under board up expenses. Torres’ daughter Clarissa Torres and nephew Manuel Torres leased the warehouse to open a beer distribution facility.
“When they were boarded up a lien is placed on the cost of the work of boarding up so if and when the property is sold to anyone that they would have to reimburse the City of Paterson the cost of doing that work,” said Torres’ attorney John Azzarello. “In his mind there was some thought that the city would get that money back eventually — that doesn’t make it right.”
The city never recovers the full amount when selling these board up liens to investors. It receives a fraction of the amount it expended to secure the property. Sometimes there are no buyers for these liens.
Azzarello said that’s in “contrast” to other corrupt public officials, who may not have thought of considering that the city would be reimbursed at a later point. He argued this point as a mitigating factor before judge Sheila Venable at the Hudson County Superior Court to secure a more lenient sentence for his client on Tuesday morning.
Torres used public works employees to handle work at his family’s leased warehouse. Three public works supervisors — Joseph Mania of Randolph; Imad Mowaswes of Clifton; and Timothy Hanlon of Woodland Park – billed the city overtime for private work done for the mayor and his family.
All three were charged and received three-year probation sentences. All three lost their lucrative government jobs that allowed them to collect thousands in overtime pay every year.
Deputy attorney general Jeffrey Manis urged the judge to not consider this as a mitigating factor.
“Ultimately that overtime is going to get paid out by the city. It’s going to get paid out to the workers that ended up doing that work for mayor Torres. These are, in most cases, abandoned properties, the prospects of ever getting that money back and the city ever seeing a dime of that money were dim, and mayor Torres knew that,” said Manis. “Even, if that money could be recouped, we’re just talking about shifting who he has stolen from. He ends up stealing from both the public initially and the property owner who ends up paying for work that was not done at the property, but at his family’s warehouse.”
Torres and the three supervisors have to pay the city $10,000 in restitution. Torres has to be an additional $800 for misusing campaign funds. He used the $800 to pay workers who handled work at the warehouse, according to prosecutors.
The disgraced mayor’s argument about board up and liens, which gives the false impression he did not steal from taxpayers, appears to be an insidious move begin the process to rehabilitate his reputation among his supporters.
Torres, who was councilman for 12 years and mayor for 11, has a large base of supporters. He was the first Hispanic mayor of Paterson. A Puerto Rican by heritage, Torres has cultivated the support of the city’s many Spanish-speaking communities. 60-percent of Paterson residents are of Hispanic extraction.
Many of his supporters were shocked when he pleaded guilty. Some hoped to see the ex-mayor, who insisted he was innocent for months, before taking a plea deal, would be cleared by a court.
Torres submitted 20 letters of support to the court. As memories of his corrupt conduct fades, his supporters, like the supporters of disgraced former mayor Martin Barnes, will attempt to see this episode through rose-colored glasses.
Barnes took $200,000 in bribes and inducements from contractors. He betrayed the public trust. However, many of his supporters often attempt to paint him in a positive light through spurious stories.
Councilman William McKoy attempted to lionize Barnes with a stained-glass window at the historic City Hall building in 2016. McKoy, who was running for re-election in 2016, sought the support of many of Barnes’ supporters, according to political observes.
McKoy’s proposal which was also backed by Torres was criticized. A placeholder image of Barnes’ stained-glass window remains hanging in City Hall. A second placeholder image of Torres hang opposite.
Political observers predict local politicians will attempt to honor and lionize Torres for being the city’s first Hispanic mayor to secure votes from his supporters.
Torres is barred from ever holding political office or government employment as part of his plea deal. He was sentenced to five years in state prison yesterday. Torres has to serve at least a year before becoming eligible for parole. He could secure release in six months through the state’s intensive supervision program. However, the state will oppose any application Torres makes for consideration for the program, according to lawyers.
The judge did not buy Torres’s argument and gave him the maximum possible sentence.
Email: [email protected]