Third time's the charm; City gets another round of subpoenas from state Corruption Unit
UNION CITY - Just 15 minutes after a new city attorney was appointed at a special Union City Board of Commissioners meeting last Saturday, he got the chance to perform his first official duty: announcing the arrival of the city's third set of subpoenas from the Corruption Unit of the state's Attorney General's office. The commissioners were apprised by attorney Donald Scarinci of Secaucus that the latest requests had arrived at 4:24 p.m. on Friday. These subpoenas targeted the city's Urban Enterprise Zone. The subpoenas came just one week after the Union City Democratic Organization and the Board of Education were issued similar subpoenas asking for all financial records pertaining to the time when Mayor Rudy Garcia was chairman, beginning in 1998. Mayor Garcia's political fortunes began turning recently due to budget difficulties and battles with commissioners. In May, several commissioners voted to strip him of some of his mayoral duties. The subpoenas are only the latest of his worries. The Attorney General's office has declined to comment on what specifically they are investigating. The information on the new round of subpoenas was forwarded to Scarinci by Eric Burnstein, who was corporation counsel until July 1, when Scarinci was appointed. (Scarinci had actually served the city until last year, but his contract was terminated by Garcia's administration.) The four-page document specifically asks for any records concerning Strategic Message Marketing, the public relations firm hired by the Urban Enterprise Zone to promote the area's merchants, and Patrick Politano, one of the company's top figures. The UEZ is an agency that participates in a statewide initiative to encourage local business growth. According to Scarinci, Strategic Message Marketing represented the largest account that the UEZ held. Scarinci also noted that Politano was terminated at the May 20 reorganization meeting during which the commissioners stripped Garcia of many of his mayoral responsibilities. The subpoena further asks for all materials and documents "relating to policies governing the payment of fees for services rendered" on all professional service contracts held by the UEZ. Besides Strategic Message Marketing, the UEZ used other companies for facade repair, to make the outside of the businesses look more attractive to shoppers. The documents are expected to be presented to a Grand Jury on July 12 at 10 a.m. A Grand Jury is convened to hear evidence in a criminal investigation. However, Grand Juries do not determine guilt or innocence, but rather, they decide whether there is enough evidence to bring a matter to a trial. Grand Jury proceedings are confidential. "These subpoenas just say documents," Scarinci said last week. "No people are going to have to testify, but it is likely that there will be a follow-up." Original subpoenas
The first set of subpoenas, received last month, specifically asked for records concerning Hart Association, a group to which the Union City Democratic Organization gave money. The subpoenas also asked for records concerning the Board of Education's computers being used for political purposes, Scarinci said. Just a few weeks earlier, the city's electrical code inspector, Wilfredo Vidal, was charged with seven counts of extortion and several counts of filing false federal income tax returns. "This appears to be something different," said Scarinci when asked if there might be a connection. Commissioners Ralph Fraguela and Michael Leggiero received copies of the latest subpoenas, since they have served as chairmen of Revenue and Finance for the city. Since the July 1 meeting was not a regularly-scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting, Scarinci announced that the commissioners could not go into closed session about the new subpoenas. However, a closed session will be scheduled before the regular meeting on July 11, where the commissioners will discuss the documents before they have to bring them to the Grand Jury.