Manalapan: Pension of ex-attorney (James Cleary rec’d $165K)for WMUA unwarranted

The legacy of the imprisoned Frank G. Abate lives on at the Western Monmouth Utilities Authority, officials say.

Abate, 61, is serving a 51-month sentence at U.S. Penitentiary-Canaan in Pennsylvania for accepting bribes from developers as former executive director of the authority, which provides sewer service, primarily to parts of Manalapan and Marlboro.

Now, authority officials and the state contend that retired authority attorney James Cleary has been receiving more than $165,000 in retirement health and pension benefits they say Abate improperly authorized in 2002.

The state Department of Treasury’s Division of Pensions and Benefits says it is attempting to re cover $67,000 in pension benefits from Cleary. Those benefits were disbursed after Abate in 2002 certified Cleary — who had only been a contracted professional working fewer than 20 hours a week for the authority — was a full-time authority employee, officials said.

“It was determined by our Division of Pension and Benefits that Mr. Cleary’s position as counsel on behalf of the Western Monmouth Utilities Authority was not an employer/employee relationship,” state spokesman Tom Vincz said.

Abate attempted but was unsuccessful in pressuring an authority employee, then the agency’s certifying agent, to certify to the state that Cleary was full-time, authority Commissioner Eric Abraham said. Abate then asked the authority’s Board of Commissioners to name himself the certifying agent, Abraham said.

“He made up some story why it was that we should make him the certifying agent,” said Abraham, who did not say what the story was. “He never told commissioners what he was really trying to do, to get Jim Cleary health benefits for (Cleary) and his family.”

“We were shocked,” Abraham said.

The employee, whom the authority didn’t want to identify publicly, came forward with what had occurred after Abate was suspended in 2006 pending an investigation of his activities, Abraham said.

Pension reduced

The state has terminated as of April the part of Cleary’s pension benefits relating to his work with the authority, amounting to a $1,232 reduction from Cleary’s $6,378 monthly disbursement, Vincz said.

Cleary, partner in the firm Cleary, Alfieri, Grasso & Hoyle of Matawan, and married to Superior Court Judge Patricia Del Bueno Cleary, was unavailable for comment.

According to documents obtained by the Asbury Park Press, he was receiving retirement health benefits for himself, his wife and two children.

In a letter to the authority obtained by the Press, Cleary said he believed he was entitled to the benefits because he was working an average of at least 20 hours a week for the authority.

In other correspondence with the state, the authority denies Cleary’s claim, and said Cleary also was ineligible because his wife already was covered by another state retirement plan.

Cleary is an assistant counsel for Monmouth County, and Vincz said he continues to receive pension benefits through the state Public Employee Retirement System for his work with entities including Middlesex County; the municipalities of Matawan, Holmdel, Marlboro, Old Bridge, Hazlet and Union Beach; and the Old Bridge Municipal Utilities Authority.

But, beyond the state’s agreement to terminate the retirement health benefits effective June 1, the authority will be on its own when it comes to recovering money paid to Cleary as a result of Abate’s authorization.

Other allegations

Authority spokesman Jeff Meyer speculated that the arrangement officials believe Abate made with Cleary grew from a relationship between the two that extended to Abate’s history as an authority commissioner when Cleary also was the authority attorney. Cleary’s benefits were made retroactive to Jan. 2, 2002, before Abate had even been named executive director, officials said.

We have a zero-tolerance policy on matters that violate public trust, and Frank Abate and Jim Cleary in tandem have done just that,” Abraham said. “They have bilked our ratepayers out of an excess of $100,000 and the commissioners plan on recouping every penny . . . because our ratepayers deserve nothing less.”

Abraham said the board expects to discuss its next steps at its meeting tonight.

“We hope he will agree to repay it to us without having to incur legal fees and more embarrassment on his part,” Abraham said. “If the commissioners are not able to have Mr. Cleary voluntarily repay the money, all options are open to us.”

Abate was found guilty in August of five counts of theft of honest services mail fraud, and one count of attempting to obstruct a grand jury investigation.

According to trial testimony, Abate failed to inform authority commissioners that he permitted developers Steven and Bernard Meiterman to pay $1,800 for two sets of architectural plans for improvements to Abate’s home in Marlboro, an addition and a garage expansion. The Meiterman brothers have pleaded guilty to using the mail to promote and facilitate a corrupt payment, in connection with the purchase.

At that time, the Meitermans were seeking approvals from the authority for sewerage connections to multimillion-dollar home projects.

“Unfortunately, the WMUA and the ratepayers have fallen victim to Mr. Abate yet again,” Meyer said.

From our friends at APP.com

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Marlboro corruption suit tossed

Marlboro will not be compensated for damages it claimed it sustained because of corrupt developers and local public officials, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano dismissed a lawsuit in which township attorneys alleged Marlboro was hurt by bribery and other foul play between past officials and developers.

Pisano said the township’s complaint, filed in October, failed to name a specific “injury to its business or property” under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

“Marlboro has not pled any financial loss arising from defendants’ conduct,” Pisano ruled.

“Rather, Marlboro emphasizes that defendants’ conduct defrauded the township and its citizens, deprived it of its “intangible right to honest services’ of its employees, and caused a diminution of public confidence.

“These types of injuries do not affect any of Marl-boro’s financial interests in business or property,” Pisano said.

The defendants named in the lawsuit included former Mayor Matthew Scannapieco, Planning Board member Stanley Young, Municipal Utilities Chairman Richard Vuola and Western Monmouth Utilities Authority Executive Director Frank Abate.

Developers Anthony and Joseph Spalliero, who are father and son, Bernard and Steven Meiterman, who are brothers, and Edward Kay, a business partner, also were named.

“I think that it’s the right outcome,” said Vincent Manning, the attorney representing Kay, the Meitermans and several of their companies. “I don’t think that Marlboro Township’s attorney could have ever proven any damages or injury to Marlboro based on what they had alleged in the complaint.

“I think once they serve their time . . . they paid their debt, so to speak, and that should be the end of it,” Manning said of the Meitermans and Kay, adding that his clients are awaiting sentencing and are likely to serve jail time. “They look forward to having a peaceful relationship with Marlboro Township, especially the new mayor and the new administration.”

All of the public officials have either pleaded guilty or been convicted of accepting or passing bribes. All of the developers except Joseph Spalliero have pleaded guilty to bribing officials; he has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

The former officials allegedly accepted more than $300,000 in bribes from real estate developers between 1997 and 2004. The township asked to recoup at least the bribes, and also asked for the opportunity to recoup the officials’ salaries, according to court papers.

The impacts of the corruption included increased development, which, in turn, led to increased expenses for public services including roads, schools and police, argued former Mayor Robert Kleinberg, who led the charge to pursue the suit.

Scannapieco’s lawyer, Douglas J. Katich, who filed a motion to dismiss the case in February, said he was pleased with the decision. He added he hoped the ruling marked the end of litigation with the township.

“(The judgment) doesn’t prevent (Marlboro) from attempting to bring similar claims in state court to get a proverbial second bite at the apple,” Katich said. “I caution them to think hard about it because this time we will seek sanctions for prosecuting frivolous claims.”

Mayor Jonathan Hornik said he has been working with other litigants to dismiss lawsuits in the township as a cost-saving measure, but this was a case the township had been pursuing. He would not comment on his thoughts about the ruling or the merits of the complaint, which was filed before he took office in January.

The mayor also would not comment on whether the township will pursue the case further. He added the township’s counsel would only be paid if monies were awarded.

“I wasn’t looking to have (the lawsuit) dismissed,” Hornik said. “We’re going to take a careful look at the decision, and we will decide how to proceed accordingly.”

Marlboro: Sentencing for two Marlboro developers postponed

From our friends at APP.com

The sentencing for two Marlboro developers was postponed this morning without a new date

Edward Kay, 39, along with Steven Meiterman, 44, pleaded guilty in October in federal court to bribing former Western Monmouth Utilities Authority director Frank Abate for their developments’ sewer approvals. They were due to be sentenced in federal court today, but the sentencing was indefinitely postponed.

Kay, along with Meiterman and his brother Bernard Meiterman, 43, built more than a half-dozen housing developments in Marlboro.

Both brothers and their business partner Kay, admitted before U.S. District Court Judge Susan D. Wigenton that they paid $1,800 to an architect to draw up plans for an addition to Abate’s Marlboro home.

All three pleaded guilty to using the mail to promote and facilitate a corrupt payment.
Under such company names as Meiterman Custom Built Homes, Meiterman Development group LLC, Meiterman Holdings, Meiterman Properties, Meiterman Commercial Properties, Southpoint Property Management and Triangle Ridge at Marlboro LLC, the brothers have built more than a half-dozen housing developments in Marlboro including Sunny Acres and Triangle Valley.

Kay was a partner and bookkeeper for many of these projects and business
ventures, and was a signatory on the bank accounts of several projects.

In May, Abate, 61, was convicted by a jury of illegally receiving $4,800 worth of architectural plans from the Meitermans.

In August, Abate was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

The Meitermans and Kay each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.