A New Jersey engineering firm at the center of a pay-to-play scandal where a former top executive conspired to bribe two Philadelphia-area mayors had at least $1.8 million in Hudson County contracts last year.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
T&M Associates Pay-to-Play Scandal in Pennsylvania
T&M Associates, an engineering firm whose corporate office is based out of Middletown but has satellite locations as far as Michigan and California, is dealing with political fallout from a top agency official admitting to trading campaign contributions for city contracts.
Mark Neisser, the ex-business development manager for T&M Associates, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery back on April 3, though his plea was not unsealed until June 22, according to The Morning Call.
In his plea, Neisser admitted to making campaign contributions to Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and ex-Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer “to maintain his firm’s competitive edge” to receive municipal contracts.
Neisser was scheduled to be sentenced in October, but that has been pushed all the way to May, as The Morning Call also reported.
This is not the first time Neisser, who lives in Morrestown, has been charged with illegal political wheeling and dealing often linked to the dark side of New Jersey politics.
Neisser was the president of another engineering firm, JCA Associates, back in 2004 when he pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns in order to hide the fact he and other agency officials spent about $100,000 on printing campaign materials for the West Deptford Campaign Committee between 1996 and 2000 (h/t The Trentonian).
While he was barred from working at JCA Associates as a result of the case, that firm was bought out by T&M Associates in 2005.
Pawlowski, Vaughn and Allentown lawyer Scott Allinson, the latter who was charged with bribery and conspiracy in the pay-to-play scheme, have all pleaded not guilty.
Hudson County connection
According to a financial disclosure form filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJ ELEC) on March 27th, 2017, T&M Associates received a whopping 259 public contracts in 2016.
15 of those were with Hudson County municipalities/agencies, accounting for $1,795,164 for TMA last year.
They received very little municipal work with Bayonne in 2016, securing a modest $7,426 contract with the city and a $1,034 agreement with the zoning board of adjustment – little more than a footnote by municipal contract standards here in the Garden State.
However, the Bayonne Board of Education approved a $53,327 deal with the firm last year.
Furthermore, TMA received some work with the town of Harrison and their planning board, for $48,482 and $56,656, respectively. The Harrison Zoning Board of Adjustment also approved a small $2,216 contract.
Upon further analysis of southern Hudson County, Hoboken had a $739,524 contract with the firm in 2016, 41 percent of their business in Hudson last year.
T&M Associates is involved with the Mile Square City’s Washington Street redesign plan, a $12 million project that was approved by the city council at their June 1st, 2016 meeting (the project has since been budgeted for closer to $17 million).
Recently, the council unanimously approved (9-0) a $112,922.75 amendment, a 5.46 percent increase from T&M Associates initial $2,067,840 deal – for a new total of $2,180,762.75 – at their December 20th meeting, according to a copy of the measure on their website.
Some elected officials and members of the public have intermittently expressed frustration with the project since it has ben placed on hold several times and been extended by at least two months.
It currently has a targeted completion date of July 24th, 2018, based on the Washington Street Project’s official website.
Beyond the municipal level, the County of Hudson, the county government entity, had a $200,761 contract with TMA during the previous calendar year, while the firm also agreed upon a $29,040 deal with the Hudson County Department of Parks and Community.
Additionally, the Hudson County Schools of Technology had a $337,025 agreement with T&M Associates in 2016 and their board approved a new deal last month at their reorganization meeting.
HCST spokesman Phil Swibinski said that despite this fact, board counsel will be reaching out to T&M Associates for more details regarding Neisser’s case – without mentioning his name.
“The district was not made aware of any potential legal issues regarding T&M Associates prior to their appointment at the last reorganization meeting,” he said in a statement.
“The school district attorney has been directed to contact T&M Associates in order to seek additional information about this matter and the board will take whatever action is deemed appropriate based on the information that is received.”
In Jersey City, the Municipal Utilities Authority had a $147,028 agreement with TMA in 2016, while the local redevelopment agency had a much more modest $34,857 deal in place.
Although the city itself paid the firm $84,397 last year, city spokeswoman Hannah Peterson said that was to honor a contract that was approved in 2013 and the firm did not receive any additional work in 2017.
A source from the JCRA, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said their situation was similar to the city’s, in that they were honoring a contract that had been approved years ago and did not award TMA any new work in 2017.
Finally, the Union City and West New York Boards of Education signed off on $50,323 and $3,068 agreements, respectively, with T&M Associates in 2016.
This is not the first time in recent memory a massive New Jersey-based engineering firm has been under the microscope for trying to skirt pay-to-play laws.
In March 2013, Birdsall Services Group, an engineering, environmental and energy consulting firm, saw seven of their executives charged with money laundering and making false representations for government contracts.
The state attorney general’s office alleged that over $1 million in political contributions were made by firm employees to circumvent New Jersey’s pay-to-play laws.
Birdsall ceased operations in June 2013 and their final two former executives pleaded guilty to the charges against them in April of this year.
Various other Hudson County and municipal officials either did not return inquiries seeking comment or declined to comment, while a spokesman for T&M Associates could not be reached for comment.