While North Bergen officials remained steadfast in their silence regarding a Federal Bureau of Investigation search of township records last week, two reliable sources said that the search stems from work done by a heating and air conditioning contractor who provided work to township employees, while the township may have footed the bill.
According the two sources, the contractor was the focus of the Dec. 4 federal search on several township offices in Town Hall, the Municipal Utilities Authority and the homes of township officials.
The FBI investigation is still ongoing, and FBI officials remained silent about the source of the investigation.
The focus on a particular contractor may mean that the FBI search of Town Hall and the MUA offices is unrelated to the ongoing investigation regarding apparent illegal wrongdoing by former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski, who resigned under fire two months ago amid a variety of allegations.
It also may mean that North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco is not a target of the investigation, although other township officials could be implicated in the investigation.
Sacco could not comment on the investigation, citing an agreement of confidentiality made with federal officials and the U.S. Attorney's office regarding it.
"I said that we would completely cooperate with the investigation, but we will also cooperate with their respect to confidentiality," Sacco said. "No one has told us where the investigation leads. We will address things as they develop. Once we're officially notified, then we'll be willing to comment. We're hoping that it can be resolved as quickly as possible and that the cloud of controversy can be removed from us. Then, we can get back to business."
When Sacco was informed about the information collected about the center of the FBI search, he replied, "Well, then you know more than we do."
Sacco said that he hopes that the township residents remain to trust him and his administration during the investigation.
"I'm hoping that the residents don't lose their faith in what we do," Sacco said. "However, I must remind people that an investigation is what it is. It doesn't necessarily mean a crime has been committed. As mayor, I fully accept the responsibility of the investigation and I feel the brunt of it. I can assure you that I am not a target, nor has my home been searched or my office."
When Sacco was told that the investigation might have included one of the members of the Board of Commissioners, he replied, "I have seen no sign of that whatsoever and I will stick to that."
Wednesday morning marked the first time that Sacco, the Board of Commissioners and Township Administrator Joseph Auriemma appeared together in public, at the town's regularly scheduled commissioners' meeting.
The opening of the meeting was delayed by 35 minutes while the commissioners were in a private caucus to discuss the possibility of "attorney-client privileges." These will allow any township employee to secure outside counsel in regards to the federal investigation. The town will compensate the attorneys in regards to representation of the township employee.
A resolution regarding the plan was introduced and adopted.
The mood at the meeting was particularly dour and sullen, considering the events that transpired the week before. Auriemma's home in Bloomfield had been one of those searched. He continued to decline comment last week.
When the business portion of the meeting was concluded, Sacco addressed the audience, filled with his opponents, informing them of the plans of the public portion of the meeting.
"I am honoring the requests of the federal government not to discuss the details of the activities which took place last week," Sacco told the audience. "We are cooperating with the investigation."
But tell us anyway
Although regular meeting attendee Gary "Corky" Krikorian addressed the commissioners with his general opposition stance, he later on offered some legitimate concerns about the fire safety of Town Hall, which was constructed in 1906.
Krikorian first sarcastically congratulated Sacco.
"Nick, you say we're No. 1 all the time, well, congratulations, we were the first town to have a raid conducted on it since Sept. 11," Krikorian said. "You say that you're not involved in the investigation and I believe you, but if you do become involved, will you resign immediately?"
Sacco remained stoic and refused to answer Krikorian's question.
"Let it be known he didn't answer me," Krikorian said.
Krikorian then produced a list of what he believes to be fire hazards that currently exist at Town Hall, including no fire escapes from the second and third floors, no sprinkler system and no smoke alarms.
After the meeting, Sacco said in his office that Krikorian "had some legitimate concerns, but that I have to take everything he says with a grain of salt. I listen to everyone and I check out anything I believe to have legitimacy."
Added Sacco, "We have had meetings to discuss the safety of the building and the handicapped access of the building. The building is old and we have been doing repairs. But we have some decisions to be made about the building in the future."
Russell Pascale and Edward "Bo" Scannavino, who also attend the meetings to offer opposition to Sacco, both spoke as well. Pascale criticized Sacco's hiring record, claiming that "30 current employees, all political hires, are convicted felons."
When it came for Scannavino's turn to speak, he stood silent at the podium for more than a minute, just staring at Sacco.
"This is what you call open government," Scannavino said. "And you just sit there, saying nothing. I'm waiting for you to answer and you don't answer."
Another vocal opponent, Jack Ventre, was removed from the meeting for making three comments from the audience.
After the meeting, township attorney Herb Klitzner addressed the stance of keeping silent.
"The public portion is purely discretionary," Klitzner said. "There is no law that requires any public entity. We chose to have one. So we now have decided how to handle it. We tried to address some issues, but it's become a waste of time. There is absolutely nothing to gain now by responding. That's why if anyone has a legitimate concern, we will discuss it at any time, not just a meeting."
"No matter what is said, they're all here on a political agenda," Sacco said. "They're all friends of Joe Mocco [the former township clerk who served a five-year prison term, but was released in January of 2000]. None of what they say is truthful, so it doesn't make sense to have a truthful conversation with them. They can say anything they want. I'm not going to dignify it with a comment. When a real citizen comes in, I'll talk about it. Right now, it's not worth the time."
The township Board of Commissioners will meet again after the holidays on Jan. 9, 2002.