In a lawsuit, a former director at Hudson County Community College is alleging that the institution has a “culture of unethical and improprieties” stemming from the leadership of President Dr. Glen Gabert.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
In a Hudson County Superior Court lawsuit filed on January 18, Frank Mercado, the former executive director of college operations at HCCC, alleges that the school essentially operates as a criminal enterprise under Gabert.
Mercado, who was hired by the institution back in April 1997, was promoted twice, the latter being to the vice president of college operations – later changed to vice president of college operations due to internal restructuring – according to the suit.
Around June 2012, Mercado alleges that he “began to notice numerous improper if not illegal activities at the HCCC designed to enrich President Gabert and others at the HCCC,” complaining to Gabert one-on-one “regarding his improper usage of college property, services, and staff for his own personal use.”
Through his attorney Louis Zayas, Mercado offers many instances where Gabert engaged in unethical, if not illegal, behavior.
In one example, Mercado claims that Gabert had his administrative assistant oversee the installation of windows at his Kearny home during work hours.
When he complained to Gabert about the incident, the school president brushed him off, even bragging that an HCCC vendor, Office Scrapes, provided free interior design services, the lawsuit says.
In August 2012, Mercado says he drew the ire of Gabert for not approving a large furniture delivery payment to Office Scrapes after they delivered items to the Union City campus of HCCC.
He was eventually forced to make the payment, even though it violated HCCC policy, Mercado says in the suit.
Other instances outlined in the suit include two undated situations where Gabert had a cleaning crew member move college furniture to his house, the other being where the school president refused to have an appraisal for a set of culinary books with an estimated valued of $1 million.
As tensions between Mercado and Gabert continued to grow, the plaintiff says that he was denied tuition reimbursement for a doctorate program he was accepted into in 2013, with the school citing “budgetary restrictions” – although his tuition was reimbursed for his master’s program years prior.
In the lawsuit, Mercado says that the final straw came in January 2014, when eight proposals were submitted for construction management services, Gabert pushed for MAST Construction Services Inc., of Little Falls, to get the contract – despite not being the lowest bidder.
MAST eventually received the contract after the requests for proposals (RFPs) expired, the suit says.
He further alleges that he was removed the president’s cabinet the next month, before being informed that the college would be eliminating his position in October 2014.
Mercado says that his severance package included nine months pay, as well as his unused sick and vacation days, though HCCC pushed to add a disparaging remarks clause to the agreement.
Despite this fact, Gabert is accused of costing Mercado a job when he told St. Peter’s University President Dr. Eugene Cornacchia “not to waste time on him since he was no ****ing good” as the university was considering hiring him – also a clear violation of the separation agreement.
Mercado is suing HCCC and Gabert for violating the whistleblower act, his freedom of speech, breach of contract and New Jersey RICO (racketeering and conspiracy).
As a result, he is seeking treble, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs of suit and such other and further relief a the court deems just.
“The lawsuit filed by Mr. Mercado seek not only to compensate him for having lost his job after he blew the whistle on corruption at HCCC, but also to punish those responsible for betraying the public trust,” Zayas told Hudson County View via text message.
A spokeswoman for HCCC did not return an email seeking comment.