Councilman Alex Mendez has been issuing bad checks to organizations and local merchants, according to his campaign finance reports and interviews with several people who received the businessman’s checks that bounced.
Mendez’s campaign has been penalized 46 times for issuing bad checks, according to a Paterson Times review of his campaign finance reports from 2011 through 2018. He paid $3,400 in bank fees, mostly for issuing checks with insufficient funds in his campaign account — this figure excludes statement fees and maintenance fees paid to the bank.
Mendez did not respond to a call and message seeking an explanation on Wednesday morning. He was also provided a list of the overdraft fees reviewed for this report.
Overdraft penalties ranged from $20-35. His campaign sometimes lists overdraft penalties under “bank fees.” For example, in October and November of 2011, Mendez’s campaign reported having paid $110 and $480 in bank fees. The size of the amounts suggests multiple overdraft penalties. However, both large “bank fees” were excluded from the overdraft count. There was also a $315 bank fee reversal on his report from Feb. 21, 2012. This figure was not counted in the total.
Some overdraft penalties were listed on his campaign reports as “returned item fee” and “sustained overdraft fees.”
Several people interviewed by the Paterson Times described having to go through an ordeal to recover funds. None of them would openly speak on the subject.
Mendez’s opponents in the six-person mayoral race saw signs of poor management.
“I’m not a least bit surprised,” said councilman Michael Jackson. “Alex Mendez ran his campaign as a business owner; the moment he was elected all of the sudden he wasn’t a business owner. He doesn’t understand half of what’s necessary to run the city and this proves it.”
Mendez is campaigning on stabilizing taxes. He has repeatedly criticized the current and past administration for mismanagement and wasteful spending portraying himself as a fiscally prudent councilman.
“If he can’t manage his checkbook, how’s he going to manage the city?” remarked councilman Andre Sayegh. “His fiscal incompetence proves he doesn’t have the capacity to be mayor.”
Mendez’s last campaign finance report received by the state on Mar. 2, 2018 showed a closing balance of $151.
Former school board member Pedro Rodriguez has long questioned Mendez’s finances.
“If you cannot organize yourself, if you cannot be successful in your own personal management, your business, it’s very hard to be successful for people you do not know,” said Rodriguez. “The city really gets into trouble when people elect people who have not proven to be successful in their own lives. They pretend they can do a good job for others when they cannot do a good job for themselves.”
Mendez’s financial problem is not limited to just his campaign. He is in arrears in paying his municipal sewer bill for his East 19th Street home, city officials said on Tuesday. There’s also outstanding liens against his property for unpaid sewer bills from 2013, according to Passaic County government records.
“I’m sure it’s clear to him and to voters how problematic this situation is. I don’t need to point out the obvious,” said councilman William McKoy. “You shouldn’t be spending money you don’t have. That’s the circumstance that we are in in the city, that’s why we’re in the financial crisis we’re facing. It’s a lesson we have to learn: how to manage.”
Knowingly giving someone a bad check is a crime under the New Jersey criminal code. A bad check given for $200 is a disorderly persons offense. A bad check of $200-1,000 is a fourth-degree offense. And a bad check of $1,000-75,000 is a third-degree offense.
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