On the heels of a series of NBC I-Team reports that many believe led to his termination, former North Bergen Housing Authority Security Director Geoff Santini is suing the agency.
“We filed a pretty extensive and very detailed complaint alleging that this whole nonsense about the no-show job was really an excuse to start a sham investigation,” Santini’s attorney, Louis Zayas, said during an exclusive interview at his North Bergen office.
“They fired Santini because of his numerous complaints against the director, Mr. [Gerald] Sanzari, from varied violations of laws going from putting people in the housing authority buildings who were not on the wait list, he [also] bypassed protocols for drug testing of certain employees.”
The two-count, 20-page lawsuit filed in Hudson County Superior Court in Friday names the NBHA and Mark Tabakin, who served as special counsel to the agency to investigate Santini, as defendants.
The federal entity began investigating Santini shortly after the NBC I-Team ran a series of reports, beginning in late February, alleging that Santini had a no-show job as security director, instead spending most of his time running his animal control business.
By April, the NBHA confirmed Sanzari fired Santini on March 28th after consulting with special counsel on the matter, all while the FBI began probing his animal control business.
However, the lawsuit contends that Santini’s job performance, which had earned him quick and lucrative raises in the past, was never truly in question: the suit says he was fired for continually trying to blow the whistle on corruption on the NBHA, to no avail.
In the complaint, Zayas says two NBHA employees, Adam Lobel and Ryan Leggio, the latter the director of operations, had violated federal guidelines.
In Lobel’s case, Santini allegedly said he was not entitled to a residence at the NBHA since he owned a house down the shore, which the suit claims was ignored.
The allegations against Leggio are much more serious, stating that he “was consorting with a known felon” who was selling narcotics at the Renaissance building, where the NBHA had jurisdiction and Santini was the assistant building manager at a salary of $25,000 a year.
After Santini reported his concerns to Sanzari, a private investigator was allegedly hired and compiled a report that confirmed Santini’s suspicions.
Despite this fact, both Sanzari and Tabakin did not pursue the matter any further, the suit says.
“Clearly that posts a problem with public health if you have employees who are engaged in drug use [and] drug dealing,” Zayas said during our interview.
He also targeted Sanzari for allegedly hiring his daughter’s boyfriend, who was removed from the Guttenberg Police Department after it was discovered he did not live in town or North Bergen.
“Disturbingly … Mr. Santini discovered that the director, Mr. Sanzari, hired his daughter’s boyfriend who was fired from the Guttenberg Police Department because he falsely reported living in North Bergen,” Zayas added.
Further complicating the matter is that voting records show that the NBHA employee in question, Drew Micuccci, was using the address of a home owned by Sanzari and he voted out of that address as recently as the April board of education race.
The lawsuit alleges that the NBHA, along with Tabakin, violated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act and the New Jersey City Rights Act, with Santini seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and asking for his job back.
Santini, who sat next to Zayas for the duration of the interview, said little beyond that he is happy to finally have the opportunity to tell his side of the story.
“I think today, through my attorney who I trust, we put together a great lawsuit that will clear my name and my family’s name. I have children, I have a family and these last few months have been hard on me. Today’s gonna show that I was wrongfully fired.”
NBC has clearly played a role in shaking up the NBHA, as another former director, Carleen Earl, is suing the agency, painting an unflattering picture of both Santini and Sanzari in her lawsuit, after she and five other NBHA employees were fired in May (four workers were initially fired before two more were also terminated days later).
While NBC is not mentioned explicitly in Santini’s suit, Zayas said their reporting gave “a false portrayal of his duties.”
Meanwhile, NHBA spokesman Phil Swibinski scoffed at the lawsuit, saying the agency is looking forward to defending the allegations in court and that his termination was justified.
“Mr. Santini was terminated after a thorough investigation into his conduct. We firmly believe that this decision was justified based on the information that was discovered. The housing authority denied all allegations made by Santini in this retaliatory lawsuit and we will vigorously defend this matter in court.”