The Township of Weehawken has settled lawsuits with a township police lieutenant alleging repeated political retaliation by Mayor Richard Turner and the building department for $747,000, court documents show.
According to a federal lawsuit filed back in 2008, Police Lt. Richard DeCosmis said, through his attorney Louis Zayas, that his relationship with Mayor Richard Turner “took a turn for the worse” when he began to complain that a $1.18 million grant from the State Department of Transportation allocated for a “park and ride” was not being utilized.
The alleged reason being was the land allocated for the “park and ride” was being used as the parking lot for the Bella Vista Estates.
He also claimed that the developers, Bruce Noel and Nate Salverini, were regular contributors to Turner’s political campaigns and had a “business relationship” with Construction Code Official Frank Tattoli.
DeCosmis purchased a condo unit at the Bella Vista Estates under the premise that residents would have “a deeded parking lot” with a space assigned for each unit, which was not the case.
DeCosmis said he began to have problems with Tattoli after he said he was going to the “state authorities” regarding the “park and ride” situation, prompting a number of unannounced building inspections – with subsequent building violations – on properties owned by him and his family members.
After DeCosmis was noncommittal about placing state Senator Brian Stack (D-33) re-election signs at his home, he called Weehawken police to report that someone had “trespassed” on his property to put up signs.
The incident prompted him to “campaign for another political candidate running against Mayor Turner’s political faction.”
As a result, Turner allegedly told DeCosmis’ brother that “he is dead to me.”
The other legal matter, a civl rights suit alleging that Turner utilized “frequent and unlawful interference with the day-to-day operation[s] of the Weehawken police department” was filed by DeCosmis and then-Police Captain Thomas Earl in November 2007.
After the filing, DeCosmis says that the Weehawken building department continually harassed him, detailing one instance where building inspector Jorge Chemas was arrested for criminal trespass for conducting an unlawful inspection.
Chemas responded by filing “a cross-citizen’s criminal complaint” against DeCosmis and shortly thereafter Tattoli imposed a stop order on DeCosmis’ home renovations.
The charges against Chemas were dropped in 2008 and in April 2010, DeCosmis was acquitted of a criminal charge of obstruction, which also revealed that Chemas was not a state licensed building inspector.
Despite being acquitted, DeCosmis says the mayor and other township officials then “initiated baseless disciplinary charges” against him.
In the settlement agreement, DeCosmis has agreed to retire effective November 1, 2017, the township will dismiss the disciplinary charges against DeCosmis, the police lieutenant will receive a 15 percent salary increase and the total insurance company payment will be $747,000 (meaning township insurance, as opposed to taxpayer dollars, covers the lump sum).
According to public records, DeCosmis earned $138,820 in 2014, not including overtime, so the increase would initially net him $159,643 – effective October 26, 2016.
Furthermore, all future inspection or permit matters related to DeCosmis’ home will be handled by the West New York Building Department and the township and its officials named in the suit do not admit to any wrongdoing as a result of the settlement.
Zayas and the Weehawken Law Department did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
A copy of the federal lawsuit and the settlement agreement can be read here.