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"This is the kind of shit where motherfuckers go to jail.”
« Reply #1 on: 10-30-2017, 03:13pm »
Recording surfaces of Fulop allies allegedly attempting to influence city contract
By MATT FRIEDMAN
10/30/2017 07:00 AM EDT

In a grainy, profanity-laced recording from 2014 that Jersey City officials are fighting to keep secret, Mayor Steve Fulop’s top aide and another political ally appear to be trying to steer a city contract to a specific company, circumventing a public bidding process.

“I looked at the RFPs [requests for proposals], and I put Good Energy on top and I put it on his desk. And I said, ‘We’re good, right?’” a man identified as Jersey City employee and Democratic Chairman Shawn “Sully” Thomas says to a man identified as Muhammed Akil, Fulop’s chief of staff, in court documents.

The "desk" referred to in the 13-minute recording is that of city employee Dominick Pandolfo.

Two lawsuits are seeking to force the city to release the recording, a copy of which has been obtained by POLITICO.

The men identified as Akil and Thomas in depositions given in one of the lawsuits discuss dangling a part-time job in front Pandolfo to secure his vote for an energy aggregation contract for which the city had solicited public bids. The company Thomas refers to in the recording, Good Energy, was one of those bidders.

Pandolfo sat on the three-member committee charged with recommending a company for the city contract. Pandolfo served as chief of staff to former Mayor Jerramiah Healy, whom Fulop defeated in 2013.

The February 2014 recording wasn’t made by someone wearing a wire. Rather, it was allegedly left accidentally on the voicemail of Pandolfo’s boss, Jersey City Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski, according to depositions filed by Kakoleski and Pandolfo as part of another city employee’s lawsuit against the city.

The recording is of poor quality and significant portions are inaudible. But the parts that can be made out back up the story included in the depositions, and paint a damning picture of the political culture in Jersey City — a city already notorious for corruption. Fulop, who came to power as a reformer against the city’s ethically-challenged officials, is seeking his second term as mayor in next Tuesday's election.

At the time of the recording, Fulop, a Democrat, harbored statewide ambitions and was laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run. He unexpectedly chose not to run for governor in late 2016 but his name still surfaces as a statewide prospect. He has gauged allies’ interest in him running for U.S. Senate if Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez is convicted in his ongoing corruption trial, according to The Jersey Journal.

Jersey City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill refused to answer specific questions about the recording and the circumstances surrounding its discovery. Instead, she sent POLITICO a written statement.

“When this was brought to the mayor’s attention in 2014, he acted swiftly and properly in reporting the tape to the authorities and canceling the bid. It has been the city’s policy for five years to not comment on litigation, and we will remain consistent here,” Morrill said. “As this tape is four years old and the mayor took appropriate action immediately, we think anyone can see that the timing of this points to politics by the former Mayor’s Team during the final stretch of the election.”

On the recording, Akil suggests in graphic language that this isn’t the first time he’s attempted to steer a publicly-bid contract toward a preferred bidder.

“Two f---ing strikes on Kako,” Akil says to Thomas, referring to Kakoleski. “The same f---ing situation, the same f---ing situation with the grant. Who had to pull that s--- through? Me, right? He’s the f---ing B.A. [business administrator]. Handle that, you know? Now I’m doing the same thing again.” Akil never elaborates on what “the grant” was.

Kakoleski said in his deposition that after he discovered the recording on his voicemail, he sent a copy to Pandolfo.

Kakoleski said he played the recording for Fulop.

According to the depositions by Kakoleski and Pandolfo, neither Akil nor Thomas were disciplined. Akil remained as Fulop’s chief of staff for nearly a year after the recording came to light, stepping down only after an unrelated controversy. Thomas, who became Jersey City Democratic chairman in 2013 with Fulop’s support, continued in the role until this year.

The recording begins with Akil speaking to someone on the phone.

“Hey, Good Energy is important to us. And I really like their proposal. I thought their proposal was the strongest. And I’m wondering how the three-person committee is leaning. OK?” Akil says. “So, um … can you check the temperature, please? Yeah, check the temperature and, you know, certain things are important. OK?”

The call concludes, but the recording continues.

Akil repeatedly yells, “Jesus f---ing Christ.”

“This is f---ed up,” Thomas says.

Thomas describes Pandolfo as growing uneasy during their conversation at Pandolfo's desk. “He was kind of like, ‘back off,’” Thomas says, adding that Pandolfo then “walked out.”

Pandolfo had been seeking a part-time job on the staff of Democratic Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, who was then a Fulop ally, and had discussed the prospect with Fulop, according to Pandolfo’s deposition. In the recording, Thomas seems to refer to that potential job.

Thomas says he arranged a meeting between Pandolfo and “Tommy” — identified in depositions as Fulop’s chief political consultant, Tom Bertoli. But after the incident over Good Energy, Pandolfo canceled the meeting.

“I’ve got to be honest with you. This guy makes me f---ing very uncomfortable. He canceled the meeting with f---ing Tommy that he kissed my f---ing ass to get on the f---ing payroll to get this pension,” Thomas says to Akil, referring to Pandolfo. “We were going to f---ing try to work to get something with the f---ing guy because of Good Energy.”

Nothing in the recording explains why Fulop’s aides were allegedly pushing for Good Energy. Last month, the company’s attorney told POLITICO it “never sought to improperly influence Jersey City contract decisions or the contract decisions of any potential customer.”

Reached by phone, Bertoli said the meeting Thomas set up with Pandolfo had nothing to do with Good Energy.

“Shawn putting it together had nothing to do with Good Energy. It was Dominick trying to meet with me,” Bertoli said. “At the time, Dominick was trying to get on the payroll of Raj Mukherji, (in the) Assembly. Basically at that point he figured I would be the one who would helpful for him to do that based on politics.”

Akil and Thomas did not respond to phone calls and an email seeking comment.

Later in the recording, Akil says he has to “call Kako back,” and he gets in touch with him, though it’s unclear if it’s on his office line or via cell phone.

“I’m calling you again because I don’t want another problem. I don’t want another problem, and you don’t want another problem,” Akil says. “You need to speak with the people on your staff, OK? There are only three people, and speak to one or both of the people on your staff, OK?”

Then Akil addresses Thomas again.

“What I don’t like about this, see, f---ing straight up this is the kind of s--- where motherf---ers go to jail,” Akil says. It's unclear from the context whether that's Akil’s own thought or something Kakoleski said to him because Akil follows it up by saying “the f--- it is.”

The Kakoleski and Pandolfo depositions were taken as part of a harassment lawsuit city employee Dan Wrieden filed against the city and Anthony Cruz, director of the Department of Housing, Economic Development & Commerce.

Cruz, Pandolfo and fellow city employee John Mercer were on the three-member contract selection committee.

Pandolfo, in his deposition, claimed Cruz also pressured him to recommend Good Energy for the contract. Cruz’s voice is not heard on the recording, but at one point Akil refers to him when talking about the contract, saying he “understands” and he “f---ing gets it.”

“I don’t want to really have that conversation with John Mercer. John Mercer’s a good guy, but I’m not sure how his head is wired, know what I mean?” Akil says. “I’m definitely not having that f---ing conversation with Pandolfo. Based on what he … reacted to you.”

“Gotta get that guy out of that committee. F--- that,” Thomas responds, referring to Pandolfo.

Akil says he’s hesitant to remove Pandolfo from the committee. “How am I going to transfer his ass out of there? I’ve got to be careful about transferring him out right now,” he says.

Earlier this month, a judge sided with Wrieden’s request to compel the city to release the recording. The city is appealing, arguing the recording violated the state’s wiretapping law.

Another lawsuit related to Wrieden’s is seeking to force the city to release the recording through the Open Public Records Act. That lawsuit, which brought to light the depositions filed as part of Wrieden’s lawsuit, won’t be heard until December.

Fulop critics and activists in Jersey City have called on the City Council to demand the release of the recording and have gathering online petition signatures.

The city has refused to discuss details of the recording, citing pending litigation. But Fulop took to Twitter to claim that news of the recording was timed to damage him politically, and bashed Pandolfo because of his association with Healy.

“This is Former Healy chief of staff making accusation now during election season from 2014 event — reeks of Political season,” he wrote.

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"This is the kind of shit where motherfuckers go to jail.”
« Reply #1 on: 10-30-2017, 03:13pm »