Despite conviction, Union firefighter keeps his job

UNION — A Union fireman whose job was on the line in 2012 because of an FBI investigation might be back at work, but not everyone is happy about it.

In May 2012, when a federal grand jury charged Long Branch resident John Balsamo with conspiring to collect a debt using extortion and threats of harm, township firefighter Timothy Kelly’s name came up during the investigation.

According to the indictment obtained from the FBI at the time, Kelly teamed up with Balsamo, a former Essex County Sheriff’s officer, along with an Oceanport man, to make an Ocean County victim believe the $50,000 he borrowed from Kelly was actually owed to a mob figure referred to as “the old man.”

Subsequently Kelly pleaded guilty to conspiring to collect a debt from the victim using extortion. According to the indictment, in March 2011 Balsamo approached the victim, an Ocean County contractor building a restaurant in Brick, and warned him “the old man” wanted him beat up because he failed to repay the debt.

Authorities maintained the object of the conspiracy between Balsamo and Kelly was to threaten violence and economic harm to the victim in order to collect an extension of credit made by Kelly to the victim in November 2009.

However, when the victim had difficulty paying back the loan, Kelly and Balsamo conspired to periodically meet with the victim to collect payments on the $50,000 and exert “implied threats of violence.”

When the victim experienced difficulty making additional payments towards the debt in 2010, Balsamo informed the victim the $50,000 had been supplied by an individual associated with organized crime, which took the crime to another level.

The victim eventually went to authorities, who turned it over to the FBI, and Kelly and Balsamo were arrested. In 2012, after news that the firefighter had been charged with the crime, Township Administrator Ron Manzella confirmed that Kelly was still working as a firefighter and the township had not taken any action in the matter because the FBI was still investigating the matter.

Manzella did say at the time he would be taking action against Kelly “because certain crimes that employees are involved in make it so you can lose your job and never work in government again.”

Fast forward a few years and it appears that this is not always the case. Kelly, under house arrest for four months, returned to work in October, much to the surprise of many who assumed he would be out of a job.

However, according to Manzella, the fact Kelly retained his position and was able to return as a township firefighter had more to do with what a municipality is legally permitted to do when an employee is involved in a crime. It all has to do with the degree of the crime, he said, and when all was said and done, the charge did not meet the standard required to fire Kelly.

In an interview with LocalSource recently, Manzella explained Kelly provided testimony for the government and as a result pled to a lesser crime than extortion. His punishment, though, included four months house arrest.

“If the crime rose to a certain degree, the person can never work in government again,” said the administrator, but noted the township is a Civil Service municipality and bound by law concerning the firing of employees.

Manzella said the township simply could not fire Kelly because the crime he was convicted with did not rise to the level required by Civil Service for firing. Manzella said the difference between what Kelly was initially charged with and the fact those charges were reduced changed the outcome of whether the firefighter was in danger of losing his position.

“A municipality has to measure the level of the crime and what the punishment was initially, which in this case was suspension without pay, before deciding if he should lose his job or not,” Manzella explained, pointing out that if he fired Kelly based on the initial charge of extortion, the firefighter would have appealed to Civil Service and the township would have lost the case.