Not an issue in Secaucus; Indicted electrical inspector probably didn't commit offenses in town, mayor says
Ever since a man who does part-time electrical inspections for several North Hudson towns was indicted last month for extortion, Secaucus officials have wondered about the impact of the charges on Secaucus. Officials are wondering about inspector Wilfredo Vidal, and so are many of this administration's political critics, who claim the situation is the result of importing employees to Secaucus from the scandal-ridden communities in North Hudson. Vidal, whom numerous Hudson County municipalities shared as an inspector, was charged by federal authorities with extorting money from business owners in exchange for granting permits, and also with filing false tax returns. "As far as we know, Fred Vidal did nothing wrong in Secaucus," said Mayor Dennis Elwell last week, although he noted that he and other officials would keep an eye on the situation. Vidal worked less than 21 hours a week in Secaucus as electrical inspector, and Town Administrator Anthony Iacono confirmed recently that the FBI had requested various records in Secaucus. "They requested copies of contracts when he worked as a third party, copies of resolutions from 1991 when he was hired, and copies of permits he issued since 1991," Iacono said. Some have claimed that Iacono brought Vidal to Secaucus, as several North Hudson people have taken on Secaucus duties since Iacono became town administrator in 1997. But records show that Vidal initially came to Secaucus in 1991 as an employee of Middle Department Inc., a firm the town had hired to do its inspections. When Vidal opened his own company, the town gave him the contract. After the company collapsed in the mid-1990s, Vidal became the part-time inspector for numerous communities under a kind of shared services agreement. Under the provisions of that contract, Vidal would work 21 hours a week or less. A Town Hall source said Vidal averaged about 11 hours a week in Secaucus. The June 22 indictment covers the period from 1995 to 1999, when Vidal was employed as either a municipal employee or through his company, Comprehensive Inspection Agency of North Bergen. It states that Vidal allegedly took a total of $4,180 from seven victims throughout the county. Secaucus has suspended him without pay until there is a resolution to the matter. He was earning about $10,000 a year in Secaucus. Although inspection reports show that Vidal did numerous inspections in Secaucus in a short period of time - especially in the Harmon Cove area - local officials are confident that nothing illegal happened here. "Unlike some of the other cities where Vidal did work, Secaucus is a small town," Elwell said. "If something was illegal was going on here, someone would have said something. I'm not saying Vidal did anything wrong. But if he did in Secaucus, someone would have said something about it." In early July, Pat Politano, a public relations person hired part-time in Secaucus, was also named as the subject of an investigation for activities conducted in North Hudson. The state Attorney General's Office corruption unit has subpoenaed records detailing the arrangement between Politano's company, Strategic Message Marketing, and Union City's Urban Enterprise Zone. Elwell said whatever the outcome of that investigation is, it also had nothing to do with Secaucus.