Recently the Belleville United Coalition wrote a slightly different kind of “Dear John” letter….to Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman.
Concerned, like many of us, that no one has been visibly held accountable yet for the $4 million budget deficit, the over-expenditure of over 90 line items, the questionable creation of over $2 million in contracts with Clarity Technologies, a $1.3 million bank overdraft, and the staggering number of irregularities by the Belleville Board of Education discovered in their previous two budget audits, the BUC has reached out directly to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, formally requesting an investigation.
After many months of public outcry and intense investigative effort from citizens (including yours truly), the New Jersey Department of Education assigned a state monitor to seize and oversee the district’s finances in May of 2014. This single action put a decisive end to the accounting deficiencies and financial hemorrhaging that both former as well as current Board trustees had been willfully responsible for creating for at least two academic years.
Soon after the arrival of state monitor Thomas Egan, former superintendent Helene Feldman was removed from the district. She was replaced in February by Dr. Richard Tomko.
State monitor Egan has since brought the school district out of its nearly $4 million deficit incurred by the Board. The school district is also reportedly in the final stages of litigation against Clarity Technologies over its $2+ million security and technology contracts, seeking to recoup almost $1.5 million in damages.
A great deal of effort is being made by the new superintendent and the current administration to get the district out of nearly catastrophic ruin, back on a healthy and stable track, and focused again on the business of education.
To date however, there has not been a visible law enforcement action of any kind into the dubious financial practices that had been going on in the school district for years, despite multiple official state reports now documenting systemic financial malfeasance, on a bewildering scale.
Although we have had strong indications for several months that the Attorney General already has some level of involvement in ongoing investigations into the Board’s conduct, the BUC has provided the AG with a concise overview of some of the many lingering questions that continue to go unanswered.
As far as the Essex Watch is concerned, when it comes to accountability from public officials to the taxpayer, you can never have enough nails in the coffin.
I continue to promise you folks, The Ten Ton Hammer is coming down. If you play games with even a dollar of federal funding, it’s only a question of A) which agency will be the one to take a large chunk out of your behind over it, and B) when they’re dropping by to begin the feeding frenzy.
But I digress…
Below are copies of last week’s press release from the BUC, the letter that was sent to the Attorney General’s Office, their reply, as well as links to the audit documents.
July 22, 2015
Belleville, NJ – The Belleville United Coalition (BUC), which is a citizens group dedicated to creating a stable and positive school climate and promoting academic excellence, recently sent a written request to acting NJ Attorney General John J. Hoffman requesting his office conduct an investigation of the Belleville Board of Education. This request was made as a result of severe overspending by the BOE, numerous lawsuits brought against the same, the highly questionable multi-million dollar school surveillance system contract awarded to Clarity Technologies, and over 90 improprieties reported in two audits:
- “Belleville Township School District Schedule of Findings & Questioned Costs for the Year Ended June 30, 2014”
- “Belleville Township School District Synopsis of Audit for the Year Ended June 30, 2014”.
Bound copies of both audit reports were provided to the Attorney General’s office as a courtesy and to help expedite the requested investigation. The Belleville United Coalition was recently informed that the Attorney General’s office has now referred this matter to the Division of Criminal Justice for review.
For additional information, please contact the BUC secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter to the Attorney General’s Office
April 14, 2015
Office of the Attorney General
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General
RJ Hughes Justice Complex
25 Market Street
Trenton, NJ 08625-0080
Dear General Hoffman,
We, the undersigned, residents of Belleville, NJ, have watched our Board of Education commit acts of incompetency, mismanagement, political patronage, fiscal improprieties, and some acts that we believe were criminal in nature. Our BOE Trustees and administrators have been extremely reckless with our education tax dollars and negligent in providing an education to our students. In May 2014, a State monitor was appointed to oversee our district’s finances. A State audit of our district revealed over ninety (90) examples of fiscal irregularities. Among these include:
- Numerous lawsuits filed by administrators, teachers, secretaries, and domicile investigator resulting in costly settlements with no one held accountable and the taxpayers and insurance companies paying the bill
- Health benefits paid to non-eligible persons
- Misuse of Title I funds
- Contracts awarded in violation of “Public Schools Contract Law”
- Failure to determine or oversee eligibility for free or reduced price meals
- Checks were issued payable to “cash”
- Many questionable activities and/or lack of financial documentation of income and expenditures of the “Athletic Advisory Council”, including the use of debit cards
- Vendors paid without invoices or supporting documentation
- Failure to remit Federal and State payroll tax filings on time
- Many expenditures were incurred in excess of budget appropriations
- Failure to monitor spending resulting in cash overdrafts in excess of $1.35 million – the manager of the bank who oversaw the BOE account during this period is the spouse of a former BOE member
- Unanswered questions as to why 2000 flash drives were purchased from a BOE member’s employer
- Teachers and administrators were pressured to provide campaign contributions to sitting members of the BOE in direct violation of the law regarding the coercion of public servants
- Several BOE members have been charged with NJSBA ethics violations with convictions in 2 cases and one other case still pending
- In conjunction with an effective no-bid $2 million contract awarded to Clarity Technologies to install a school security system, the son of the principle BOE member who spear-headed the project and the brother of the BOE attorney negotiating the contract were both hired by Clarity
We respectfully request your office investigate the above allegations and many more issues that appear in the following attached documents. These include the “Belleville Township School District Schedule of Findings and Questionable Costs for the Year Ended June 30, 2014”, and the “Belleville Township School District Synopsis of Audit for the Year Ended June 30, 2014.”
If you need any additional information from us about this matter, please contact the Belleville United Coalition through our secretary, Mr. Michael Sheldon, at 47 Floyd St., Belleville, NJ, 07109 or by phone at 973-751-9032.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
Acknowledgement Letter from the Office of the Attorney General
Here is the AG’s Office acknowledging receipt of the information packet, and referring it to the Division of Criminal Justice:
Financial Audit Reports of the Belleville School District