Scutari report turned over to federal prosecutor

The Mayor of Linden has reported to state and federal authorities a possible crime involving an unexpected suspect: the state Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

An audit conducted for the Linden City Council alleges state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) failed to show up for his job as Linden’s municipal prosecutor dozens of times.

Mayor Derek Armstead released a letter Tuesday calling for a federal criminal investigation saying Scutari’s alleged actions were “egregious.”

Scutari failed to appear in court more than half the time he was supposed to be there as a municipal prosecutor, a job that earned him a $84,659 salary in 2018, according to a Linden city council report

Sen. Nicholas Scutari

The report was prepared by Paul Gazaleh, a licensed Certified Public Accountant whose practice has specialized to include the calculation of economic damages, valuations of closely held businesses, and other complex accounting.

Gazaleh concluded that Scutari missed about half the time he was paid as a municipal prosecutor, at a total cost to taxpayers of nearly $150,000 including salary, contributions into the Public Employees Retirement System, and payroll taxes for days he was not working.

After 15 years in the position, Scutari was ousted as Linden’s city prosecutor during the first City Council meeting of 2019 and a special investigative committee was subsequently empaneled by the governing body.

Scutari was initially appointed prosecutor under former Mayor John T. Gregorio, then he served under former Mayor Richard Gerbounka and continued to hold the post during Mayor Derek Armstead’s first term as mayor.

Armstead and council members grew frustrated with what they viewed as Scutari’s power plays and chronic absenteeism, but matters got worse when he retaliated with political pressure once he was called to account.

In January, Scutari was replaced as municipal prosecutor by Deirdre Mason, a Scotch Plains-based lawyer who also serves as an assistant to Daniel Antonelli, the municipal attorney, who is also aided by assistant municipal attorney Tracey Cosby, assistant municipal prosecutor Mohamed Jalloh, chief public defender Edward Cooper, and assistant public defender Michelle Welsh.

Scutari became chair of the Union County Democratic Committee when Assemblyman Jerry Green resigned from the position shortly before his death, but he was unsuccessful in a power struggle to retain his post as municipal party boss when Linden Democrats voted in the June primary election.

Armstead sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, asking federal officials to launch an investigation into Scutari’s absenteeism as the municipal attorney.

“Based on the severity of Nicholas Scutari’s improprieties, it was absolutely necessary to take swift action and call on the authorities to immediately investigate the abuse of public trust that I have outlined in my correspondence,” said Armstead. “In 2017, Scutari missed 64 out of 115 court sessions and in 2018, he missed 57 out of 111 court sessions; all while earning $85,000 a year. His ‘absences’ cost the taxpayers of Linden $147,493.97.”

Armstead said he is obligated to inform residents what actions have been taken to protect their interests to show “that potential corruption will not be tolerated in local government.”

Armstead said similar circumstances have been prosecuted, such as in the case of former state Senator Wayne Bryant, once known as the “king of double dipping” because he has collected salaries from as many as four public jobs before he was sentenced to four years in federal prison on corruption charges related to a no-show job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

“It is imperative that we remain diligent in holding other public officials to the same standard,” said Armstead, who called on Senate President Sweeney to suspend Scutari as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Linden Mayor also said, “Scutari should give serious consideration to resigning from the New Jersey State Senate and as Union County Democratic Chairman.”

“I report to the city attorney’s office, and there’s no policy in place or any oversight,” said Scutari.

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