Last week, both Associated Press and the Bergen Record reported that the FBI investigation centered on contractors Leonard Farinola and Paul Roscitt for heating and air conditioning work allegedly done at the homes of town officials.
It was first reported in the North Bergen Reporter in December that the probe centered on possibly illegal heating and air conditioning contracting work.
According to township records, Farinola, a 40-year-old resident of Ridgefield, had received as much as $2.7 million in contracts to do air conditioning work for the town since 1993, while Roscitt, a resident of Fort Lee, had received as much as $2.5 million in contracts to do heating, electrical and construction work for the town.
According to a report in the Bergen Record, both Farinola and Roscitt, whose companies have long been associated with Mayor Nicholas Sacco's administration, have been the subjects of the FBI investigation into suspected overcharging for work done in the town, as well as doing work at the homes of public officials and sending the bill to the township.
The probe also included visits to the homes of former Township Administrator Joseph Auriemma and Vincent Zappulla, the current aide to Public Safety Director Theresa Ferraro who also doubles as Sacco's personal driver.
A source close to the investigation said last week that the probe has also included Commissioner Peter Perez, who is in charge of the township's Parks and Recreation Department. But Perez vehemently denied that he has had anything to do with the probe.
"I have not been implicated," Perez said. "There is no truth to it whatsoever. I have no idea where it's coming from."
Perez also denied that his home was searched in the investigation.
"It didn't happen," Perez said. "I'm telling you, they didn't search my home."
Sacco did not want to comment on the possibility that Perez might be implicated. Through township spokesman Craig Schmalz, Sacco maintained that the township continues to cooperate with the authorities and that none of his commissioners are involved in the investigation.
"The mayor asked him [Perez] if he was involved in it and he [Perez] said he wasn't," Schmalz said. "The mayor believes what he says."
When the story of the probe broke last December, Sacco remained steadfast that he was not involved in the investigation, nor were any of the commissioners.
"The investigation does not involve myself or any of the commissioners," Sacco said in December. "The agents didn't go into the mayor's office at all. They didn't go into any of our homes. They told us that they were looking for specific vendors, but we're not at liberty to say. I'm not concerned for me or any of the commissioners. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. As mayor of the community, I feel the full brunt of the investigation and I take it personally. But we're working as much as possible to make sure that we get rid of this corruption. I want it gone. I want the corruption rooted out and taken care of. That's why we're going to be as open and as helpful as possible."
In December, FBI agents went to Town Hall and the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority main office and took out records that showed all the business the aforementioned contractors had with the town and the MUA.
The FBI agents also inspected the homes of Auriemma, Zappulla and several other unnamed township officials to see if any of the two contracting firms had done work on their homes and billed the town.
Roscitt heads two businesses that had contracts with the township, namely Paul F. Roscitt Electric Inc. of Fort Lee and Mercury National Construction Corp., a Hackensack-based general contractor.
Roscitt did not return phone calls by press time.
Farinola, a former township resident and long-time friend of Sacco who heads Fresco Air Co. Inc. and Mechanical Contracting Services Inc., said that he couldn't comment fully on the investigation.
"I'm giving [the FBI] all the information that they need," Farinola said. "I'm willing to cooperate with the investigation and we're just waiting to see what's going to happen. We'll see what happens, but I'm really not worried about it."
There is some speculation that Farinola may become a key witness in the investigation in order to avoid prosecution. His attorney, Pat Giannetta of Wayne, refused to comment on those allegations.
The Bergen Record actually reported that Farinola had been cooperating and wore a wire to collect incriminating evidence in the case.
Farinola said that he couldn't comment on that allegation.
Giannetta told the Bergen Record that Farinola was advised by federal authorities more than six months ago that he is a target and his business records, as well as those of other contractors doing business with the township, were subpoenaed. He said authorities appear to be focusing on the township's billing practices.
"My understanding right now is that the U.S. Attorney's Office may believe that some of these contractors dealing with North Bergen may have been overpaid for work performed with the knowledge and or assistance of North Bergen officials," Giannetta told the Bergen Record. "Obviously, the investigation could conclude that it's not true. So, until there is an indictment, we just sit and wait."
U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Clark, who has headed the investigation from the outset, refused to comment on the situation, other than to say that the "investigation is ongoing."
A source close to the investigation said that indictments in the case could be handed down as early as next month. "But that also could be speculation," the source said. "I know that the U.S. Attorney's office wants to wrap up this investigation as quickly as possible and come to some sort of a resolution, whether it ends up with indictments or not."
According to the source and to published reports, the investigation is also checking into whether money paid to contractors somehow ended up in the hands of public officials in the form of kickbacks or went to fix up their homes, which is the more likely possibility.
Foot in the door
Farinola has held a variety of positions within the town. He is also an accomplished musician and bandleader for the Showtime Orchestra.
Farinola was hired to install and maintain several air-conditioning units in several township buildings over the last decade.
According to the Record "Since Farinola first got his foot in the door at Town Hall in the early 1990s, he has gone from setting up vending machines to installing and maintaining air-conditioning units in nearly a dozen public buildings". In the past five years, he has been the sole bidder on the maintenance contracts awarded by the town and by the MUA.
Before then, Farinola sought federal protection under bankruptcy laws after he was sued by a creditor and tax liens were placed against his home and business.
Just recently, the township severed all ties with Farinola and his business. In February, the MUA terminated the maintenance and repair contract it had with Fresco Air, citing a lack of performance. The township followed suit and ended the contract last month.
According to the Bergen Record, the North Bergen Building Department issued permits to Farinola's and Roscitt's businesses in 1995 when Zappulla apparently hired them to build a recreation room atop the garage behind his home on 64th Street. The two contractors also did work in 1996 after a fire at a Laundromat owned at the time by Zappulla's daughter.
Zappulla and his attorney, Sam DeLuca of Jersey City, declined to comment for this story.
DeLuca told the Bergen Record that he was sure that Farinola was paid properly for his work.
"There's no question that [Farinola] did the work, but our position is that he was paid for it and he [Farinola] knows fully well that he was paid for it," DeLuca told the Bergen Record. "He got all the work permits and things of that nature, so it wasn't like a hidden thing going on here. I'm confident it will work out."
DeLuca said that those records were turned over to the FBI as part of the investigation when Zappulla's home was examined in December.
DeLuca also told the Bergen Record "that it's not a secret anymore that Farinola is a cooperating witness."
It was not known whether Farinola had recorded any conversations that have might have implicated Auriemma, Zappulla or Perez.
If Farinola has turned state's witness against Auriemma, it would be a surprise, considering that Farinola has been a close friend of Auriemma's for ages. Auriemma and Farinola's families vacationed together and regularly had social outings together.