UPDATE: City spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw confirmed that Joe Catanese was hired almost six months ago, on May 11, at a salary of $25,000.
“He works approximately seven hours a week strictly on OPRA documents. He was appointed by TK Shamy.”
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Joseph J. Catanese, an attorney who led the New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) from 2000 to 2008, has joined the city’s Law Department as an Assistant City Attorney.
A lifelong resident of the city, Catanese is 55 years old and already collects a six-figure annual pension.
He resides in the Buccleuch Park neighborhood, where he is the elected Committeeman for the New Brunswick Democratic Organization (NBDO).
Catanese served as the Treasurer for the 2014 re-election campaign of Mayor James Cahill, and served on the city’s Planning Board before abruptly resigning earlier this year.
He now joins Cahill, NBPD Director Anthony Caputo, and former NBPD Director Peter Mangarella as double-dippers who collect both a public salary and a public pension simultaneously.
Catanese already collects an annual $104,668 pension, and works for a private law firm. He will now also earn a yet-to-be disclosed sum directly from city taxpayers, in the form of a salary.
The city government has not answered repeated inquiries about Catanese’s salary in the new position.
Another Assistant City Attorney with a public salary and a private practice is Charly Gayden. Gayden was listed as an employee making a $60,000 salary as of January 1, 2014.
Every month, Catanese receives a $8,722.35 check from the Police and Fireman’s Retirement System for his 26 years of service as a New Brunswick police officer, including his time as its top civilian official.
Catanese also serves as of “Of Counsel” at Shamy & Shamy, the city-based private law firm of the city government’s attorney TK Shamy, Catanese’s new boss in the public job.
Shamy also serves as the Chairman of the NBDO, the organization where Catanese serves as one of 56 elected party officials.
Officials in the city’s Law Department still appear to take their orders from William Hamilton, a former elected official who led the Law Department under the administration of the notoriously corrupt former Mayor John Lynch, Jr., a cousin of Cahill, his seven-term successor.
In January, after more than two decades as an Assistant City Attorney, Catanese’s law partner TK Shamy, was promoted to the City Attorney job, which had been held by Hamilton.
But Hamilton remained on in a newly-created role, as the city’s “Special Counsel” where he still makes the same salary and collects the same public pension.
The ex-NBPD Director’s new position was not announced or publicized.
New Brunswick Today learned Catanese had been hired only after he was copied on the response to a public records request, denying access to records that had been destroyed by the NBPD.
After a scandal that saw two city police officers convicted for running multiple houses of prostitution in New Brunswick, Catanese rose to the department’s top job, replacing Michael Beltranena in 2000.
During Catanese’s time in office, the department was sued for excessive force and for targeting and violating the rights of the city’s Latino residents and visitors.
“Appellants allege that [NBPD] systematically stop, search, and arrest Latinos for minor offenses and then hold them with excessive bail, and in some cases, no bail,” reads a 2007 letter from US District Court Judge William Walls.
Catanese led the department for about seven years, leaving office within a year of the NBPD investigation into the suspicious suicide of the city’s Water Director in 2007.
The incident came amid a federal corruption investigation into New Brunswick’s local government, led by future Governor Chris Christie. Christie ultimately credited Catanese and the FBI for sending several city workers to jail.
“This has been a very hard decision because I have truly enjoyed serving the citizens of New Brunswick,” Catanese said according to an October 2007 Star-Ledger report, when his retirement was announced.
Catanese technically held the top job in the department until February 1, 2008.
But Caputo had already taken over the day-to-day operations at the department months earlier, to allow Catanese to use his ample accumulated paid sick and vacation time, according to published reports.
Caputo would serve as NBPD Director for just over two years before retiring.
But Mayor Cahill handed over the reigns to Mangarella, and after less than two years, Caputo was re-hired to the very same position and allowed to simultaneously collect his pension at the age of 50.
Mangarella was hired by the city’s Board of Education to the head of security position, allowing him to collect a $90,000 salary at the same time he also collected a sizable pension.
Catanese graduated from Rutgers University and joined the city police force in 1982, and was promoted to lieutenant by Cahill in 1993, captain in 1998 and deputy director in 2001.
While Catanese was rising through the ranks on the police force, he continued his studies, earning a Master’s Degree from John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City, and a law degree at Seton Hall University.
While he was still the NBPD’s Director, Catanese was also involved in a high-profile, high-stakes guardianship case involving an elderly multi-millionaire from Highland Park.
After retiring, Catanese resurfaced as a lawyer at Shamy’s firm, an occasional public participant at City Council meetings, and eventually a member of the city’s powerful Planning Board.
Catanese abruptly resigned from Planning Board after a lengthy drama played out in 2014 and 2015, involving a controversial plan for a large apartment building on Mine Street.
Catanese strongly supported the plan, put forth by Democratic Party donors Construction Management Associates, but ultimately lost the final vote. He resigned shortly thereafter.
A few months later, without Catanese, the board approved a plan for a 26-unit apartment building on the same site where the developer had originally sought to build 57 units.
According to his financial disclosure forms filed in 2014, Catanese owns two properties on Jefferson Avenue and 50% of a home on Somerset Street through the limited liability company LIL-ROC, LLC.
As we reported, Catanese was one of three attorneys to represent the political establishment as they fought against many voters’ provisional ballots being counted in a 2012 referendum election.
In April 2014, as Mayor Cahill was preparing to run for re-election, Catanese filed an Open Public Records request seeking criminal records of the author of this article. The request was denied by his neighbor, City Clerk Dan Torrisi.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.