Indicted Again: Assemblyman Faces Additional State Charges

Joseph Vas (file photo)

Joseph Vas (file photo)

TRENTON – State Assemblyman Joseph Vas (D-Perth Amboy) was indicted again today on state corruption charges, Attorney General Anne Millgram announced.

Vas is charged with conspiring to obtain illicit gifts and payments from city vendors, and laundering money into his congressional campaign through straw donors while he was mayor of Perth Amboy.  The Attorney General’s Office previously indicted Vas in March for allegedly stealing city funds as mayor.

According to Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni, Vas, 54, was charged in an 19-count state grand jury indictment along with his longtime aide Melvin Ramos, 53, two corporations that were city vendors, and two owners of one of the corporations.  Vas faces multiple second-degree counts of conspiracy and official misconduct, among other charges.  The charges stem from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.

“Time after time, Vas exploited the trust placed in him as mayor for his illicit gain, stealing from his city,” Milgram said. “This indictment details a variety of corrupt schemes, but a common thread of arrogance and greed runs through all of them. We will not tolerate public officials who view tax dollars as the spoils of their ascent to power.”

“Prosecuting public corruption is a top priority for the Division of Criminal Justice, and we will continue to aggressively pursue any leads we get regarding misconduct by government officials,” said Gramiccioni.  “In this case, the thorough work of our investigators has caused our leads to multiply, resulting in more charges.”

The new indictment charges Vas with four distinct criminal schemes:

Free Home Improvements
Between May and November 2002, Vas allegedly had city vendor Jenicar Builders Contractors Co., Inc., which is based in Newark and Kearny, perform approximately $25,000 in work at his home in the city, free of charge, including constructing paver walkways, a paver driveway, a paver patio, a concrete foundation for a shed, brick columns, a cement sidewalk, and a cut-stone window border.

Vas and Jenicar face second-degree charges of conspiracy and official misconduct in connection with those home improvements.

Catering Bill
Between April and September 2008, Vas and Ramos allegedly conspired with city vendor Imperial Construction Group, Inc., which is based in Pine Brook, and two of its owners – Frank Dominguez, 45, of Chester, who is company president, and Richard Briggs, 48, of Long Valley, who is vice president – to have the company pay a $58,006 catering bill for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Perth Amboy Public Safety-Court-Community Complex on April 19, 2008.

Vas and Ramos allegedly had Dominguez and Briggs add the cost of the catering to invoices Imperial Construction submitted to the city under its contract to provide project management services for the construction of the new complex.  Vas and Ramos allegedly approved the invoices, concealing the city’s payment for the catering services, which were not bid and authorized in compliance with state law on local contracts.

Vas, Ramos, Imperial Construction, Dominguez and Briggs were each charged with conspiracy (2nd degree), official misconduct (2nd degree), theft by deception (3rd degree), false government contract payment claims (2nd degree), false representations for a government contract (2nd degree), tampering with public records or information (3rd degree), falsifying or tampering with records (4th degree), and misapplication of entrusted property and property of government (3rd degree).

In addition, Vas and Ramos are charged with pattern of official misconduct (2nd degree), and Dominguez and Briggs are charged with misconduct by a corporate official (3rd degree).

Fraudulent Campaign Contributions

Between January and July 2006, Vas and Ramos allegedly solicited city employees and others to make fraudulent contributions to Vas’ 2006 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives for the 13th Congressional District.  Ramos allegedly paid cash to the people he solicited to reimburse them for writing personal checks payable to “Vas for Congress.”

Vas and Ramos are charged with money laundering because by structuring funds into the campaign through people who falsely appeared to be making personal contributions, they allegedly sought to avoid applicable state and federal currency transaction reporting requirements in connection with deposits into the campaign’s account at Commerce Bank.  Banks are required to report cash deposits of $10,000 or more under federal reporting requirements.

Vas and Ramos are each charged with second-degree conspiracy and third-degree money laundering.  They are also charged with second-degree official misconduct for the scheme.  They allegedly requested city employees to solicit contributions during work hours, solicited city employees and others during work hours, and used city facilities and property for campaign activities.

Medical and Eyecare Bills
Between November 2004 and July 2005, Vas allegedly stole $5,926 from the city by unlawfully authorizing the submission to the city and approval of payment of a personal medical bill for $5,322 he received from the Mayo Clinic of Jacksonville, Fla., and a personal eyeglasses bill for $604 he received from Lenscrafters.

Vas is charged with official misconduct (2nd degree), theft by unlawful taking (3rd degree), and misapplication of entrusted property and property of government (3rd degree).

Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.  Fourth-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 18 months and a $10,000 fine.

The second-degree charges against Vas and Ramos for the catering scheme carry a mandatory minimum of five years in prison without parole because they involve conduct that occurred on or after April 14, 2007.  The theft and tampering with public records charges against them for that scheme carry a mandatory minimum of two years without parole, and the fourth-degree falsifying records charge carries a mandatory minimum of one year without parole. The mandatory minimums were established under a law signed by Governor Jon S. Corzine in March 2007 that enhanced the punishment of government officials convicted of abusing their office and violating the public trust.

The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Middlesex County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear to answer the charges.

In March, the Division of Criminal Justice obtained an indictment charging Vas with conspiring with city employees to steal approximately $5,000 in funds of the City of Perth Amboy.  The indictment charges that from 2003 to 2007, Vas fraudulently obtained payment from the Perth Amboy Recreation Department for personal expenses, including fees for basketball camps for his son, refreshments for his father’s funeral, and hundreds of dollars for sportswear, sneakers, beachwear and other personal items for himself.

In addition, Vas and his driver, Anthony S. Jones, 48, were charged in a scheme in which Vas allegedly rigged a public lottery so Jones won the opportunity to buy an affordable home through the Perth Amboy Home Program.

Yesterday, Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra Jr. announced an 11-count federal indictment charging Vas and Ramos with, among other things, committing mail fraud in connection with a scheme to misuse Vas’ position as mayor to misappropriate New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing Regional Contribution Agreement funds in connection with Vas’ sale of a multi-unit apartment building to a contractor in 2006.  Marra acknowledged the assistance of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office in that investigation.

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