TRENTON – Attorney General Anne Milgram and Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni announced that New Jersey Assemblyman and former Perth Amboy mayor Joseph Vas was indicted Wednesday on charges he conspired with city employees to steal approximately $5,000 in funds of the City of Perth Amboy to pay for personal purchases and expenses.
Vas, 54, was also indicted with his personal driver, Anthony S. Jones, 48, of Perth Amboy, in connection with an alleged scheme in which Vas rigged a public lottery so that Jones won the opportunity to buy an affordable two-family home through the Perth Amboy Home Program.
Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. (D-Camden) removed Vas from his post as Assembly Deputy Majority Leader and his committee positions Thursday while calling on the Perth Amboy Democrat to resign.
“Any time an elected official is accused of using their office for personal gain, it stains the reputations of all of us who have chosen to dedicate ourselves to public service,” Roberts said. “Assemblyman Vas should do what is best for his constituents and the Assembly and resign from office.”
The charges against Vas stem from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The indictment charges that from June 2003 to September 2007, Vas fraudulently obtained payment from the Perth Amboy Recreation Department for personal expenses, including $1,450 in fees for two basketball camps for his son, $289 for refreshments for his father’s funeral, and hundreds of dollars for sportswear, sneakers, beachwear and other personal items for himself.
Vas allegedly conspired with city officials, not named in the indictment, to submit fraudulent invoices, purchase orders and vouchers for the expenses.
“Joseph Vas took an oath as mayor to honestly and faithfully serve his city, but instead he shamelessly exploited his position for personal gain,” said Milgram. “We charge that he stole taxpayer money from Perth Amboy’s recreation department to pay for personal expenses, including hundreds of dollars for clothing and sneakers for himself and $1,450 for basketball camps for his son. And by rigging a housing lottery, he rewarded his personal driver at the expense of the city, denying deserving families who might have been able to purchase this two-family home. Public officials are elected to serve the public, not exploit their positions for private gain.”
According to Gramiccioni, Vas was charged by a state grand jury with second-degree conspiracy, six counts of second-degree official misconduct, second-degree pattern of official misconduct, third-degree theft by unlawful taking, third-degree misapplication of government property, and third-degree tampering with public records or information. Jones was charged with one count each of conspiracy and official misconduct, both in the second degree.
Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
Four of the second-degree counts against Vas – three of the official misconduct counts and the pattern of official misconduct count – carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without parole because they involve conduct that occurred on or after April 14, 2007. The third-degree tampering with public records count carries a mandatory minimum of two years in prison without parole. The mandatory minimums were established under a new law signed by Governor Jon S. Corzine in March 2007 that significantly enhanced the punishment of government officials who are convicted of abusing their office and violating the public trust.
“Mayor Vas treated taxpayer money like his own, enlisting others to help him cover up his fraudulent expenditures,” said Gramiccioni. “Fortunately, the detectives and attorneys assigned to our Corruption Bureau uncovered his various schemes.”
In the fraud involving the housing lottery, Vas allegedly arranged for a co-conspirator, not named in the indictment, to conceal a folded index card bearing Jones’ name and pretend to randomly draw it as the winner from among 40 participants. As a result, Jones was able to purchase the low-income housing, which was made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development New Construction First Time Home Buyers Program. Jones paid $129,800 for the home and received $2,000 in subsidized closing costs from the city.
The expenses fraudulently billed to the city by Vas allegedly included:
- $1,400 in fees for a private basketball training camp, including $1,000 in fees for his son as well as fees for a co-conspirator’s son;
- $153.22 for beachwear for himself;
- $142.38 for sneakers and a duffle bag for himself;
- $3,800 for various expenses, including personal clothing and other unidentified items;
- $450 for a second basketball camp for his son;
- $289.37 for refreshments for his father’s funeral.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Maria Marinari Sypek in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Middlesex County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear at a later date to answer the charges. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The indictment is posted on the Attorney General’s Web page at www.njpublicsafety.com.
State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) issued this statement Wednesday evening:
“This is a sad day for Assemblyman Vas and his family, and an equally sad day for the people of the 19th Legislative District. Any time that a public official is involved in even an allegation of official misconduct, it puts a strain on the public trust. We hope the process undertaken today by the Attorney General’s office moves forward as fairly and efficiently as possible.”
(Updated Thursday, March 12, 2009)