2 men get 35, 51 months in prison for extorting Jersey City golf course funds

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Two men, one a former Hudson County Improvement Authority employee, were sentenced to 35 and 51 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in extorting thousands of dollars in corrupt payments during the construction of the Lincoln Park Skyway Golf Course in Jersey City, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced. Hudson County Improvement Authority

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Gerard Pica, 66, of Middletown, and James Castaldo, 60, of Beachwood, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares to one count each of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, officials said.

Linares imposed both sentences yesterday in Newark federal court, also asking for a joint restitution of $53,861 and three years of supervised release, authorities said.

Back in 2010, the HCIA was overseeing the construction of a nine-hole public golf course located at Lincoln Park West in Jersey City.

As part of its construction, the LPW project required several hundred thousand cubic yards of soil, fill material and crushed stone to be incorporated into the site, as well as to serve as road bedding during the construction of the golf course.

As the overseer of the LPW project, one of the functions of the HCIA—either directly or through a designated contractor—was to serve as a gatekeeper for any material to be delivered to the LPW site.

It was the HCIA’s responsibility to solicit, evaluate and decide which contractors’ proposals to accept for the provision of soil and fill material for the LPW project.

Castaldo ran Renda Enterprises LLC, which provided interstate transportation and broker services that moved or received recycled waste and other materials, officials said.

Meanwhile, Pica had been employed by the HCIA as an environmental scientist and had the ability to influence the HCIA’s decisions regarding the selection of contractors to provide soil and fill material to the LPW project, authorities said.

An individual referred to in the indictment as “Employee 1” also had authority over the selection of contractors seeking to provide materials for the project site.

From August 2010 through November 2011, Pica, Castaldo and others schemed to obtain payments from certain contractors in exchange for Pica and the unnamed employee’s assistance in getting approval for certain companies to provide materials for the LPW project, officials said.

Pica admitted that he arranged to obtain corrupt payments from “Individual 3,” the owner of a recycling business in Bayonne.

Furthermore, Pica admitted using his authority at the HCIA to ensure that the unnamed individual 3 and his Bayonne company received approval to provide Class B materials, including crushed stone, for the LPW project.

As part of the agreement, Individual 3 would pay Castaldo a fee – $2 per cubic yard of fill and soil material delivered to the site – for the benefit of Pica, Castaldo and Employee 1, the indictment says.

Additionally, Pica admitted receiving approximately $6,600 in December 2010 as a partial payment of his share, as well as to creating a fraudulent invoice from a separate company which he owned for monies purportedly owed to him by Renda Enterprises, according to court documents.

Pica also owned up to accepting a check for $6,000 from Renda Enterprises in April 2011, knowing that this amount was further payment of his share which he extorted from Individual 3, officials said.

As for Castaldo, he admitted that in early 2011, he met with Pica and an unnamed “Individual 1,” who was the owner of a full service environmental consulting firm seeking authorization to dump soil and fill material at the LPW site, authorities said.

Castaldo conceded that he, Pica and Individual 1 agreed upon the amount per cubic yard that Individual 1 would have to pay in return for Pica’s assistance in ensuring Individual 1 would receive authorization to dump the material at the LPW site, court documents show.

Castaldo also acknowledged that in July 2011, Renda Enterprises received two payments totaling more than $8,600 as corrupt payments for allowing Individual 1 to dump more than 2,600 cubic yards of fill materials at the LPW site, authorities said.

The counts to which Pica and Castaldo pleaded guilty both carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The duo also jointly responsible for forfeiture of $53,861.

The Lincoln Park Skyway Golf Course opened in June, the first public golf course in Hudson County.