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MIDDLESEX, NJ–A Middlesex Borough fire inspector has been charged with conspiracy to commit extortion using threats of force, violence, and fear to extort the owner of a real estate development and construction company.
The U.S. Department of Justice charged the two men in the conspiracy: Inspector Billy A. Donnerstag, and his alleged accomplice, Joseph P. Martinelli.
Both allegedly have connections to organized crime, and are now accused of intimidating the company's head to pay additional monies beyond what was agreed to as part of a 2007 land deal in the Borough.
Donnerstag, a 49-year-old resident of Hackettstown, was hired by the Middlesex Borough's construction department in April 2016, and worked 6 hours per week at $40 per hour, according to a report on Patch.com.
Donnerstag also serves as a fire inspector for Jefferson Township, Mine Hill, and Watchung.
In Middlesex, he appeared to use the public position to act as a debt collector on behalf of Martinelli.
Martinelli, a 64-year-old from Kenvil who runs a business in Mendham called Physique, also participated in threatening the owner of the company in order to extort thousands of dollars, according to prosecutors.
The men are accused of conspiring to commit extortion by threatening physical violence against the company owner between December 2016 to June 2017, as detailed by Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick.
Law enforcement officials carried out a sting operation, providing $15,000 to the victim, who then "paid" the sum to the accused in two "lawfully recorded" meetings.
The men told the victim that they were debt collectors and worked outside the law.
Donnerstag described himself as “the guy you don't want to see” and “a problem for you right now,” according to the complaint.
The fire inspector allegedly told the victim in a telephone conversation that, if he was in front of him, he'd be on the floor.
“Okay? 'Cause I don't get talked to like that,” Donnerstag is quoted as saying. “You don't know who I am.”
Donnerstag explained that his father is Gerald Donnerstag, also known as "Jerry the Jew," a mobster who was convicted of murder in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and of theft in Essex County, in the 1970s.
The accused men allegedly demanded money because they claimed the victim had shorted Martinelli in the $1.2 million sale of a property in Middlesex a decade ago.
In reality, the sale price had been discounted some $410,000 in exchange for expedited payments. Martinelli and Donnerstag insisted the victim should pay up an additional $200,000.
Middlesex Borough fired him on June 14, the day after he was formally charged, while Watchung has suspended him without pay, according to MyCentralJersey. It's not clear if he's still employed by Mine Hill Borough or Jefferson Township.
The accused face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, Fitzpatrick said.
This is just one of many inspector corruption cases in New Jersey, and it's not the only one in recent Middlesex County history either.
In 2015, Michael Mahony, the Chief Housing Inspector of New Brunswick, was sentenced to 3 years probation after being caught with a "distribution quantity" of cocaine in his city-owned truck.
Authorities also found 36 weapons, 12 ounces of MDMA, two pounds of marijuana, and other illegal drugs in the wide-ranging operation that also ensnared two other public workers.
Mahony had nine other accomplices, but was the first to plead guilty. Mahony resigned in disgrace nine months after he was suspended without pay.
A recent instance of inspector corruption has also been reported in the state's fastest-growing municipality.
In February 2017, a former electrical code inspector in Lakewood was sentenced to 3-years in prison for accepting bribes from contractors.
Mitchell B. Perkins, a 68-year-old Stafford Township resident, accepted four bribes of $300 each between May and September 2013.
Like Mahony, Perkins is now permanently barred from ever holding a public job in the state.