Feds questioning no-show allegations against N.J. state senator. It’s a ‘political hit job,’ he says.
NJ.com, March 4, 2020
Federal authorities are looking into allegations, which have already become the focus of a state grand jury investigation, that state Sen. Nicholas Scutari was often a no-show as Linden’s municipal prosecutor.
The city has been asked to provide the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office with some of the same information subpoenaed by the state, according to two sources familiar with the request. They said those records, though, were not the subject of federal subpoena.
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead confirmed only that the city has responded to questions from federal authorities, but would not comment further. Armstead said that the city intended to cooperate fully with the state investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, “just as we have been cooperating with a similar information request from federal law enforcement.”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney said only that he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any federal investigation. State officials have also declined comment.
The request for records came after the mayor late last year sent federal and state authorities copies of a city audit that had examined Scutari’s absences from court, and asked that they look into the matter. Armstead has charged that Scutari, D-Union, essentially had a no-show job.
“That’s exactly what I’m characterizing it as,” the mayor said in an interview after the report first came to light in October.
Scutari, the powerful Democratic chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was unaware of any involvement by federal law enforcement, and called the mayor’s allegations a “political hit job.”
“This is politics at its worst,” charged Scutari, who also serves as the Union County Democratic chairman. He accused Armstead of using his office to set up a political opponent, in the wake of a long feud over his own endorsement of a challenger to the mayor.
“It’s a fictitious story that’s been cooked up” said the [sic] Scutari. “It’s not true. But politically, it’s been brilliant.”
He has threatened a $10 million lawsuit for slander.
Scutari, a lawyer who had served as Linden’s municipal prosecutor for 15 years, was fired from his high-paid part-time post in early 2019 after the report commissioned by the city found that the senator had failed to show up for court more than half the time in 2018 while serving as municipal prosecutor. During that time, Scutari, who was paid $84,659 in his part-time role, continued to earn state pension credits, the report said.
The grand jury subpoena, which NJ Advance Media was first to report, was served on the city last Friday and requested payroll records, court appearance logs, records showing Scutari’s use of time off, and payments made to others who served as acting municipal prosecutors when he was not in court. It also sought an accounting of contributions made on behalf of Scutari into the Public Employee Retirement System, as well as payroll taxes paid in relation to his employment.
Although the specific nature of the investigation was not spelled out, the subpoena was signed by Deputy State Attorney General Samantha McCluskey, who is assigned to the Division of Criminal Justice’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
Separately, Linden has retained an outside law firm, Calcagni & Kanefsky of Newark, to conduct a review of all the municipal court cases that involved Scutari when he was the city’s prosecutor.
Attorney Thomas Calcagni, a former federal prosecutor, confirmed that his firm had been engaged to examine the handling of municipal court matters “by and in the absence of” the city’s former municipal prosecutor.
“A primary focus is whether due process was compromised in any of the matters where the prosecutor was not in attendance,” he said.
Scutari’s alleged failure to appear in court has already been a factor in the appeal of one case charging that a municipal judge routinely conducted hearings without a prosecutor or defense attorney. A lawsuit filed last week by a woman wrongfully jailed in 2007 charged that a ‘culture of wrongdoing’ pervaded the Linden Municipal Court, which cited the conduct of Judge Louis DiLeo, who was later ousted as a municipal judge, as well as the absenteeism of Scutari.
Scutari said he did nothing wrong in his long tenure as prosecutor.
“I’ve done my job and done it well,” he said. “What I am accused of doing is exactly the way other municipal courts operate. There was nothing inappropriate about it.”
Scutari said there were no requirements for him to be in court, and that the municipal prosecutor generally is only called into the courtroom when required. At the same time, he said it is a common practice for appointed municipal prosecutors to provide substitute attorneys when they are not available.
“What they are trying to accuse me of is inaccurate,” Scutari said.