Five Hudson County towns will not be using the services of local electrical code inspector Wilfredo Vidal of North Bergen for the time being, as Vidal has been indicted for allegedly extorting money for permits. The U.S. Attorney's office charged Vidal, 47, with seven counts of extortion and seven counts of filing false federal income tax returns two weeks ago. The indictment was handed down by a federal Grand Jury in Newark. According to the indictment, released by U.S. Attorney Robert Cleary, Vidal allegedly used his position as a construction code official and as an electrical inspector to extort money from individuals and/or businesses seeking permits to do construction or electrical work. He is charged with having done so sometimes as a municipal employee and sometimes through his company, Comprehensive Inspection Agency (CIA) of North Bergen. According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carlos Ortiz and Jeffrey Clark, who handled the investigation, Vidal allegedly extorted money from seven victims on 39 separate occasions between June, 1995 and 1999. The indictment charges that Vidal took a total of $4,180, and states that he allegedly would use contractors to make the demands for money on his behalf and to collect the illegal payments. The indictment alleges that Vidal threatened to order all construction or electrical work to cease if payments were not made to him. Also, as part of the indictment, Vidal has been charged with filing false personal income tax returns for the years of 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 and for filing false tax returns on behalf of his business, CIA, for the years 1994 through 1996. The tax charges in the indictment allege that Vidal failed to report the payments he received; that he used corporate funds to pay for personal expenses; that he inflated or fabricated business expenses to avoid corporate taxes; that he claimed business losses for a business that didn't exist; and that he claimed false exemptions on his taxes. Each count on the extortion charges is punishable with a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine and each count of falsifying tax returns is punishable with a maximum of three years in federal prison and a $100,000 fine. According to the indictment, Vidal allegedly demanded and accepted money from seven different unidentified sources throughout Hudson County. He allegedly took $1,500 from a private contractor, $200 from an auto repair shop, $600 from a different auto repair shop, $500 from a bakery, $1,100 from a medical practice that included a forced political contribution, $100 from a grocery store and $100 from a real estate office. Officials at the U.S. Attorney's office said that they could not divulge the names of the businesses or the operators. Can turn self in
Vidal has yet to be arrested on the charges. He has been given the opportunity to turn himself over to authorities within the next two weeks and will be processed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the investigation in the case against Vidal. Vidal had not turned himself in as of press time. Vidal's attorney, Peter Willis of Jersey City, did not return repeated phone calls by press time Thursday. He was quoted in a local publication as saying that his client was going to plead innocent of the charges. When the investigation began last July and FBI officials subpoenaed records from Union City on the case, Vidal was suspended without pay from his full-time, $60,000-a-year salaried position as Union City's chief construction and electrical code official. Vidal appealed the decision and was reinstated. He had been able to remain on the job in Union City, but officials planned after hearing about the indictment to suspend him, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. The remaining Hudson County municipalities decided to suspend Vidal immediately, according to officials in those towns. Hoboken, where Vidal had earned $26,000 annually working part-time since 1991, has suspended him indefinitely without pay. Vidal was also suspended from his $10,700-a-year part-time position with Secaucus, as well as from a smaller $5,000-per-year contract with Weehawken. Vidal has not been an employee in West New York since July, 1999, when the township decided to hire a full-time inspector. Weehawken township manager James Marchetti said last week, "The town policy is to suspend an employee as soon as an indictment is handed down." Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who also serves as the township administrator in West New York, had some concerns. "Although we never had an official complaint against Mr. Vidal, and right now these are allegations against him, we have a zero tolerance for anyone who abuses their public authority," Turner said. "We're always on the alert if an official steps over the line, and we will go immediately to the authorities. If someone turns out to be a bad apple, you remove him from the barrel. Unfortunately, you deal with that from time to time and you get someone who crosses the line between proper and improper behavior." Vidal was recently named the new president of the Latin American Kiwanis of Mid-Hudson and had been slated to take the reins as president sometime in August.