West New York settles racketeering suit with 15 plaintiffs for $1.2M

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The Town of West New York, along with their local board of education and housing authority, has settled a lawsuit with 15 plaintiffs, alleging racketeering and civil rights violations, for a cumulative payout of about $1.2 million – $350,000 which will be paid by the town.

“The settlement of these cases here today are the last of the cases from that entire period of time [Mayor Felix Roque's first term] and I’m very proud of these commissioners and their current record,” Town Attorney Donald Scarinci said at Thursday’s special board of commissioners meeting.

He also stated that the town has fewer lawsuits than any other similarly sized municipality in the state.

“That is how you get your reputation back and that is how West New York has it’s reputation back,” he concluded.

 

West New York Board of Education Employees

West New York BOE

The board of education approved three settlements at their June 29 meeting: those of former West New York Commissioner Michelle Lopez, former Memorial High School Principal Scott Cannao and Gloria Varela – who had an unspecified position in the district for 25 years.

Lopez and Cannao, who settled for $200,000 and $150,000, respectively, were both a major part of the state’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) report from April 2013.

The report alleged that Roque ran the BOE with an iron fist and had a “hit list” of employees that should be demoted, transferred or fired and Lopez and Cannao were both interviewed by investigators to prepare the report.

According to the suit, first filed in April 2013 and later amended on December 4, 2015, Varela was also on the hit list and was a victim of age discrimination since her supervisor allegedly kept telling her she was too old to be working after Roque took office.

She was 76 years old when she was fired, forcing her to submit her retirement papers to collect her pension.

Varela’s settlement information was not immediately available and West New York Schools Administrator Dean Austin did not return multiple requests for comment.

All three plaintiffs were known to be supporters of former Mayor Sal Vega, especially Lopez, who was a commissioner in his administration.

At last week’s board of commissioners meeting, Scarinci slammed the OFAC report, claiming that investigators routinely took quotes out of context and sometimes even writing quotes that were never actually said.

Town officials said that Lopez and Cannao still received large payouts because their cases would be particularly expensive, given that everyone involved in the OFAC report could potentially be called to testify at trial, including the case investigators.

 

West New York Housing Authority Employee

West New York HA

Walter Lopez, Michelle’s husband, was hired as the director of redevelopment at the West New York Housing Authority in July 2007.

However, days after Roque took office in May 2011, Lopez was fired by WNY HA Executive Director Robert DiVincent, who supported Roque in the election, the suit says.

 

West New York Police Officers

West New York police

Then-Lt. Sergio Sanchez, Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) President Thomas Mannion, Sgt. Carlos Irimia and Officer Yosbel Mompellier all alleged either being passed up for promotions, switched to an undesirable shift or denied overtime opportunities for not supporting Roque.

In particular, Sanchez said he was again denied the rank of captain last June simply because he filed a lawsuit against Roque and the town, despite ranking number one on the captain’s test over a year earlier.

Sanchez was finally promoted to captain earlier this month.

Al Bringa, a former police director and ally of Vega, settled his case back in December 2014 and received a payout of $271,000. The settlement would be nearly $1.5 million if his case was included.

 

West New York Town Hall Employees

West New York Town Hall

Like the others mentioned in the lawsuit, Donna Davis, Silverio Rodriguez, Marie Bombino, Maria Varela, Janet Passante and William Parkinson all alleged they were either fired or demoted for not supporting Roque in 2011 and beyond.

Additionally, Rivera’s claim alleged he was unlawfully escorted out of a park by two town employees on July 29, 2012 for simply handing out business cards for then-Commissioner Count Wiley – who recently announced his intentions to become mayor.

Furthermore, last March, Passante, a former chief of staff to Vega, saw the state Appellate Division of the Supreme Court uphold a Hudson County Superior Court decision that said the town owed her a $306,324.30 retirement payout.

The lawsuits of these employees, along with the officers, were the 11 that were settled by the town via a unanimous vote on a resolution on Thursday.

During the public portion of the meeting, Scarinci responded to an inquiry from Hudson County View by stating that $350,000 of the settlement would be paid for by the town/

Multiple plaintiffs in the suit deferred comment to the attorney in the matter, Louis Zayas, who said over the phone that “litigation takes a long time and we’re happy to have these cases settled in an amicable fashion.”

Zayas confirmed that not including Bringa, the total payout for his clients was about $1.2 million.

Multiple town officials declined to comment on the matter and a full settlement agreement was not available from the clerk’s office as of late Wednesday afternoon.

Here are the payouts that have been obtained by Hudson County View on Thursday:

Scott Cannao, School # 5 Assistant Principal – $150,000

Donna Davis, former municipal administrator – $5,000

Marie Bombino, former Town Hall employee – $99,000

Sgt. Carlos Irimia – $57,500

Michelle Lopez, West New York teacher – $200,000

Walter Lopez, former housing authority director of redevelopment – $150,000

PBA President Thomas Mannion – $75,000

Officer Yosbel Mompellier – $57,500

William Parkinson, former DPW supervisor – $99,000

Janet Passante, former Mayor Vega chief of staff – $50,000

David Rivera, former Town Hall employee – $77,500

Silverio Rodriguez, former sanitation inspector – $45,000

Capt. Sergio Sanchez – $99,000

Gloria Varela, former BOE employee – $30,000

Maria Varela, planning and zoning board secretary, Town Hall employee – $30,000

9 COMMENTS

  1. The Racketeers settle the Racketeering suit, finally the employees got justice but the taxpayers foot the bill. Donald Scarinci has always defended Roque and slammed the OFAC investigation and report but Scarinci is on the payroll and is paid top dollar to defend the Mayor whether he is right or wrong , Donald is on the gravey train. August 18th Roque will have to face the music for his misdeeds.

  2. Settling the suits was the cost of doing
    business. Why does Heinis only list two
    of the settlement amounts and not the
    others? Interesting.

    • That’s all I had at the time, will add a few more after we handle some more pressing matters this morning.

  3. Michelle Lopez should pay the town back for the 12 unqualified relatives she put on the payroll blame Sal Vega for her

  4. Scarinci is a funny guy , laughing all the way to the bank when he said this is how you get your reputation back . Roque will never get his reputation back just ask all the employees on his hit list or taxpayers who are paying through the nose on the law suits. Hudson county’s politicians have to be embarrassed they ever backed Roque’s sorry ***.

  5. This town needs to get rid of Roque and Scarinci, who are draining it dry. Greed, greed and more greed. That’s all we get from these guys, and the taxpayers have to pay.

  6. The 13 settlements with Wny employees listed in this article does not count all the previous payouts that included a few large amounts 1- Elain Gomez. 2- officer Acosta had two settlements 3- Al Bringa 4- Tom O’Malley 5- Kim O’Malley and who really knows how many more, incompetence run amok.

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