Vainieri defends Santini in midst of federal probe, says he’s still on his payroll

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Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chairman Anthony Vainieri (D-8) is coming to the defense of former North Bergen Housing Authority Security Director Geoff Santini, voluntarily revealing that he’s still on his payroll and claiming he does exemplary work. 

“He’s still on my staff. He’s still on my staff. He was on my staff before he worked for the housing authority. He’s been a good friend of mine for … almost lifelong friends. He’s a very hard worker, very committed, very loyal,” Vainieri said on Friday’s edition of Hudson County Review Live.

Each Hudson County freeholder has $20,000 to spend on staff and Santini makes a modest $5,000 with Vainieri, according to public records.

“Every time you call him he’s there in five minutes. As far as animal control in the township, my role in the township, we get the complaints from residents that animals are in the streets and we’d call him: the animals are removed in 10, 15 minutes.”

Vainieri also claimed that state Senator (D-33)/Union City Mayor Brian Stack had previously told his North Bergen counterpart, Nick Sacco, the township mayor and state Senator of the 32nd Legislative District, he was impressed with Santini’s response time.

Thus far, 2018 has not been a good year for Santini: he was fired from his $81,000 job at the NBHA after the NBC I-Team began running an expose series in late February that indicated he rarely went to work.

By the end of March, he had been fired from the position and several municipalities where his animal control business, New Jersey Animal Control and Rescue, had received subpoenas from the U.S Attorney’s Office, as Hudson County View first reported.

Since then, NJACR has lost their contracts in Garfield and Bayonne.

Despite these facts, Vainieri said that “I don’t think one thing has to do with the other” and said people should allow all the facts to come to light before jumping to conclusions.

Furthermore, the funeral home director turned freeholder said that in the event it was proven that Santini had committed wrong doing, he should’ve been suspended, not fired.

Vainieri continued to give examples of how Santini had been a model employee, stating that he had been instrumental in helping set up for the annual county fair and North Bergen farmer’s market, as well as meeting with constituents.

Additionally, he said that he is not deterred by the fact that federal authorities are investigating.

“First of all, they have to come in: it’s a federally regulated housing authority. So the federal government has to come in, their own investigating team came in and looked at it, I think the attorney general’s office is in there: let’s see what the findings are.”

“Because every time I called the guy, he was at the housing authority,” Vainieri exclaimed.

While NBC continues to report updates on Santini, one as recent as Friday evening after our interview with Vainieri, the latter says he’s still not convinced any criminal acts or wrongdoing have been uncovered yet.

” …They filmed him by his business. What if he was on lunch hour? What if he took half a day? They still, I don’t think they have given the housing authority the dates of when the films were produced. He could’ve taken a half a day, he could’ve taken a different entrance when they were sitting there waiting for him.”

Vainieri also questioned who was actually claiming that Santini wasn’t going into work, theorizing that the number two man in the security division of the NBHA could’ve been after his job, also noting that all of NBC’s sources have been anonymous.

Showcasing that he truly took the line of questioning in stride, Vainieri joked that he should double Santini’s pay at the county since he’ll now have some extra time on his hands.

“Actually, I could double his salary now because he’s around more to work for me, so I’ll probably double his salary .. I’m kidding, I’m only kidding,” he said.

Louis Zayas, an attorney representing Santini, told us that he plans on suing the NBHA and the North Bergen Renaissance Corporation for wrongful termination after the Bayonne City Council voted to terminate NJACR’s contract as of May 14th.