TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a former administrator and a former shop foreman at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission were convicted at trial today of charges that they directed subordinate employees to complete repairs or improvements at private homes while on-duty for the PVSC.
Anthony Ardis, 59, of Paterson, and Paul Bazela, 47, of Northvale, were found guilty today by a Passaic County jury following a two-week trial before Superior Court Judge Donald J. Volkert Jr. in Passaic County. Ardis is a former PVSC Commissioner who later was employed as Clerk to the Board of Commissioners, Director of Management Services and Chief Ethics Liaison Officer for the PVSC. Bazela is the former foreman of the PVSC carpenter’s shop.
Both men were found guilty of third-degree charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and pattern of official misconduct, and a fourth-degree charge of theft by unlawful taking or disposition. Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Because Ardis and Bazela were convicted of conduct that occurred after April 14, 2007, when enhanced penalties for official misconduct took effect, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in state prison without possibility of parole. The judge will enter orders requiring both men to forfeit their pensions and be permanently barred from public employment or office in New Jersey.
Deputy Attorneys General Jeffrey Manis and Heather Taylor tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Sentencing for the defendants is scheduled for May 9.
The state presented evidence and testimony that Bazela – at the direction of Ardis and former supervisor Kevin Keogh – ordered carpenters and other skilled workers to go to the homes of Ardis’ mother and girlfriend, as well as the home of Keogh, to complete repairs and improvements while on-duty for the PVSC. They used agency vehicles, tools and equipment. Bazela accompanied the workers in some instances to supervise and assist with the projects. Bazela, who is the mayor of Northvale, a position he now must forfeit, was PVSC shop foreman and Operations Supervisor from April 2006 to May 2010 when the conduct occurred. Ardis and Keogh never paid for the work that was performed at the homes. Keogh, the former PVSC Superintendent of Special Services, previously pleaded guilty in the case.
“Ardis and Bazela corruptly abused their power and the resources of this publicly funded agency, treating its skilled employees like private handymen,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “With this verdict, we send a loud and clear message that those who unlawfully exploit their public positions for personal gain will face stern punishment.”
“These defendants exhibited an alarming degree of personal entitlement with respect to the public employees and equipment entrusted to their supervision,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We are working hard to root out this type of deeply entrenched public corruption.”
The charges resulted from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The investigation was conducted and coordinated by Deputy Attorney General Manis, Lt. Lisa Shea, Detective Michael Behar and Analyst Kathleen Ratliff.
The PVSC is a state agency responsible for managing and regulating collection and disposal of wastewater generated in a four-county area along the Passaic Valley River Basin, encompassing parts of Bergen, Passaic, Essex and Hudson counties.
The testimony and evidence at trial revealed that on two occasions between 2008 and 2009, two PVSC employees were directed to go to the home of Ardis’ mother in Paterson, while on agency time, to tear down sheet rock in the garage. On another occasion, between 2007 and 2008, three PVSC employees were directed to install wood panels and hook up a microwave in the kitchen of the mother. On two occasions in 2009, a PVSC employee was directed to go to the home of Ardis’ girlfriend during his regular agency work shifts to replace air conditioning units.
Keogh, 48, of Roseland, pleaded guilty in June 2012 to second-degree conspiracy and two counts of second-degree official misconduct. He is awaiting sentencing. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to five years in state prison. Keogh had PVSC employees complete numerous projects for him at his home during their regular shifts for the agency between March 2006 and May 2010.
Another administrator, Chester Mazza, 72, of Totowa, former Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, pleaded guilty in May 2012 to fourth-degree theft by unlawful taking, admitting that he had subordinate employees perform work at his home, including installation of a vent or fan in the roof of his home and repairs to a stone wall in his front yard. He also is awaiting sentencing.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The statewide Corruption Tipline is 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing. All information received through the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Tipline or webpage will remain confidential.