TRENTON – Two New Jersey men have been indicted by a state grand jury for allegedly operating a fraudulent 9/11 charity using a pickup truck painted with the Twin Towers and the names of police and firefighters who died at Ground Zero, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced. They allegedly sold T-shirts and collected donations at 9/11 events, but never gave any of the proceeds, which totaled in excess of $50,000, to the victims’ families or to 9/11 charities as promised.
“It’s a sad reality that in the wake of a devastating tragedy, when so many want to help, there are always parasites who view the tragedy and the generosity of others as nothing more than the opportunity and the means to turn a crooked profit for themselves,” said Chiesa. “The conduct of these two men wasn’t just despicable, it was criminal, and we are bringing them to justice.”
Mark Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls, and Thomas Scalgione, 41, of Manahawkin, were indicted on Friday, May 3, on third-degree charges of conspiracy and theft by deception. Niemczyk is also charged with third-degree failure to file a personal state income tax return in 2011. While Niemczyk receives Social Security benefits that are tax exempt, he collected thousands of dollars in proceeds at 9/11 events in 2011 and won $55,000 at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City on Sept. 6, 2011 that he was required to report. Under state law, third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. The criminal investigation began with a referral from the Division of Consumer Affairs, which in November secured a final consent judgment in a civil action, under which the men must pay a total of more than $200,000, representing disgorgement of donations and payment of civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and investigative costs. The judgment bars the men from ever working for any charitable organization in New Jersey.
“We allege that these defendants told a barrage of lies to further their scheme, with Niemczyk claiming he was a Navy SEAL who served three tours of duty in Vietnam, and both men telling donors they were father-and-son firefighters who were working at a firehouse near the World Trade Center on 9/11,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Their conduct was outrageous, and we urge any victims who donated money or bought T-shirts from these con artists to contact us.”
The case was presented to the state grand jury by Deputy Attorney General Sarah Lichter. Detective Roxanna Ordonez and Deputy Attorney General Lichter conducted the criminal investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, with assistance from Detective Kim Allen of the Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau and Detective Eric Ludwick of the Specialized Crimes Bureau.
The investigation revealed that Niemczyk bought a Ford F-150 pickup truck in June 2010 and had it custom-painted with 9/11 themes, including the World Trade Center towers, the logos of the New York City police and fire departments, and the names of the first responders who perished in New York on 9/11. Niemczyk and Scalgione worked as partners to bring the truck to 9/11 events both inside and outside New Jersey, where they sold T-shirts and collected donations. Scalgione allegedly acted as the “public relations” person, making arrangements for their participation at 9/11 events with the truck. The men were not registered with the State of New Jersey as a charitable organization as required by law.
The indictment includes two counts of theft by deception. One count relates to their sale of T-shirts and collection of cash donations from June 1, 2010 through July 4, 2012. The two men purchased hundreds of T-shirts that were printed with 9/11 themes similar to those painted on the truck. They purchased the shirts from two vendors, one vendor charging between $3 and $6.90 per shirt, and the second charging $4 to $5. It is alleged that Niemczyk and Scalgione sold the T-shirts out of the truck for $20 apiece at various 9/11 events, where they also put out a jug to collect cash donations.
The two men allegedly told people that the proceeds from the T-shirt sales and cash donations would benefit families of 9/11 victims or 9/11 charity organizations. At times, the men allegedly represented that they ran an established 501(c)(3) charity or were affiliated with a registered 9/11 charity. The men also allegedly displayed a sign that indicated “All donations for the T-shirts go to families of 9/11.” It is alleged that, in reality, no proceeds went to 9/11 families or charities. Proceeds in excess of $50,000 from the T-shirts and cash donations were allegedly deposited into personal bank accounts of Niemczyk and used to pay for personal expenses.
Anyone who encountered the defendants and their 9/11 truck at events and who either gave them money for T-shirts or donations or who have information about their activities are urged to call the Division of Criminal Justice confidentially at its toll-free tip line 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. The public can also log on to the Division of Criminal Justice Web page at www.njdcj.org to report information confidentially.
The second count of theft by deception relates to the defendants’ purchase of T-shirts from the two vendors. In each case, they allegedly obtained the T-shirts at a discount by falsely representing that any proceeds from the T-shirt sales would benefit the families of 9/11 victims or 9/11 charities. It is alleged that, as a result of those false representations, one vendor gave discounts totaling $3,312, and the other gave discounts totaling $1,378, which otherwise would not have been provided. Niemczyk and Scalgione allegedly knew when they made those representations to the vendors that the proceeds would not be used for victims’ families or charities.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Ocean County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In connection with the prior civil action and final consent judgment obtained by the Division of Consumer Affairs, Niemczyk and Scalgione admitted to committing multiple violations of the State’s Charities Registration and Investigation Act, including operating an unregistered charity. Deputy Attorney General Anna M. Lascurain of the Division of Law represented the State in the civil action. Investigator Patrick Mullan of the Charities Enforcement Unit within the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection conducted the civil investigation.
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