Attorney General Charges Clark Mayor with Falsifying Records, Forgery, and Official Misconduct

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Mayor Salvatore Bonaccorso Faces Charges Related to His Alleged Use of Township Property and Employees to Run His Business and Alleged Filing of False and Fraudulent Permit Applications to Improperly Remove Hundreds of Underground Storage Tanks

Complaint

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) today announced the filing of criminal charges against the longtime Mayor of Clark Township, alleging Salvatore Bonaccorso submitted false and fraudulent paperwork to nearly two-dozen municipalities, in order to facilitate his landscaping company’s improper removal of hundreds of underground storage tanks (USTs).

Bonaccorso, 63, of Clark, New Jersey, was also charged on November 20, 2023, with official misconduct, after an investigation by the OPIA Corruption Bureau found that, while acting in his official capacity as the mayor, Bonaccorso allegedly operated his tank-removal business out of his township office utilizing municipal resources, by storing and maintaining the records for the business at the Mayor’s office, using township devices including computers and fax machines, and directing township employees to perform duties while working for the township, solely for the purpose of running his private business.

During the course of the investigation, OPIA also discovered, and it is alleged, that the defendant and his landscaping and underground storage tank company, Bonaccorso & Son LLC, fraudulently used an engineer’s name, license number, as well as, in many cases, forging the engineer’s signature on permit applications submitted to municipalities for tank removals — knowing that the engineer was neither supervising nor in any way involved in those projects, and without any legally required tank inspections actually taking place at those job sites. In fact, it is alleged that neither Bonaccorso nor his company have the necessary underground-storage-tank-removal license required to do such work.

A review of permit applications submitted by Bonaccorso and his company revealed that Bonaccorso, Clark’s mayor since 2001, allegedly misrepresented to municipalities that the engineer was the on-site supervisor of the removal work, as required by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) regulations, for all of the tank removals done by Bonaccorso & Son.

The mayor authorized the following statement on his behalf in response to the charges:

Statement Regarding the Charges Against Mayor Salvatore Bonaccorso

To Whom It May Concern:

Our firm has been retained by Mayor Salvatore Bonaccorso as defense counsel with regard to the criminal charges brought earlier today by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

Mayor Bonaccorso denies each and every allegation contained in the criminal complaint. The Attorney General’s Office has been investigating Clark Township and its various officials for years. What they now bring are criminal charges that the evidence will demonstrate are faulty and incorrect, and a report that did not lead to any criminal charges but rather only besmirches Mayor Bonaccorso, the town, and the police force. Mayor Bonaccorso will vigorously defend this case and will ultimately clear his name and reputation. Mayor Bonaccorso has devoted himself to the betterment of all the citizens of Clark for many, many years of public service. We are disappointed the Attorney General’s Office brought this case and look forward to vigorously defending our client in court.

Very truly yours,

Robert G. Stahl, Esq.
Counsel for Salvatore F. Bonaccorso

New Jersey law prohibits any individual from doing work on unregulated heating-oil tank systems unless the individual is certified or working under the immediate, on-site supervision of a person who is certified. NJDEP rules state that whether a tank is removed or abandoned-in-place, the job must be conducted by a contractor certified for underground storage tank closure, who is working for a closure-certified underground storage tank firm.

The investigation revealed, and it is alleged that, Bonaccorso arranged to have the engineer obtain a UST license and insurance, and then also directly paid to maintain both. It is alleged that the value of the removal jobs associated with the fraudulent permits submitted by Bonaccorso between 2017 and 2023 amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bonaccorso has also been charged with witness tampering, for allegedly advising a witness being interviewed by state investigators to provide false information, after he learned of the State’s investigation.

“Any elected leader who abuses his power and position and misuses public property and public employees for his own benefit, at taxpayers’ expense, betrays the public’s trust,” said Attorney General Platkin. “In this instance, the complaint charges that the defendant also abused the trust of officials in other towns, allegedly submitting fraudulent documents with forged signatures to enrich his company while circumventing New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regulations.”

“Our complaint alleges the mayor was committing criminal acts for many years to enable his company to offer services it was not authorized or permitted to perform,” said Thomas J. Eicher, Executive Director of OPIA. “The people’s faith and confidence in government is eroded when public officials act improperly, and my office will continue its diligent work to root out corruption.”

Bonaccorso is charged with the following:

• Official misconduct (2nd degree)

• Tampering with public records or information (3rd degree)

• Witness tampering (3rd degree)

• Forgery (4th degree)

• Falsifying or tampering with records (4th degree)

 

Deputy Attorney General Lisa A. Queen is prosecuting the case for the OPIA Corruption Bureau under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee, OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione and OPIA Executive Director Eicher.

Second-degree charges potentially carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree offenses could lead to up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

These charges are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Defense counsel

Michael Robertson, Esq.

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Attorney General Platkin Releases Report on Investigation into Allegations of Misconduct by Leaders of Clark Township Government and Police Department

 

Public Report of Findings of Investigation

 

NEWARK – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced the release of a report examining misconduct by leaders in Clark Township. The report recommends that two police department officials be fired, including the chief, and makes referrals for further action to four entities, including the Division on Civil Rights.

 

The 43-page report issued Monday by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), following an investigation into allegations of misconduct by leaders of Clark Township’s municipal government and the Clark Police Department (CPD), delivers on a promise made by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and OAG when they first exercised supersession and took control of the department in July 2020.

 

“There is a social contract that imposes an expectation that officials in positions of governmental and law enforcement leadership will do the right thing, act not in self-interest but in service to the greater good, and treat all people with respect and dignity as equals,” said Attorney General Platkin. “These are not naïve ideals or lofty ambitions, but rather the bare minimum expectations communities should have in their leaders. The leaders in the Clark Police Department, and the Township more generally, failed to keep up their end of that bargain.”

 

While grand jury secrecy precludes the disclosure of certain details – especially with regard to uncharged conduct – the report endeavors to provide the public with the maximum amount of transparency as permissible by law. Whenever possible, details of the investigation are shared when they could be established by publicly available sources or information obtained through the investigation by means other than grand jury process.

 

“The allegations giving rise to these investigations rocked the public’s trust in government,” says the report. “Mindful of the legal limitations to disclosing certain information, this report attempts to restore community trust in some small measure through publicly disclosing the State’s findings.”

 

“It is also hoped that the issuance of this report will also bring some closure to the uncertainty CPD officers have experienced over these past years,” says the report. “It is further hoped and expected that CPD officers and UCPO will continue to be the State’s partners in improving police culture and practices so that we can better fulfill our collective mission to make New Jersey more safe and more just for all.”

 

In addition to detailing the State’s findings, the report also directs CPD and UCPO to implement several interventions required by the Attorney General to address concerns identified through the investigation. At the direction of the Attorney General, UCPO’s supersession of CPD will continue. The department is also being directed to take a series of other steps, including but not limited to improvements in its data collection and analysis, changes in how traffic stops are conducted, revisions to attendance policies for superior officers, and enhanced civilian relationships, department diversity, and officer wellness.

 

The series of events leading to the supersession began in May 2020, when UCPO received an anonymous letter alleging that a CPD officer was being paid for a no-show job and that the police chief, Pedro Matos, was covering it up.

 

A month later, the township attorney advised UCPO that the township was being blackmailed, allegedly by the same officer, in letters making numerous allegations – including claims of racist comments by Matos.

 

In the course of the investigation, investigators uncovered the use of racist, sexist and antisemitic slurs when discussing hiring practices and police actions by township officials including the Clark Mayor, Matos, and Sgt. Joseph Teston, who headed the internal affairs unit.

 

Over the last several years, the State interviewed numerous witnesses, reviewed thousands of records and hundreds of recordings, and conducted a comprehensive audit of CPD’s practices. While the State has reached the decision, following a lengthy and thorough investigation, that absent new evidence, criminal charges are being declined at this time, the report provides the public with an overview of the investigative steps taken and legal analysis conducted to reach that conclusion. Additionally, Attorney General Platkin exercised his authority to release the findings of the State’s internal affairs investigations.

 

The investigation found that Matos had repeatedly not forwarded allegations of wrongdoing to UCPO, as required by internal affairs procedures issued by the Attorney General. It also found he had violated the standard of conduct related to derogatory comments and exhibited a lack of truthfulness during an internal affairs inquiry.

 

“Such findings would render someone unfit to be an officer – let alone the leader of a law enforcement agency,” says the report.

 

The report includes the Attorney General’s recommendation that the township fire Matos and Teston, the latter of whom was found to have violated the standard of conduct related to derogatory comments, and failed to conduct internal affairs investigations.

 

Teston, while on administrative leave, also was arrested in April 2022 outside of a professional sports stadium in New York, for what would have been aggravated assault if it occurred in New Jersey. The charges were dropped in New York state, but Teston admitted to injuring an unarmed stranger by striking him in the head with a glass bottle and fleeing the scene. This investigation also resulted in serious violations and an independent basis for the termination of his employment.

 

Recommendations of the Attorney General are not binding, but rather the determination will be made by a township official. The Appropriate Authority in this instance has a conflict of interest rendering it nearly impossible for them to be objective in reviewing the findings or recommendation of the Chief Law Enforcement Officer for the State of New Jersey. It is strongly recommended that the Appropriate Authority designate an independent individual who does not suffer from any conflict of interest to make the final determination of discipline in these matters.

 

While the report sets forth that criminal charges, absent additional evidence, are being declined at this time, the report includes several public referrals to other agencies and offices to take any further action deemed appropriate. These include:

 

·    A referral regarding the disparities in police practices uncovered by the report was made to the Division on Civil Rights, which enforces the State’s civil rights law, including the Law Against Discrimination.

·    A referral to the Office of Attorney Ethics, regarding the conduct of the Township Attorney involved in drafting and negotiating a settlement agreement between the Township and a now former CPD officer that contained unenforceable provisions that violate State law and Attorney General directives, and used public funds to conceal individual wrongdoing.

·    To the State Comptroller, as the confidential settlement agreement expended tremendous public resources to coverup the misconduct of individuals and also let the officer remain on the payroll for years so he could fully vest in the pension system and collect lifetime retirement benefits even though he was forbidden from returning to work.

·    To the Division of Pension and Benefits, to allow its Pension Fraud and Abuse Unit to review the propriety of the settlement agreement and any pension awards to the parties involved.

 

A review of Uniform Crime Reporting data, search data, use-of-force reports, police pursuits and civilian complaints, bodyworn camera footage, and hiring practices did not yield conclusive evidence of discriminatory policing practices, though some areas require interventions and further study.

 

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