An unidentified commissioner of the now-defunct Paterson Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) has been accused of accepting kickbacks from $146,500 in sham payments made to a contractor for services that were never rendered, according to documents made public by U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito on Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities said the unidentified male commissioner conspired with Carnell Baskerville, 51, a self-employed contractor, to issue $146,500 in checks from the MUA’s bank account in exchange for substantial kickbacks. In a series of five checks ranging from $15,000 to $45,000, the commissioner made up bogus notations on checks that gave the impression the contractor was being paid for completed work.
The checks issued were:
- $20,500 for “steam plant repair” on Dec. 14, 2014
- $15,000 for “hydroplant scaffolding renovat[ion]/repair” on Jan. 9, 2015
- $30,000 with the notation “final payment” on Feb. 6, 2015
- $36,000 for “cement & foundation/plant & overlook” work on Mar. 10, 2015
- $45,000 as “[f]inal invoice 2014′ payment on May 8, 2015.
Authorities discovered Baskerville and his company, Carnell’s General Contracting of Linden, did not perform any work for the MUA. In fact, all of the payments were made after the municipal government dissolved the MUA at the recommendation of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
The state’s recommendation came after controversy involving a $5,000 donation to an education program run by St. Luke’s Church. The agency’s chairman Erik Lowe and a commissioner now-assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter were members of the church’s congregation.
Council members unanimously voted to dissolve the agency in Oct. 2014.
The unnamed commissioner exercised control over the MUA’s finances from 2009 to late 2015, according to federal charging documents. Authorities said the unnamed commissioner became acquainted with Baskerville in 2014.
Both men entered into an agreement whereby the commissioner would exercise his control of the agency’s finances to approve payments to Baskerville’s company for services rendered. Both men knew Baskerville’s company had not and would not perform those services.
The checks were issued to Carnell’s General Contracting. Baskerville deposited those checks into his bank account and kicked back a significant percentage in cash to the commissioner to reward him for his official assistance in carrying out the scheme, said authorities.
In one instance, Baskerville deposited a $36,000 check into his bank account and withdrew $15,000 in cash at a bank in Totowa to give the commissioner his kickback.
Baskerville pleaded guilty to intentionally conspiring with the commissioner to commit extortion under color of official right.
Jersey City scheme
Authorities said Baskerville had a similar arrangement with Robert E. Mays, former executive director of the Jersey City Childhood Development Centers Inc. (JCCDC), a nonprofit created to serve needy and disabled children.
In Feb. 2014, Baskerville and Mays entered into a purported contract for Carnell’s General Contracting to provide kitchen renovation work to the center. Both knew Baskerville had not and would not perform those services, said authorities.
Mays issued a $29,675 check from the nonprofit. Both met at a check cashing place in Jersey City where they split the proceeds.
Mays pleaded guilty to wire fraud on Jun. 7, 2016. He received an 18-month prison sentenced and ordered to pay $257,418 in restitution on Jul. 31, 2017, according to authorities.
As part of his plea deal, Baskerville has to pay $176,175 in restitution. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 16, 2018.
The Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) was created in 1981 to manage the hydro electric plant at the foot of the Great Falls and to care for the surrounding park land.
An audit in 2015 uncovered payments were being made from the agency’s bank account long after it was dissolved. Municipal officials referred the matter to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office for an investigation.
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