TRENTON – A longtime aide of former Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas pleaded guilty today to conspiring with Vas to obtain an illicit payment from a city vendor and illegally funneling money into Vas’ congressional campaign via straw donors to evade campaign funding and reporting rules, Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced.
According to Taylor, Melvin Ramos, 54, of Perth Amboy, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree conspiracy and third-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity before Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci Jr. in Monmouth County.
The charges were contained in a May 21, 2009 indictment stemming from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The 19-count indictment also charged Vas, two corporations that were city vendors, and two owners of one of the corporations. The charges against Vas, including multiple second-degree counts of official misconduct and conspiracy, remain pending. All of the other defendants have pleaded guilty.
Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Ramos be sentenced to seven years in state prison. He must cooperate fully in the ongoing case against Vas and will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
On Oct. 8, Vas and Ramos were convicted of federal corruption charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. They are scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in January. The state prison term will run concurrently with the term that Ramos will serve in federal prison. Ramos also is jointly and severally liable with co-defendants for payment of $58,006 in restitution to Perth Amboy.
“This longtime aide to Mayor Vas today admitted that, at the mayor’s bidding, he engaged in two illegal schemes: one to pump funds into Vas’ congressional campaign, and a second to have a city vendor pay an unauthorized catering bill for a city gala,” said Dow. “We allege that all of this was about Vas corruptly seeking to build his war chest and his political stature.”
“We have now taken guilty pleas from all of the defendants named in the May 2009 state grand jury indictment, with the exception of Joseph Vas,” said Taylor. “All of the co-defendants admitted their involvement in the corrupt schemes that we uncovered. We stand ready to take Vas to trial.”
Deputy Attorney General Dianne C. DiGiamber Deal and Supervising Deputy Attorney General Susan Kase took the guilty plea. They are prosecuting the case with Deputy Attorney General Pearl Minato for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Sentencing for Ramos is scheduled for Jan. 28.
In pleading guilty, Ramos admitted that between January and July 2006, he and Vas 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 admitted he paid cash to the people he solicited to reimburse them for writing personal checks payable to “Vas for Congress.” Ramos is guilty of money laundering because he admitted that by structuring funds into the campaign through people who falsely appeared to be making personal contributions, they sought to avoid applicable state and federal currency transaction reporting requirements in connection with deposits into the campaign’s account at Commerce Bank.
In pleading guilty to the conspiracy charge, Ramos admitted that he participated in a fraudulent scheme with a city contractor, Imperial Construction Group Inc. of Pine Brook. On Aug. 3, the owners of the company, Frank Dominguez, 47, of Chester, and Richard Briggs, 50, of Long Valley, pleaded guilty to third-degree misconduct by a corporate official for submitting a false invoice to the City of Perth Amboy. The company pleaded guilty to third-degree submission of false payment claims under a government contract.
Dominguez and Briggs admitted that they submitted a false invoice for Imperial Construction, allegedly at the direction of Vas, so that they could obtain payment from the city secretly reimbursing them for a $58,006 catering bill they paid at the mayor’s request. The bill, which was not authorized, was for a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 19, 2008 at the new Perth Amboy Public Safety-Court-Community Complex.
The state will recommend that Dominguez and Briggs each be sentenced to five years of probation. They are scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 18. The two men and Imperial Construction will be barred from public contracts in New Jersey for five years. Those three defendants are jointly and severally liable with Ramos for paying restitution to the City of Perth Amboy of $58,006. They must cooperate fully in the ongoing prosecution.
On Aug. 26, another city vendor under Mayor Vas, Jenicar Builders Contractors Co., Inc., pleaded guilty to third-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct, admitting that, between May and November 2002, it performed approximately $25,000 in masonry and paving work at Vas’ home, free of charge. The company is required to pay a $45,000 fine, and its principals are required to cooperate in the ongoing prosecution. Jenicar is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 18.
Connect with NJTODAY.NET
Join NJTODAY.NET's free Email List to receive occasional updates delivered right to your email address!