ELIZABETH — A federal grand jury has indicted a construction contractor who was appointed by Mayor J. Christian Bollwage to the city parking authority.
Raymond Vella, 32, of Elizabeth, was charged with five counts of mail fraud, one count of providing corrupt payments and one count of obtaining property by fraud.
Observers speculate that Vella has been a cooperating witness for several months.
His indictment was linked to a probe of Linden’s Neighborhood Redevelopment Program and its former director, Frank Rose, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes in February.
In recent weeks, Vella has attended Elizabeth City Council meetings and spoke with people active in city politics.
Although he responded to a press inquiry about his case, Vella declined to give specific information about his alleged crimes or affiliations with political figures in Elizabeth.
Asked if he had been a cooperating witness in a federal corruption investigation of Elizabeth officials, Vella said, “I cannot talk about that.”
“Mr. Vella maintains his innocence,” said Stephen Taylor, an attorney defending Vella. “We’ll enter pleas of not guilty at his arraignment and we will take the case to trial.”
Vella was an unsuccessful candidate for the Elizabeth Board of Education in 2003, in a campaign funded by many of the same donors who support Bollwage, including Councilmen Ed Jackus and Frank Cuesta, as well as developers Luis Rodriguez and Ralph Salermo. Vella was also campaign manager for Bollwage-backed Councilman Nelson Gonzalez in the controversial 2006 primary election.
Vella’s 1120 Coolidge Road is just across the street from Bollwage’s 1113 Coolidge Road residence.
Vella is the owner of Pavel Construction, which appears on the city’s website as one of the Elizabeth Home Improvement Program’s approved local contractors at www.elizabethnj.org/ehip_pdf/local_contractor_list.pdf
The indictment claims Vella paid bribes ranging from $500 to $3,000 that earned Pavel Construction about 16 contracts valued at about $652,448. Each mail fraud count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The scheme defrauded a federal program designed to help low- and moderate-income families repair and upgrade their homes, authorities said. <