New evidence has surfaced showing Paterson, New Jersey, city workers are doing jobs at a site tied to the mayor’s family, in some cases apparently on taxpayers' dime.
Two months ago, the I-Team released exclusive video showing Paterson workers doing private jobs at Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres' home while, in several cases, their time sheets showed they were on the clock for the city.
The I-Team has obtained additional records that show workers were also on the clock while doing a pet project for the mayor at a different site – a warehouse where his nephew planned to open a beer business.
On numerous days last year, videos show Torres visiting the construction site while city Department of Public Works employees labored there. In some cases, the workers were in uniform. In some cases, they arrived in city vehicles.
The videos were shot by a private eye hired by a developer who had a permit dispute with the city.
Neither Torres nor the workers returned repeated calls for comment.
On surveillance video reviewed by the I-Team, DPW carpenter Jorge Makdissi is seen several times at the warehouse, carrying tools, loading in boards and doing other work. Records obtained by the I-Team show Makdissi billed overtime to the city during some of the hours he is captured on video working at this private project.
On Monday, March 16, 2015, tapes show Makdissi started work at the East 15th Street warehouse around 4 p.m. Makdissi’s time sheets for that day show he billed taxpayers six hours of overtime starting at 4 p.m.
While Makdissi did not return the I-Team's calls for this story, he has denied wrongdoing in the past. He said he worked for the mayor for cash and never billed the city for work.
Paterson DPW supervisor Joseph Mania is also seen on the video working on a door after 4 p.m. March 16, while city records show he billed taxpayers overtime from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. that same day. He did not return calls for comment.
A third worker, Tim Hanlon, was also there that day.
He’s seen on the tape at 5:46 p.m. Records show he billed taxpayers six hours of overtime from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. that day.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, Hanlon is seen at the site just before noon holding a bottle. That same Saturday, records show Hanlon billed taxpayers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The I-Team met with Hanlon in March. At that time, he told the I-Team he never billed taxpayers overtime for side projects. Asked about his work at the warehouse, he said he did the work for free as a chance to spend time with the city’s mayor and share some beers with colleagues. He has not returned calls from the I-Team in recent days.
The tapes show Torres at the site repeatedly arriving in his city-issued suburban. At times he is seen walking around the site with various workers. Once, he is seen delivering what appears to be beer to workers at the site.
After the I-Team’s initial report in March, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office announced it would investigate. At the time, Torres denied that he had ever asked city workers to do personal jobs for him while they were on the clock.
In a Paterson Press newspaper report about the I-Team’s story, Torres told the newspaper that in one case, one or two city employees worked at his property to build four bookshelves in his daughter’s bedroom in the past year. He said the job was done on the employees’ own time, and that he paid for the supplies and gave the employees $50 for the work.
Former FBI official J.J. Klaver said the behavior documented on tape and in city records appears to be improper.
“If you’re the mayor of a city and you’re using public employees for your personal benefit, or to benefit your friends, your neighbors, your business associates, that could potentially be charged as a federal crime,” Klaver said.
Questions about the employees seen at the mayor’s home come amid a budget crisis in Paterson. At recent City Council meetings, angry residents have complained about rising taxes and failing city services. The City Council finally passed a budget this spring after an earlier budget rejection forced employees to stay home for a day without pay, and closed Paterson’s libraries, senior services and after-school recreation programs.