A 13-minute audio recording of what appears to be an attempted bid rigging scandal has thrown the future of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop in doubt as he faces voters tomorrow and probably prosecutors sometime soon after.
The controversy surfaced eight days before voters cast ballots in the municipal elections in Jersey City, despite Fulop’s effort to prevent it from being released.
One of Fulop’s top aides is heard on the recording saying, “this is the kind of shit where motherfuckers go to jail,” but although the Mayor claims he heard the audio there is no evidence that he passed it along to appropriate law enforcement authorities and shortly before the affair came to light, he accepted money from the intended beneficiary of the bid rigging.
While he may be able to avoid prison in connection with the scheme involving his underlings, the incident in one of a number of ethical lapses that should give pause to voters considering whether the Mayor deserves a second term.
The recording’s existence was first alleged by city workers making depositions in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a gay City Hall employee, Dan Wrieden.
The recording captured a February 2014 conversation been Fulop’s then-Chief of Staff Muhammed Akil and Shawn “Sully” Thomas Sullivan – who was the chairman of the Jersey City Democratic Organization at the time.
Wrieden, a historic preservation officer, alleges in the lawsuit, that former deputy mayor Anthony Cruz created such a hostile work environment that he contemplated suicide, backed up by a host of allegations that include making homophobic remarks and using his position to help developers.
Akil and Sullivan wanted a consulting contract to be awarded to Good Energy, a firm whose managing partner for made a $1,000 contribution to Fulop’s campaign on September 7th, and they were caught complaining that a subordinate was not going along with their plot.
In court depositions for the case, Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski and his subordinate Dominick Pandolfo said that Akil and Thomas tried to steer the energy consulting contract to the specific vendor.
“What I don’t like about this, see, fucking straight up this is the kind of shit where motherfuckers go to jail,” Akil says to Sullivan towards the end of the recording, which was accidentally left on Kakoleski’s voicemail.
Akil apparently failed to hang up his phone after he told Kakoleski that Pandolfo was obstructing his effort to predetermine the outcome of the bidding process.
Pandolfo sat on a three-person committee that oversaw requests for proposals, another scenario that didn’t sit well with Akil and Sullivan.
“Gotta get that guy out of that committee. Fuck that,” Thomas says of Pandolfo.
“How am I going to transfer his ass out of there? I’ve got to be careful about transferring him out right now,” Akil responds.
The incumbent’s re-election is being challenged by Bill Matsikoudis, who was City Corporation Counsel when Pandolfo was chief of staff to former Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who Fulop ousted in 2013.
Esther Wintner, a longtime advocate of good government who is running for council on Matsikoudis’ ticket, said she did not believe that everybody in the Healy administration was as dirty as those brought into power by Fulop.
After pledging to combat corruption, Fulop skirted campaign finance rules by forming a super PAC that accepted money from developers, contractors and city employees; abusing local taxpayers to forge advantages for himself in a statewide race and used political muscle to punish anyone who would stand in his way.
In a 2015 story, Matt Friedman reported, “Since Fulop became mayor, records show the city has awarded contracts to at least nine politically connected firms and has hired Democratic elected officials with ties to powerful county organizations — individuals and firms who could be well-positioned to aid him in the party’s gubernatorial primary.”
According to Friedman, “insiders in seven key counties have received contracts or jobs from the city and its agencies that were worth as much as a combined $1.7 million.”
Vivek Garipalli, owner of CarePoint Health, the local hospital system that Fulop tried to put incharges of the city’s multimillion dollar ambulance business, secretly made a $1 million contribution to a Fulop Super PAC.
Coalition for Progress was formed to support Fulop’s expected gubernatorial candidacy and the mayor hosted a Jersey City fundraiser for the PAC, which raised $3.2 million, nearly all from individuals or businesses with ties to Jersey City.
Charlie Kushner and his son, Jared, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, tried to secretly funnel a $100,000 donation to Fulop through the same super PAC, as they negotiated city deals, according to a report by Bloomberg.
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