At last week’s freeholder meeting I asked during public comment why the County Manager, Al Faella, created a new County Civil Service Title for the supervisor of an employee who had pled guilty to stealing. I didn’t get a response.
According to court documents, County Employee Niel Palmieri plead guilty to an Information on March 25, 2013. Palmieri remained in his position until he resigned on September 27, 2013. On October 2, 2013 he pleaded guilty in Federal Court in Newark to Mail Fraud. Palmieri admitted to filing purchase orders for goods which were never received, the vendor, Viva Group, then paid kick-backs to Palmieri. Frank Vicendese of the Viva Group also pleaded guilty.
On November 20, 2013 another county vendor, Positive Attitude, pleaded guilty to An Information. This also included taking bribes with connection to county employee Niel Palmieri.
Sources within county government have confirmed that county management only became aware of the thefts after the guilty pleas were lodged in Federal Court.
The county never held employee Niel Palmieri’s direct supervisor, Joseph Graziano, accountable for lack of oversight in the purchasing process. The freeholders and county manager never apologized to the public for the theft, nor did they conduct an internal investigation into how much money or how many other employees and vendors were involved.
Instead the county has moved to further protect the admitted thief’s boss, Joseph Graziano, by creating a new Civil Service position for him. As a Department Head Graziano served at the pleasure of the County Manager and could be removed from his position without cause. This Civil Service protection makes it more difficult for Graziano to be held accountable and even fired.
The Union County Watchdog Association came to know this through its routine OPRA requests. On a monthly basis I request all Employee Position Control Changes. This one page document is created to change an employment status: hiring, promotions, transfers, titles changes, fund allocations (shows percentage of grant or county funds), hours, hiring date, starting proposed salary, etc.
Graziano was granted this new civil service title somewhere between April 15, 2013 (the first date on the position control) and October 18, 2013 (the date range of the OPRA request of where the position control was revealed). There is no effective date listed on the form, nor did County Manager Al Faella fill in the date next to his signature signing off, which is required on the form.
All highly suspicious facts:
1. A six-month time lapse between signatures
2. Missing required dates on the form– the Effective Date is left blank, as is the County Manager signature date.
3. A brand new Civil Service position being created – I can’t recall ever seeing this happen in the 6 years or so that I’ve been requesting these records.
4. A Department Head is supposed to take a mandatory leave of absence before taking on a civil service title. Graziano has not done so.
We can ascertain that Graziano’s new civil service title went into effect somewhere within September 9, 2013 and October 18, 2013 because that was the date range specified in the OPRA request.
The Civil Service position should also have been posted, sources within county government have confirmed that it wasn’t.
There is a 90-day probation period for all new civil service employees. Without an effective date, we don’t know when the clock started ticking.
To sum up what occurred when:
4/15/13 – first date of signature on the Position Control (appears to have been signed by County Manager as the department head)
??/??/?? – No county manager sign off date next to his signature when makes it the change official.
??/??/?? – No Effect Date of when the change goes into effect
9/9/13 – 10/18/13 – the date range of the OPRA request (which only turns up controls already in place – not pending controls).
3/25/13 – Niel Palmieri pleads guilty to An Information
9/27/13 – Niel Palmieri resigned his county position (within the position control OPRA request date range (9/9/13 – 10/18/13)
10/2/13 – Niel Palmieri plead guilty in Federal court to Mail Fraud (within the position control OPRA request date range- (9/9/13 – 10/18/13)
11/20/13 – Vendor Positive Attitude plead guilty in Federal court (also involving Palmieri, who wasn’t charged)
12/5/13 Freeholder Meeting – County Manager, County Counsel and 8 freeholders present gave no response to the following questions:
Why was Joseph Graziano rewarded for Niel Palmieri’s theft instead of reprimanded?
Why did they create a new Civil Service position – what was the need?
Why hasn’t Graziano taken the required leave of absence?
Why did the County Manager not issue the required date next to his signature and the effective date – he signed off on a faulty document.
Was the position posted?
Why was the position control in the works for 6 months? (Going in to effect sometime after Palmieri pled guilty in federal court)
Internal document granting Niel Palmieri’s boss protections: Position Control
Commentary on video:
This video shows my comments made during the freeholder meeting as well as Bruce Paterson’s. What I’d like to point out:
At the 1:26 marker: The Summit Councilmen leave – showing that they have no interest as to how the county conducts their business.
At the 3:45 marker: You see the armed county police officer moving towards me to position himself to remove me if I should go over my 5-minute speaking time. What isn’t shown is the same officer acted similarly when Bruce approached 5 minutes. Note that we have a county police force in place if citizens speak out of line – according to the freeholder chair; but no answers from county government as to why a county employee was allowed to steal untold amounts of money, over several years’ time, and why his supervisor isn’t being held accountable for the thefts, but protected instead.