OPRA request reveals freeholder’s son is involved in county criminal investigation, the county won’t release the recordsBy Tina Renna | April 13, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Walter M. Luers, Esq.
23 West Main Street
Clinton, New Jersey 08809
UNION COUNTY- The Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA) has filed a law suit in Union County Superior Court seeking access to investigatory records involving a former Union County employee, Patrick Scanlon, Jr., who is the son of freeholder Deborah Scanlon.
On March 30, 2012 Tina Renna requested copies of all investigations, including Union County police, sheriff and prosecutor into the matter involving former county employee Patrick Scanlon, Jr. The request was made pursuant to the Open Public Records act and the common law right of access.
By law the county has up to 7 business days to respond to OPRA requests starting with the day after the request was made. The county responded on the 6th day allowable by law (11 days after Renna requested the documents).
On April 10, 2012, the county responded to the request, stating in part: Please be advised that these documents are on file with the County Police; however, they are criminal investigatory records that are not subject to disclosure under the OPRA.
It took Renna and her attorney Walter Luers only two days to file a lawsuit seeking access.
The complaint charges the investigation of Scanlon, Jr. concerned allegations that he allegedly sold County property for personal gain. We believe the County’s investigation against Scanlon, Jr. has been closed without formal charges being filed.
The public has a strong interest in learning the details of the County’s investigation to determine whether nepotism or favoritism played any role in the investigation of Scanlon, Jr. The public’s interest in acquiring the documents outweigh any interest in continued secrecy that the County may have.
The UCWA is demanding the disclosure of the investigatory files maintained by the County Police on Patrick Scanlon, Jr., and award of costs of the lawsuit and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Background statement prepared by Tina Renna:
The Star-Ledger reported on March 1, 2012 that Freeholder Scanlon announced she would be stepping down at the end of the year to make more time for her family. According to public records, Mr. Scanlon was hired by Union County as a laborer ( $33521) in August 2011. Mr. Scanlon left the county payroll sometime in January 2012. Public records show that a Patrick Scanlon was convicted of Theft by Unlawful Taking on January 25, 2010 and sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation by Union County Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donohue.
Judge Donohue is the brother in law of Union County Undersheriff/ Assemblyman/Union Township Democratic Municipal Chairman/former State Democratic Chairman Joseph Cryan. Donohue began his judicial career in the Essex County Sheriff’s office under then Sheriff John Cryan, Joseph’s Cryan’s father, and Undersheriff Patrick Scanlon, Mr. Scanlon’s grandfather.
The public has a strong interest in learning the details of the County’s investigation to determine whether nepotism or favoritism played any role in the investigation of Scanlon, Jr. This is on the heels of the Musicfest investigation which was undertaken by the Union County Prosecutgor only after citizens refused to let the obvious malfeasance of 2010 Musicfest be covered up.
The UCWA put countless hours into following the Musicfest dollars year after year, the county’s numbers never added up. I was very vocal in my disapproval that the Union County Prosecutor was allowed to investigate the county and former manager, George Devanney who is Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew. I do not believe government should be allowed to police itself and the public needs to be vigilant to ensure justice is meted out equally to all citizens.
County employees have been held accountable for much less over the years, Musicfest and the way this Scanlon investigation appears to be playing out is in sharp contrast to how the rank and file, un-connected employees have been treated by Union County government for alleged theft through the years.
The prosecutor’s investigation into Musicfest subsequently found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing but discovered numerous shoddy accounting practices and handshake-style deal making with contractors, according to a letter made public by the Prosecutor in August 2011. Cash was unaccounted for, the county misplaced money and contractors were overpaid by tens of thousands of dollars.
In one example, the prosecutor’s office found more than $15,000 in cash revenues stored in a county safe months after Musicfest, apparently forgotten by employees including the county manager and the then finance director. The Prosecutor’s report mentions that the county manager handled the cash collected from the “Beer Garden”. “The LHS “Beer Garden” generated a significant amount of cash through the sale of alcoholic beverages. This money was collected by County employees. The money was then ultimately transported to the Union County Administration Building where it was placed in a safe at the Union County Finance Department. The total amount placed in the safe was $37,507 (The prosecutor reported, although there were no receipts to back up this amount.) This money was then deposited in the Union County Chapter of LHS’s bank account. These deposits were made incrementally by George Devanney. When questioned as to the reason behind this method of deposit, Devanney informed our investigator that he did this as a safety precaution because he was not comfortable carrying large amounts of cash at one time.”
According to the Internal Revenue Service: $10,000 is the sum that triggers federal reporting requirements. Making multiple deposits less than $10,000 is a practice that is known as “structuring” and it is illegal. This practice is typically used to evade taxes or to hide money used for illicit purposes.
The Prosecutor’s report does not mention that the County Manager, along with family members, county vendors and friends, have been given exotic trips through the LHSF for raising these funds.
This Is It!, the main contractor responsible for organizing the event, was over budget by more than $77,000, so then county manager George Devanney allowed the company to retain profits, the prosecutor wrote. But investigators found This Is It! was overpaid more than $24,000.
Romankow wrote: “The use of public monies demands much more than it received.” However no county employee was held accountable. George Devanney and the Director of Finance Lawrence Caroselli resigned/retired under other pretenses with laudatory congratulations from all freeholders including Scanlon. Prosecutor Romankow and his first assistant attended George Devanney’s retirement party.
The Musicfest investigation, along with the Scanlon investigation, are in sharp contrast to how un-connected county employees have been treated over alleged thefts and wrongdoing through the years. In these cases freeholders were outspoken about the alleged wrongdoing and press releases were issued by the county. Employees were held accountable to fullest extent of the law.
A few examples:
July 2007 the Star Ledger reported an employee of the Union County Clerk’s office is scheduled to be in court today to answer charges she stole $3,500 while on the job.
May 2009 the Star Ledger reported that two employees of the Union County parks department were charged with theft, in what authorities say were unrelated incidents.
The Union County Watchdog Association has also written Governor Christopher Christie and the State Attorney General alerting them to these alarming occurances.