UNION COUNTY — A former Union County director of facilities management pled guilty in federal court last week to charges he conspired with a vendor, cheating the county out of as much as $200,000 in revenue.
Aniello “Niel” Palmieri, 56, of Toms River, resigned just days before he appeared in Newark federal court, pleading guilty to mail fraud. The former employee worked for the county for 23 years, earning $111,800 a year, plus benefits, prior to handing in his resignation Sept. 30. The former county employee could lose a portion of his pension, but not all of it.
New Jersey State statutes indicate anyone holding a public office or public employment that is convicted of a crime has to forfeit the pension money earned during the time the crime was committed.
The former county employee faces up to 56 months in jail for this crime and is expected to be sentenced in January, according to information obtained from sources close to the case. Palmieri also has to reimburse the county $100,000.
On Monday county sources indicated the entire scheme, which took place between 2006 and 2010, involved one vendor, Frank Vicendese, owner of the Viva Group of Warren, who gave Palmieri kickbacks in cash, gift cards, expensive appliances and gym equipment in order to continue doing business with the county. The Viva Group deals in building maintenance and repair, commercial and industrial services, including cleaning, vending machines and moving.
According to one source, who had access to court documents, Palmieri conspired with the vendor, submitting fake vouchers to the county and then split the proceeds with Vicendese, who also pleaded guilty to mail fraud in federal court and agreed to reimburse the county $100,000.
Initially, Vicendese produced fake invoices for items he never provided to Palmieri, who signed off on the goods. The former facilities director then submitted the invoices to the county for payment, accepting half the money the owner received. The mail fraud took place when Palmieri sent checks through the U.S. Postal system to Vicendese, which violated federal law.
Union County Communication Director Sebastian D’Elia confirmed Friday that Palmeri had been involved in the illegal activity, noting that they were notified the former employee had pled guilty in federal court.
“We are outraged by this former employee’s reprehensible actions. Immediate steps will be taken to recover any missing funds through the legal system,” D’Elia said, adding the county had “internal controls in place to serve as a check and balance in the purchasing process and while no policy is ever fool proof, we will review our existing controls and make amendments as necessary.”
The communications director said the county has a “zero tolerance policy” toward theft and corruption in county government and they “applaud the prosecution of those who dare perpetuate such actions.”
When asked if the county was notified by the U.S. Attorney in Newark about the investigation that resulted in authorities first seizing $25,800 from Palmieri’s Toms River home in September 2010, D’Elia said officials were never notified by federal agents about the allegations against the facilities director. He did say there had been “rumors” circulating for years about Palmieri, but nothing more.
Earlier this year Palmieri was named as one of the county employees taking home county generators worth $8,000 to $15,000 after superstorm Sandy hit. Although former Union County prosecutor Ted Romankow never acknowledged the facilities director was involved in the inquiry, sources in the prosecutor’s office at the time confirmed that Palmieri’s name was on the list. Other employees included employees from Administration, Department of Public Safety, Division of Police and the Sheriff’s Department.
Sources said that although Palmieri initially denied the allegation, later it was discovered that he hauled one of the generators down to his Toms River home.
After the prosecutor’s inquiry found there was no criminal intent on the part of the employees involved, the entire matter was referred back to County Manager Al Faella for action. Because the issue involved personnel, the county would not comment on the matter, merely indicating the issue would be dealt with internally.
Monday New Jersey Republican Assembly candidates Chris Hackett and Charles Donnelly called on Union County Undersheriff Joe Cryan to return the $1,000 donated by Palmieri during a previous campaign.
Hackett claimed Palmieri “was given free housing on top of other perks from political insiders who control Union County.” He also questioned the “anything goes atmosphere at the courthouse that allows crimes like these to go unpunished for so long.”