NJ construction official accused of siphoning funds from developers’ account
Official allegedly billed developers thousands of dollars for after-hours meetings, despite being paid a stipend to attend them
A town hall in Essex County, New Jersey, was the target of a raid by state investigators on Monday, following allegations that a local construction official helped himself to an escrow account containing funds deposited by developers.
Belleville Township Construction Official Frank DeLorenzo Jr. is accused of compensating himself with seemingly arbitrary withdrawals from the account each time he attended a meeting after regular working hours — despite being paid a stipend to attend the meetings.
The town’s mayor, Michael Melham, told NJ.com he discovered the withdrawals — which ranged from $200 to $750 — earlier in the year. DeLorenzo allegedly supplied invoices for eight meetings over six months, totaling $2,350. Because the escrow account contains no taxpayer funds, it isn’t closely monitored by auditors, Melham told the publication.
DeLorenzo has been a township employee since 1981. His $156,000 annual salary is supplemented by a $17,000 stipend to attend after-hours planning board and subcommittee meetings, NJ.com reported, citing public records.
Developers who apply for construction projects in the town deposit money into the escrow account. Melham says a “strange feeling” caused him to check the account and discover the alleged malfeasance.
New Jersey State Police investigators arrived at town hall with a subpoena on Monday. The state attorney general’s office did not confirm or deny the subpoena to NJ.com, and it’s unclear what investigators were searching for, but Melham confirmed it was served.
An attorney for DeLorenzo claimed he has a perfect record and wouldn’t do anything illegal.
“I think everybody should not rush to judgment until all of the facts are heard because it would be manifestly unfair to Mr. DeLorenzo,” the attorney said in a statement to NJ.com. “I think we all need to wait until all the results are in.”
DeLorenzo was served with a notice and told his future employment with the town would be discussed privately. DeLorenzo countered and called for a public hearing, which took place less than a week before the state police arrived at town hall.
DeLorenzo was still on the job as of Wednesday, though Melham is reportedly pushing for his suspension.
[NJ.com] — Holden Walter-Warner