Firefighter from Union involved in extortion case

UNION — A township fireman’s job is on the line early next year once an FBI case involving him wraps up.

Last May a federal grand jury charged John Balsamo, 48, of West Long Branch, with conspiring to collect a debt using extortion and threats of harm.

Timothy Kelly, 36, a Union firefighter, teamed up with Balsamo, a former Essex county sheriff’s officer, in addition to 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.”

In February, Kelly and Robert Bantang Jr., 43, pleaded guilty to conspiring to collect a debt from the victim using extortion. But the story behind the charge goes much deeper and sounds like a scene from the former HBO television series “Soprano’s.”

The FBI indictment alleged that 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.

During the same incident, according to the indictment which LocalSource obtained,  Balsamo allegedly told the victim if he brought his “boys” it would have “gotten done right in here, right in this place, right like this, in front of everybody. And your wife gets it, too.”

Balsamo also told the victim the “old man” has been promoted, implying he now was higher in the organized crime ranks, according to the indictment and federal authorities.

The issue began as early as November 2009, but the indictment does not name Kelly and Bantang as defendants.

But the indictment specifically mentioned that Balsamo and “others” participated in the “use of extortionate means,” that is, “involving the use of express and implied threats of violence.”

“The object of the conspiracy was to threaten violence and economic harm to the victim and others in order to collect an extension of credit made by Timothy Kelly to the victim and to punish the victim for the non-payment of that extension of credit,” the indictment reads.

The indictment goes on to explain that it  was part of the conspiracy that Kelly would periodically meet with the victim to collect payments on the $50,000 extension of credit that Kelly had made to the victim in November 2009.

It was further part of the conspiracy, the indictment said, that when the victim experienced difficulty making additional payments towards the debt in the fall of 2010, Balsamo informed the victim that “the  $50,000 had been supplied by an individual associated with organized crime,” and he had been sent by Kelly to speak to the victim about payment.

Balsamo, authorities said, also received a Rolex watch and $2,500 in cash from the victim towards the payment of the debt. Balsamo also showed the victim a key, which he claimed would allow him to gain access to the job site where the victim’s restaurant was being constructed.

After that, Kelly and Balsamo solicited Bantang to visit the Brick construction site and  allegedly threatened the victim about the money he owed, and based on instructions from Kelly and Balsamo, conveyed specific threats to the victim at the construction site on three occasions.

In particular, the indictment indicated, Bantang told the victim he was sent by the “old man.” In March 2011, Kelly and Balsamo again went to Brick to the now completed restaurant of the victim, and told the victim he had until Saturday at 10 a.m. to pay the debt.

In conversations that took place at that time, Kelly told the victim he had made his “bones” when he was 16-years-old and was not used to “sweet toeing around.”

Kelly, the indictment explained, also threatened the victim saying “you deserve a beating just out of principle.”

Balsamo told the victim in March that he had to pay the full remaining amount of the loan because he had “missed too many payments.” Kelly told the victim he had until April 1 to hand over $70,000, the revised amount demanded to satisfy the loan. Authorities said Kelly told the victim he did not care how the victim got the money and that it was not his problem.

Late last week Township Administrator Ron Manzella confirmed that Kelly was still working as a Union firefighter.

“He is still employed by the township, but although we have not taken any action on this matter, we will be as soon as the FBI has completed their case,” he said.

Manzella explained that the incident Kelly was involved in “appeared to be of a criminal nature, but during an investigation you are innocent until proven guilty.”

“I will be taking action because certain crimes that employees are involved in make it so you can lose your job and never work in government again,” the township administrator said.