THE COUNTY ASSISTS LECLAIR RYAN IN PREPARING ITS RFQ, LECLAIR RYAN BILLS THE TAXPAYERS AND WINS THE CONTRACT, PERFORMS $50,000 AUDIT TWICE
Each and every year Hudson County awards "Fair and Open Professional Services Contracts" to numerous law firms totaling in the area of half a million dollars per year. This is on top of having an in-house Legal Department which employs 13 attorneys and a support staff. This practice was recently addressed in a report released by the Comptroller's Officer titled "An Analysis of LEGAL FEES PAID BY LOCAL GOVERNMENTS". The 44-page report was generated from years of looking at the way government agencies hire and manage legal fees. The report was compiled from information gather from 5 government entities: (read article)
Three of the law firms frequently used by the County are:
Scarinci & Hollenback - used to conduct labor negotiations with the County Unions at a cost of $2,327,598.10 between 2003 and 2010. This law firm is used to conduct negotiations despite the Legal Department having a labor negotiator in its employ. click to learn more
LeClair Ryan - notably to investigate the Ricardo Aviles matter at a cost to the taxpayers of $50,000.00.
A review of the itemized billing for LeClair Ryan uncovered that the firm was utilized to conduct a County wide Audit of the "Effectiveness of the County of Hudson's Harassment Policy and Procedure". In 2010 the firm audited 373 County employees selected from a wide array of Departments throughout the County to include: Department of Corrections, Prosecutor's Office, Sheriff's Department, Parks Department, Law Department, Finance Department, Welfare Department, Health & Human Services, Personnel Department, Surrogate's Office, etc.
In order to determine if the Policy was "effective", they asked the 373 County Employees 6 questions: view questions
1. Are you aware of the County Policy.....
2. Have you received any training on the County Policy.....
3. Do you know how to file a complaint as a victim.....
4. Do you know how to file a complaint as a witness.....
5. Are you aware that you can file a complaint directly with the Department of Personnel.....
6. If you became a victim would you file a complaint .....
The Sexual Harassment Policy that is the topic of this Audit is contained within the Rules and Regulations of the Department of Corrections, Sheriff's Department and Prosecutor's Office, a copy of which is issued to every employee with a paragraph stating that the employee is responsible to know the contents of the Manual, they must read & sign a Receipt & Acknowledgment Form to indicate that they have accepted and understand their responsibility to perform in accordance to its contents. The original, signed form is to be retained in their personnel files with a copy to the Training Department and the Personnel Department.
A copy of the Manual is to be distributed to the Freeholders, Personnel Officer, Director of Personnel and the Law Department.
I cannot confirm that other Departments have the same procedures, but I highly suspect that they do.
Every employee is required to sign a Receipt and Acknowledgment Form indicating that they received the Sexual Harassment Policy. Every employee is required to attend mandatory sensitivity training, which would also be on record. How can there possibly be a need to conduct an Audit to determine if employees received the policy and training? If they know how to file a Complaint as a victim or witness, which is clearly defined in the Policy. If they know they can file a Complaint directly with the Department of Personnel, again part of the Policy. So basically, 5 of the 6 questions they already knew the answer to before they started the Audit.
Would you file a complaint. Reasonably, as a County employee, how are you going to answer that question?
The cost to the taxpayer for the 2010 Audit purported to determine the "effectiveness" of the Policy was roughly$50,848.34. Approximately $50,000 paid to the law firm of LeClair Ryan to ask Hudson County employees if they received a copy of the Harassment Policy that they already signed for.
It gets worse, in 2012, they paid the same law firm to conduct the same Audit over again, they used the same 6 questions and generated the exact same report, word for word, they just changed the numbers. click to get 2012 Audit.
The law firm of LeClair Ryan has been awarded the Fair and Open Professional Service Contract each and every year since at least 2007, that Contract was for $100,000 and has increased throughout the years.
Hudson County posts "Request for Qualifications" each year and allows law firms to bid for the contracts. In 2010, the following law firms submitted bids for the Contract or "RFQ" requesting:
"Outside Counsel to Investigate and Evaluate Allegations of Sexual and Workplace Harassment, Hostile Work Environment and Discrimination against the County or County Employee"
All the request were submitted in November. Beginning November 4, 2010 through November 16, 2010, LeClair Ryan billed the County for helping them draft and revise their RFQ Bid. They billed the County for 3.5 hours of assistance from County Counsel Donato Battista for his assisting them prepare their RFQ which they submitted on November 18, 2010. CLICK FOR BILLING.
Guess who was awarded the Contract? LeClair Ryan was awarded a $117,000 Contract.
The Audit Questions do not address the effectiveness of the Policy. What good is a policy if it is not enforced? Clearly everyone knows about the policy, wouldn’t it be more prudent to determine if it is enforced? For example, ask employees if they are aware of anyone who reported sexual harassment but was retaliated against for doing so? Or to determine what percentage of Complaints led to disciplinary action against the accused? Or better yet, what percentage of complainants were disciplined? Retaliated against? Which employees have the most or repeated complaints lodged against them? Which protected group lodges the most complaints? Are all protected groups treated equally? Veterans? Pregnant females?
I understand that Hudson County needs to find a reason to pay LeClair Ryan $100,000 a year, but doesn’t it make more sense to pay them to gather useful information and not information they already possess or that could be gathered in a day from the Department of Personnel.
June 26, 2013
REPORT ON HUDSON COUNTY'S QUESTIONABLE EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES AND RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LAW FIRM OF CHASAN, LEYNER & LAMPARELLO
On June 25, 2013, the State Comptroller's Office released a report titled "An Analysis of LEGAL FEES PAID BY LOCAL GOVERNMENTS". The 44-page report was generated from years of looking at the way government agencies hire and manage legal fees. The report was compiled from information gather from 5 government entities: (read article)
North Bergen (Hudson County) * West New York (Hudson County)* Medford (Burlington County)* Freehold School District (Monmouth) * Plainfield School District (Union County)
" In some cases we uncovered conduct sufficiently egregious to warrant further investigative review, and, in one case, a criminal referral."
NORTH BERGEN HAS 10 IN-HOUSE ATTORNEYS AND PAYS $420,885 IN SALARIES TO ITS ATTORNEYS. THEY ALSO CONTRACT WITH 12 OUTSIDE LAW FIRMS AT A PRICE OF $863,458 FOR A TOTAL COST OF $1,284,343 FOR LEGAL SERVICES.
NORTH BERGEN EMPLOYED AN ATTORNEY FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS, YET THE MUNICIPAL ADMINISTRATOR DID NOT KNOW WHAT HIS POSITION WAS, WHO SUPERVISED HIM, OR WHAT SERVICES HE ACTUALLY PERFORMED.
The unnamed attorney stated that he performed work for North Bergen since 1999 and received both a salary and benefits.
In 2012 he was asked by the Township Attorney, Herbert Klitzner, to donate $1000 to the candidates opposing Mayor Nicholas Sacco. He stated that throughout his career he was routinely solicited to make political contributions to a local party committee and in 2012 his contributions to this committee totaled $6,600.
Note: On June 23, 2013. the Star Ledger reported a pay-to-play scam wherein the company, Birdsall was paying their employees to make political contributions in the employees name and then reimbursing the employee. The Star Ledger reports that from 2008 through 2012 the Birdsall made over 1000 donations estimated at $1.05 million dollars and receive $84 million dollars in contracts. Read article.
NORTH BERGEN EMPLOYED A MUNICIPAL ATTORNEY AT A SALARY THAT WAS SUBSEQUENTLY HIGHER THAN THAT OF SENIOR COUNSEL AT THE FOUR LARGEST MUNICIPALITIES IN THE STATE.
North Bergen paid Township Attorney Herbert Klitzner, $297,870 in 2011 plus another $16,469 in unused sick time.
NORTH BERGEN'S TOWNSHIP ATTORNEY APPEARS TO HAVE VIOLATED THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ETHIC LAW BY DELEGATING LEGAL WORK TO CHASAN, LEYNER & LAMPARELLO, A LAW FIRM HE IS AFFILIATED WITH.
Township Attorney, Herbert Klitzner is of Counsel with Chasan, Leyner &Lamparello.
Chasan, Leyner & Lamparello was the highest paid law firm for outside work in 2011 billing North Bergen for $371,407.
Chasan Leyner & Lamparello were awarded a contract for legal work that did not include landlord/tenant work.
In 2011 Chasan Leyner & Lamparello billed North Bergen $60,000 for landlord/tenant work.
North Bergen awarded several other law firms contracts for legal work on landlord/tenant matters but gave the work to Chasan, Leyner,
NORTH BERGEN, IN TYPICAL HUDSON COUNTY STYLE, DEFENDED THEIR ACTIONS WITHIN HOURS OF THE FIRST REPORT THEY SHOT BACK STATING: (read article)
In 2011, after being advised of the findings of the State Comptroller's Office, instead of doing the prudent thing and renegotiating a reasonable salary with the Township Attorney to save the tax payers money, they instead chose to spend even more of the tax payers monies by hiring a retired State Supreme Court Justice to write a report saying their actions were ok. The retired Justice also gave his blessing to the relationship between the Township Attorney and Chasan Leyner & Lamparello.
I cannot imagine the costs of that report, paid for by the same tax payers that are financing the activity that is being questioned by the State Comptroller's Office.
North Bergen also states that they have the blessing (rubber stamp) of the Hudson County Prosecutor's office as well.
This is not EdPDLaw's first interaction with Chasan Leyner as this law firm appears to be used throughout Hudson County, not only by the individual Municipalities but by the County itself. The Hudson County Legal Department also employs Chasan Leyner with a generous yearly professional contract award in the amount of $225,000.
Similar to North Bergen, the Hudson County Legal Department is top heavy and still awards numerous contracts to outside law firms including Chasan, Leyner; LeClair Ryan and Scarinci Hollenback. EdPDlaw has obtained the past 5 years of billing from the County by way of OPRA request and is examing same for patterns similar to those referenced in the State Comptroller's report.
For more information on the use of Chasan, Leyner in Hudson County, please review the article on Hudson County's Counsel, Donato Battista below.
February 25, 2013
EADY TURNS INVESTIGATION TO BATTISTA BY THREATENING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
As you are aware, EdPDLaw uncovered questionable mortgage activity by Confidential Aide Kirk Eady in May of 2012. Eady became distraught over the release of information and threatened, among other things, to "not go down alone" and specifically named County Counsel, Donato Battista as someone he was going to take with him. That threat coupled with the vast cover up of Sgt. Ricardo Aviles led EdPDLaw to wonder what exactly they have on Battista that would cause Battista to protect them when clearly he should have cut them loose.
Although still in the preliminary stages, this is what we have uncovered to date:
Aside from being the full time County Counsel for Hudson County, Battista also is part of the law firm Bogart, Keane, Ryan & Hamill, LLC where he dabbles in real estate. A search of the Division of Revenue Business Services shows that Battista is the Registered Agent for 71 corporations in the State of New Jersey. This means that he formed 71 corporations in New Jersey starting in 1982 through 2012.
As you can see, there was a lot of activity beginning in 2005 and ending in 2008, in fact, this also happened to be at the same time Eady was making his mortgage deals. So we looked a little closer. Battista incorporated approximately 40 companies whose names seem to indicate that they are addresses mostly in Jersey City. (Several of the above listed companies were incorporated to manage the democratic campaign of County Executive Thomas DeGise).
Being the "Registered Agent" of a corporation does not mean he is a principal in the business, so we ran another search to determine which of any of these businesses he had an ownership interest in and we came up with 2 that caught our attention. They are "Ogden Avenue CH, LLC" and "47-49 Hancock Avenue, LLC" which he is listed as the CEO (Chief Operating Officer).
First we looked at Ogden Avenue CH, LLC and found out that the business purchased a property located at 202-204 Ogden Avenue for $2,100,000.00 on September 1, 2005. Ogden Avenue CH, LLC was formed in May of 2005, just 4 months earlier. It purchased the property from Jeffrey Curtiss (remember this name).
When we investigated a little further we found that the property located at 202-204 Ogden Avenue was the subject of a dispute with the Jersey City Planning Board, as the "developer" was illegally constructing an entire fourth floor on the building and somehow received building permits without going through the Jersey City Planning Board as reported by the Riverview Neighborhood Association inApril,July and September of 2006.
When we investigated a little further we found that the "Managing Member" and developer for the property was listed in the Residency Certificate as Marcos Velez. Documents from the Registrar's Office clearly list Marcos Velez as the "Managing Member" of both businesses owned and incorporated by Donato Battista. In fact, both businesses were involved in million dollar deals in Jersey City.
Moreover, the increased activity of incorporating businesses seemed to stop as quickly as it started in 2008. So what happened?
Court records indicate that on September 10, 2008 a law suit was filed in the Hudson County Superior Court, Chancery Division, Docket # HUD-C-139-08. This law suit named 20 of the businesses incorporated by Donato Battista but did not name him personally in the suit. It does name Marcos Velez personally and 8 of the businesses that he is listed as a principle owner. It also names 47-49 Hancock Ave, LLC which Battista is listed as the CEO. The most interesting part of this law suit is that Battista incorporated all the businesses on both sides of the law suit. In other words, he incorporated the plaintiffs who brought the suit and the defendants named in the suit. His business, 47-49 Hancock Avenue, LLC is a named defendant in the suit and Jeffrey Curtiss (remember that name?) is a plaintiff.
The Complaint reads in part:
The actions concern a series of property development projects in Hudson County, New Jersey. In 2004, plaintiffs Curtis and McBride and defendants Marcos Velez ("Marcos"), Benjamin Velez ("Ben") and Ronald Spaner ("Spaner") (collectively all five are sometimes hereinafter referred to as the "Principals") agreed that together they would engage in the acquisition, development, improvement and renovation of residential properties located in Hudson County, New Jersey, primarily in the neighborhood known as "Jersey City Heights," for the purpose of renting or selling same for profit. In furtherance of this agreement, in 2004, the Principals bought and began performing due diligence on other potential properties and acquiring construction equipment for same.
On or about May, 2005, the Principals agreed to renovate and furnish office space (approximately 1,500 sq. ft.) located at 47-49 Hancock Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey and to hire office staff for the carrying out of their collective acquisition, development, improvement and renovation of residential properties. In reliance on the agreement reached by the Principals to collectively build a business to acquire, develop, and renovate residential properties, and with the intent and for the sole purpose of moving the business objective of the group forward, said renovations and furniture was paid for by Curtiss and McBride.
...The Principals also formed KAC (King Arthur Construction Company), to provide the construction services, materials and equipment for the properties acquired and developed by NP. Each of the Principals owned an equal share of these companies.
In addition, NP and HP contracted with M&B Construction (Mabon) for the construction work on 3 buildings at the development project known as the "Heights Project". M&B Construction is owned and run by the individual defendants. (Marcos Velez)
Unbeknownst to Curtiss and McBride (plaintiffs), Marcos, Ben and Spaner (defendants) individually and by forming various partnerships, companies and/or joint venture, were simultaneously engaging in the acquisition, development and renovation of other residential properties in Hudson County, New Jersey, also primarily in the neighborhood known as "Jersey City Heights," for the purpose of renting or selling same for profit. ....
In order to develop these other properties, the said defendants diverted and utilized the equipment, personnel, materials, computers, assets, funds and or bonding capability of HP, NP and/or KAC. Consequently, HP's and NP's developments went uncompleted which caused HP and NP to default on numerous guaranteed debts and obligations.
Basically, the five individual investors came together and formed 3 companies - Heights Project, LLC (HP) - Northumberland Property, LLC (NP) - King Arthur Construction Company (KAC) - to develop and renovate properties. Three of the five apparently decided to make additional deals and purchase additional properties without the knowledge of the two investors that put up the startup monies and bonds. (Or did they, because the $2.1 million that Jeffrey Curtiss received in September of 2005, he received from the sale of 202-204 Ogden Avenue, LLC to Ogden Avenue CH, LLC which is owned by Battista).
I can tell you without a doubt that there is one person who knew exactly what was going on as he is the one who incorporated the 20 businesses involved in this law suit and miraculously his name does not appear anywhere in the suit, County Counsel Donato Battista.
So how is it that Donato Battista was not named in the law suit despite incorporating all the businesses and actually being a business owner? I don't have a definitive answer but I can tell you this. The law firm that represented the plaintiffs is Starr, Gern, Davison & Rubin of Roseland. They are one of the firms the County has done business with in the past. The attorney that filed the Lis Pendens on behalf of the plaintiffs is Barbara Drasheff, Esquire. A relative of Gerald Drasheff, Esquire, Mayor of Guttenberg and Hudson County employee, who works in the Legal Department overseen by Donato Battista.
Wait, it gets better. The law firm that defended Marcos Velez against Starr, Gern, Davison & Rubin is none other than Chasan, Leyner & Lamparello, another of the County's law firms that receives an annual Professional Contract Award in the amount of $225,000 and just so happens to be defending the Hudson County Department of Corrections, former Internal Affairs Sgt. and cousin to the Director of Corrections, Ricardo Aviles against a sexual harassment suit. See Award at #11.
What happened to the law suit? It was transferred to the Law Division, Docket No.: HUD-L-4647-08, and then settled without any mention of County Counsel Donato Battista. Who paid the law firms for the defense of this suit?
How did these properties get funding? Were there any grants involved? Grants that would have to be approved by the County? Were these properties sold at a fair price? There were plenty of tax liens and tax lien certificates involved with the properties.
Is it a conflict of interest? An ethical violation? To use your office to receive personal gain? In the six digit catagory?
How did the "developers" know which properties to purchase? How many properties has Jersey City sold to or invested with Mabon Construction, a/k/a Marcos Velez?
There are definitely more questions than answers.
May 5, 2012
Confidential Aide Kirk Eady's Fiscal Qualifications to Oversee the Jail's $60 Million Dollar Budget
The current budget for the Hudson County Department of Corrections is in the area of $60 million dollars. The Director of Corrections and the self-proclaimed Deputy Director, Confidential Aide Kirk Eady are responsible for the oversight and appropriation of that budget. Recently, it was announced that Hudson County was going to introduce a tax increase this year. This article will discuss issues as they pertain to the Hudson County Department of Corrections and the fiscal qualifications of Kirk Eady to oversee the budget.
"County officials say rising fuel, pension, health care, and salaries have forced them to increase the amount of money to be raised from local taxpayers in this year’s budget from last year’s $279.7 million to $292.7 million."
RISING FUEL PRICES:
Both Director of Corrections, Oscar Aviles and the "Deputy Director", Confidential Aide Kirk Eady drive County Vehicles which are issued to them to take home. These vehicles are also fueled at the expense of the County. The Director travels back and forth from Ocean County where he resides. Confidential Aide Eady was allegedly living in Union County, although the Union County Sheriff's Department was having a hard time locating him. Both men have 6 digit salaries, the use of a county vehicle and a car stipend.
Oscar Aviles received $129,344.54 in salary, $480 for his cell phone and $3,293.64 for what they call a "Car Fringe".
Kirk Eady received $116, 520.04 in salary, $480 for his cell phone and $4,136.44 for what they call a "Car Fringe".
Is it really necessary for them to take their vehicles home? How did Eady get a larger "Car Fringe" then Aviles who lives in Ocean County? Do they own personal vehicles?
Eady allegedly owns a Mercedes, has anyone seen it? It has been reportedly parked at the jail for years now and was recently sighted in the Prosecutor's Office parking lot. Although we have not been able to confirm that it is the same vehicle, we have confirmed that Eady's registration is suspended.
Eady used 328 hours of sick time in 2010, did he use his County vehicle during those months? Eady has/had a 2nd job at the Newark Airport. How is he getting back and forth to the Airport? Is he using his County vehicle? Or his personal vehicle with the suspended registration? Why is he having financial problems? GMAC has been trying to serve him with a Breach of Contract suit for over a year now. They say he owes them $16,712.79, UNN-L-998-11.
The Union County Sheriff's Department has been to his residence on 8 separate occasions trying to serve him only to be told by a resident that he does not live there. The Post Office says he does. So where does he reside? Where is he parking the County vehicle?
Records from the Registrar's Office indicate that Eady has owned 3 residences over the past 6 years. Two were located in Jersey City and one is located in Union County. Records also show that he had numerous outstanding tax liens on the properties and all were subject to foreclosure.
One of the properties he purchased 11/22/2006 from a subordinate for a whopping $325,000. Eady took 2 mortgages for the row home located on Rutgers Avenue. The subordinate purchased the home 8/10/05 for $180,000. Shortly after Eady made the purchase, he let the home go into foreclosure. Someone pocketed a nice chunk of change. I really need to get the name of that appraiser!
Six months later, on 5/14/07, Eady did the same thing with a second property on Grant Avenue which he took a $320,400 mortgage to purchase then let it go to foreclosure.
Court documents also show a third foreclosure proceeding for Eady in 2009.
And then there is the trip to Rome he took last year.
We all know the well-publicized story over the medical services contract between CHS and CFG. Apparently, when it was all said and done, the Appellate Court left it up to the County to decided which company they would award the contract to and they awarded it to CFG. It just so happens that Eady's girlfriend is one of the top Administrators employed by CFG.
PENSION AND HEALTHCARE
It is a well known fact that the County saved millions of dollars on pensions and healthcare with the new and very controversial legislation enacted by Governor Christie making employee contributions mandatory.
Salaries have not increased in years as the Unions are trying to negotiate their contracts. Hudson County has not settled a Contract in 13 years and always goes to Arbitration.
Hudson County has paid the law firm of Scarinci & Hollenbeck to arbitrate the labor contracts since as far back as 1996 when they arbitrated PBA Local #232, Hudson County Prosecutor's Office Contract, IA-96-178.
Scarinici & Holleneck has been paid $2,327,598.10 between 2003 and 2010 to negotiate these contracts. In 2011 the County awarded them a $330,000 "Fair and Open Professional" no-bid contract and for 2012 the County has awarded another $300,000.00 "Fair and Open Professional"no-bid contract to Scarinci & Hollenbeck for their continued services.
Most recently, the County ran an end game around the Union and made numerous promotions without salary increases. At the same time the County was crying poor to these officers to dupe them into accepting no raise promotions they have been running background checks on an additional 40 candidates who they plan to hire shortly and send to the next Academy class.
Someone told DeGise that the Union agreed to the promotions leading him to make a fool out of himself in the media.
It may be prudent for County Executive DeGise to re-evaluate his selections for the top posts at the jail who are fiscally responsible for a $60 million dollar budget.
Move over Ricky, I hear they need a confidential aide in work release! Hold on to your lunch money!