ELIZABETH—A close political associate of Mayor J. Christian Bollwage will begin a criminal trial in federal court with jury selection starting Monday, Jan. 12 before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton.
Ray Vella, 32, of Elizabeth, owner of Pavel Construction, was charged by federal grand jury with five counts of mail fraud, one count of providing corrupt payments and one count of obtaining property by fraud in May.
Vella has a long history of political alliances with Bollwage, who appointed the defendant to the city parking authority.
Vella allegedly paid bribes ranging from $500 to $3,000 in return for 16 contracts valued at about $652,448 to former Linden housing official Frank Rose.
The recipient of the alleged bribes, Rose pled guilty on Feb. 14 to accepting over $180,000 in corrupt cash payments from five different contractors who won lucrative home repair and construction contracts in Linden and he is expected to testify at the trial.
Rose admitted that in exchange for the corrupt cash payments he “rigged” the bidding process so that the five contractors were ensured lucrative contracts ranging from approximately $20,000 to $60,000 per job.
Three of the bribe payors have also pled guilty, including Frank Rose’s brother Anthony Rose, Walter Zawacki, and Venancio Ribeiro. 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.
Vella was an unsuccessful candidate for the Elizabeth Board of Education in 2003, in a campaign prompted by the mayor and funded by many of the same donors who have supported 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.
A sign supporting Bollwage for re-election last year was posted in front of Vella’s 1120 Coolidge Road home, which is just across the street from the mayor’s 1113 Coolidge Road residence.
Vella is the owner of Pavel Construction, which still remains 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 despite the allegations that he paid bribes in exchange for contracts from the same program in Linden.
The Bollwage administration also provided Vella with large amounts of cash to purchase real estate in the city.
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