NORTH BERGEN -- The director of operations for the Housing Authority of North Bergen was arrested Wednesday morning on charges of allegedly extorting employees of a maintenance company contracted by the authority, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
The Housing Authority is federally funded and oversees locally subsidized and senior housing.
John T. Kennell, aka “Jack Kennell,” 49, of North Bergen, is charged by Complaint with one count of obstructing and affecting commerce by extortion under color of official right and induced by fear of economic harm. Kennell was scheduled to make his initial appearance Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in Newark federal court.
“The North Bergen Housing Authority learned of Mr. Kennell’s arrest this morning,” said Executive Director Diane Peirano-Ingvaldsen of the North Bergen Housing Authority. “He has been suspended without pay, effective immediately. We take this matter very seriously and are fully cooperating with the investigation.”
The complaint makes these allegations:
"While the director of operations for the NBHA, Kennell [allegedly] used his official position to extort cash payments from employees of a company (Company 1) that provided repair and grounds maintenance services. Kennell, who supervised the employees of Company 1 working for the authority, accepted cash payments in amounts ranging from $100 to $400 from employees for, among other things, facilitating additional paid vacation days for these employees. Kennell assisted in securing these additional paid vacation days by [allegedly] falsely reporting to Company 1 that the employees were working at the NBHA, when they were, in fact, traveling outside of the United States. Between February 2008 and June 2011, Company 1 compensated employees for approximately 80 days of unauthorized vacation, totaling $12,498, because of Kennell’s actions.
"Kennell [allegedly] accepted approximately $2,000 to $2,500 in payments for his official assistance in this fraud. He also [allegedly] accepted cash payments of approximately $50 to $100 from an undocumented employee of Company 1 for permitting that employee to twice change the alias that employee was using to continue working..."
The extortion count charged in the Complaint carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
For past Housing Authority stories that have appeared in the Hudson Reporter, see links below.