New York

I-Team: Whistleblower Sues, Alleging Corruption, Retaliation in North Bergen

What to Know

  • Public housing meant for the needy in North Bergen are instead being given to political supporters of the town's mayor, insiders allege
  • Some administrators at the Housing Authority, as well as political supporters, are getting drastically reduced rents, insiders claim
  • The Housing Authority says similar claims have been made by political opponents of the mayor in the past, and "they have no merit"

The one-time deputy executive director at the North Bergen Housing Authority claims in a lawsuit that she was fired for trying to report corruption and misuse of tax dollars.

Carleen Earl worked at the North Bergen Housing Authority for 30 years, and said in a complaint that the NBHA at times gives apartments to political supporters of North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco ahead of needy families on the waiting list. 

“I had said it many, many times – this cannot last. It’s so blatant,” Earl said.

Earl said she first reported corruption allegations internally, then to Housing and Urban Development officials and even to the FBI. But when the alleged stealing and abuses continued unchecked, Earl says she then turned to the News 4 I-Team.  

“I was like, I’m going to do that because somebody should say something.”

Earl was one of several current and former workers who tried to blow the whistle. After the I-Team aired reports alleging corruption, Housing Security Director Geoffrey Santini was fired amid no-show job allegations.

But Earl said numerous other corruption allegations were ignored by the North Bergen Housing Authority, including the charge that public housing units were being given to political supporters of Sacco. 

“The politics of moving people in and skipping people on the list – it was just getting out of control," said Earl, pointing to examples of numerous NBHA employees who were given apartments. Records obtained by the I-Team show some of those workers were paying rent well below income guidelines.

Earl said attorney Mark Tabakin, who is a political supporter of Sacco, was hired to conduct an investigation after the News 4 stories. But she said he ignored many of the corruption claims. She said Tabakin instead went after suspected whistleblowers – some who had turned to law enforcement and the News 4 I-Team. 

“It was a witchhunt,” Earl said.

In her lawsuit, Earl claims North Bergen Housing Authority Director Gerald Sanzari and others, including attorney Tabakin, "engaged in a conspiracy and concerted effort to commit political corruption, steal public funds, and to thwart all efforts by law abiding citizens to root out political corruption."

A spokesman for the mayor and the housing authority blasted Earl and her allegations. Phil Swibinksi said Earl is represented by a lawyer who is a political opponent of Sacco.  

"This patently frivolous lawsuit was filed by a disgruntled employee after she was terminated by the North Bergen Housing Authority for cause.”

"Ms. Earl's allegation that there was some sort of 'conspiracy' related to her termination involving Mark Tabakin is also absolutely unfounded. Mr. Tabakin is an independent and highly respected and experienced attorney," Swibinski said.

As for Earl’s lawsuit, it outlines numerous alleged abuses including the giving apartments at rents below income requirements to reward political supporters.

The spokesman fired back: “There has never been any indication of any political favoritism whatsoever, and until her recent termination Ms. Earl in fact oversaw this process as part of her job duties.”

Earl’s lawsuit also alleges Sanzari harassed female workers repeatedly making sexual remarks. The I-Team has also learned three other women are making similar claims. The I-Team tried to speak with Sanzari about the allegations. 

“There’s not a lot I can say. Everything is in litigation so I can’t comment,” Sanzari said.

Swibinski said Sanzari denies any allegations of impropriety. “It is clear that these disgruntled former employees are attempting to attack his reputation by inventing these false charges.”

The spokesman added the attacks on the mayor and the NBHA are politically motivated. He accused News 4 of “biased reporting” against a housing authority that “helps thousands of low income residents.”

Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney, FBI and HUD Inspector General declined to comment about the allegations. Several sources said they have seen federal grand jury subpoenas that were issued after the corruption allegations were raised in the I-Team stories.

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