TRENTON – Former Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas was sentenced to eight years in prison on state corruption charges filed by the Attorney General’s Office. Earlier this week, Vas was sentenced to 6 ½ years on federal charges.
According to Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor, Vas, 56, of Perth Amboy, who was also formerly a member of the New Jersey Assembly, must serve five years before becoming eligible for parole. As a result of his guilty plea, Vas is permanently barred from public employment. Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci Jr. ordered Vas to pay $154,693 in restitution and a public corruption profiteering penalty of $250,000. Vas delivered a check to the court for $404,693 in payment of those amounts.
“This prison sentence reflects the mandatory five-year period of parole ineligibility for official misconduct established in our enhanced state corruption laws,” said Taylor. “It also reflects our resolve to be aggressive in prosecuting corrupt public officials such as Joseph Vas.”
Vas pleaded guilty on Nov. 18, 2010 to two counts of pattern of official misconduct and one count each of theft by unlawful taking and money laundering. Vas admitted that he engaged in a series of corrupt schemes charged in two indictments obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice in early 2009, including one scheme in which he and his longtime aide Melvin Ramos solicited an illicit payment of $58,000 from a city vendor, and a second in which they illegally funneled money into Vas’ congressional campaign via straw donors to evade campaign funding and reporting rules.
“Time after time, former Mayor Vas demonstrated his propensity to engage in corrupt schemes,” said Attorney General Paula T. Dow. “He took an oath to serve the public, but instead he unlawfully exploited the power entrusted to him.”
Ramos, 55, of Perth Amboy, was sentenced today to seven years in prison by Mellaci. Ramos pleaded guilty on Nov. 18 to conspiracy and money laundering. He is also permanently barred from public employment. On April 12, Ramos was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison on corruption charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. Their state prison terms will run concurrently with their terms in federal prison.
Also today, Mellaci sentenced Frank Dominguez, 47, of Chester, and Richard Briggs, 50, of Long Valley, to three years of probation. Each man was also ordered to pay a $7,500 criminal fine and perform 200 hours of community service. The two men pleaded guilty on Aug. 3, 2010, to misconduct by a corporate official. Their company, Imperial Construction Group Inc. of Pine Brook, pleaded guilty to submission of false payment claims under a government contract.
At the direction of Vas and Ramos, Dominguez and Briggs submitted a false invoice for Imperial in order to obtain payment from the City of Perth Amboy secretly reimbursing them for a $58,006 catering bill that they paid at Mayor Vas’ 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. Dominguez and Briggs paid $58,006 in restitution to Perth Amboy after pleading guilty. The two men and Imperial were ordered to be barred from public contracts in New Jersey for five years.
In addition to the scheme involving the catering bill, Vas and Ramos pleaded guilty to other criminal conduct charged in an indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice on May 21, 2009. Vas and Ramos admitted that between January and July 2006, they 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 the campaign. They were guilty of money laundering because by structuring funds into the campaign through people who falsely appeared to be making personal contributions, they sought to avoid state and federal currency transaction reporting requirements for deposits into the campaign bank account.
In addition, Vas admitted that between May and November 2002, he accepted approximately $25,000 in masonry and paving work at his home, free of charge, from a city vendor, Jenicar Builders Contractors Co., Inc. Jenicar pleaded guilty on Aug. 26, 2010 to third-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct and was ordered to pay a $45,000 fine.
Vas also admitted illegally obtaining $5,926 from the city by 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 from LensCrafters.
In connection with a separate indictment returned on March 11, 2009, Vas admitted that he conspired with city employees from 2003 to 2007 to fraudulently obtain payment of approximately $5,000 from the Perth Amboy Recreation Department for his personal expenses. In addition, Vas admitted he rigged a public lottery so that his driver, Anthony S. Jones, 50, won the opportunity to buy an affordable home through the Perth Amboy Home Program. Charges against Jones in the indictment are pending, and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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