NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—New Brunswick's police department continues to fight accusations of corruption and racism from a number of litigants, including some of its own police officers.
Taxpayers have already paid over $341,000 for private attorneys to defend seven-term Mayor James Cahill and two other officials in two explosive cases filed more than five years ago.
And there's no expectation that the legal bills will stop coming in any time soon, as the civil lawsuits—both filed in quick succession during March 2012—move towards trials in Middlesex County Superior Court.
The two lawsuits paint similar pictures with common themes, like the "rewarding of loyalists" and "punishment of dissidents," which the plaintiffs say have become hallmarks of the city's troubled police department.
The complaints argue that NBPD and city leaders play favorites with police promotions and assignments, and abuse their power to punish those who do not go along with their corruption.
As we reported, both cases involve allegations that Cahill's administration has been unfair to some members of the city's police force, either for political or racial reasons.
The Mayor, who is a practicing attorney himself, is just one of several defendants in each of the cases.
Taxpayer money is also flowing to lawyers for Police Director Anthony Caputo and Business Adminstrator Thomas Loughlin III in the cases.
Caputo has hired powerful attorney Steven Altman, and so far it has cost the taxpayers a total of $81,958 for both cases, neither of which have made it to the trial phase.
Caputo, a "double-dipper" official who manages to simultaneously collect a six-figure public salary and a six-figure pension, chose the powerful firm of Benedict & Altman—specifically the influential attorney Steve Altman—to represent him in the cases.
Altman is famous for representing high-profile defendants such as Dharun Ravi and the corrupt former Sheriff of Middlesex County, Joseph Spicuzzo.
Altman had famously allowed Spicuzzo, who spent 30 years as Sheriff before being jailed on charges of selling police jobs, to live upstairs in their Livingston Avenue law office when he needed a place to stay during his tenure.
Caputo is also named in a number of other lawsuits filed by civilians, each of which has cost taxpayers additional sums for his legal representation.
Since the two officer-initiated lawsuits were filed, Altman has also represented Caputo in at least five other civil cases, including one filed by a man who was paralyzed after being shot by a NBPD Detective.
Even though Caputo never attends their meetings, the New Brunswick City Council approved spending the $81,958 for Caputo's defense in the officers' lawsuits, as well as an additional $49,226.50 in taxpayer funds to pay Caputo's legal bills in those cases brought by civilians.
Loughlin, who is only named in one of the cases, has seen his attorney, Christopher D. Adams of Buchan & Palo, bill the city $31,565 so far.
Asked by New Brunswick Today to defend the expense at the July 5 City Council meeting, Loughlin said the accusations against him were "quite a fairy tale by three employees."
That case, which accused the city of playing favorites based on local politics, was filed in March 2012 by three African-American patrolmen: Arthur Anderson, Maurice Finney, and Tony Ingram.
Since the case was filed, Anderson retired after being suspended from the force, and Finney was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
"They claim that I have punished them for their political beliefs… as if I care what people's political political beliefs are," said Loughlin. "Out of 750 employees, I chose to select these three people to impose my will on because of their political beliefs? I don't even know what their political beliefs are."
"If you want to be angry at anyone about these escalating legal costs… I consider the plaintiffs the folks who are causing the expenditure of taxpayer money."
The lawsuit sent shockwaves through City Hall and the police department when it was filed.
"For at least 20 years, political control of the City of New Brunswick has been exercised by a political machine which is now headed by the Mayor of the City," reads the complaint.
"As part and parcel of the political patronage system which infects the police department and possibly the whole city government, political favoritism and punishment of the disloyal have been a predominant theme in the operation of the New Brunswick Police Department for many years," it continues.
"Principally, loyalists [to Cahill], are determined by virtue of their willingness to contribute work and/or money to the political machine."
Political machines often depend on well-paid city workers like police to regularly "kick back" hundreds, or even thousands of dollars to the political campaigns of incumbent elected officials.
Failure to support the incumbents financially is understood to halt an officer's chances of getting promoted, and can also lead to undesirable assignments, or even trumped up internal affairs charges.
The other officer-initiated lawsuit, filed by ex-Lt. Steven Middleton, accuses former Police Director Peter Mangarella of targeting African-American officers and purposely avoiding promoting them, as well as using a "racial epithet" on the job.
Mangarella's tenure only lasted two years, before Cahill brought Director Caputo out of retirement to replace him. Mangarella was hired by the city's Board of Education shortly thereafter, allowing both men to collect salaries and pensions before age 50.
Cahill, who has been in office since 1991 and was named as a defendant in both of the lawsuits, has seen his legal bills outstrip any other defendant in the cases.
Though the Mayor also does not attend City Council meetings, the Council has not hesitated to pay his mounting legal fees, even as they surpassed $200,000.
He has hired Timothy Donahue of the West Orange-based law firm Arleo and Donahue to represent him in the two major cases.
The City Council has already signed off on $227,550 for Cahill's lawyer.
"He's just a good lawyer," said Cahill, of his choice to hire Donahue. "Through the process, I've come to know Tim over the years. I think he's got a personality that works well with mine."
"He sees things similar to the way that I do, but also he gives good advice," Cahill said in an exclusive interview with NBToday. "So, I'm using him because I like him."
"We try to avoid litigation by always acting appropriately, but… people have the right to sue people for any reason whatsoever," said Cahill, before downplaying "some" of the cases against the city.
"In [these] instances, I would suggest to you that some of these cases are not real. But you'd have to go through the process," said Cahill, mentioning that cases can sometimes cost millions of dollars if they go to trial.
"So, you settle a case. At some point you cut your losses as best you can."
It's not clear when the patrolmen's case against the city would go to trial, but the case brought by Middleton is set to begin on September 18 before Judge Alberto Rivas.
Donahue did not return a phone call to his office regarding his representation of the Mayor. When approached outside the Middlesex County Courthouse, he said he had "no comment."
"In addition to his criminal defense practice, Tim handles a variety of civil matters ranging from commercial litigation to serious personal injuries," reads the Arleo & Donahue website. "He currently serves as local counsel to various governmental bodies and businesses."
"Tim has represented a wide variety of public and private figures over the years," says his biography, which notes he has represented "a number of prominent officials in state, county, and local government."
Donahue, has also represented another New Jersey Mayor, as well as other lawyers and at least one Judge.
"Tim specializes in white collar criminal defense. He has tried cases involving charges of bank fraud, money laundering, wire and mail fraud, RICO, and tax fraud," reads a description of his specialties on the Arleo & Donahue website.
Among the lawyer's "Representative Experience" listed on his firm's page:
- Negotiated probationary sentence for distributor of pharmaceutical supplies convicted of $50 million fraud
- Convinced state court to quash grand jury subpoena issued to physician accused of possession of assault rifles and illegal weapons, thereby avoiding prosecution
- Successfully argued before the United States Court of Appeals to reverse a conviction for criminal contempt in a major environmental prosecution
- Tried four month trial in federal court involving bank fraud, tax fraud, and money laundering
- Convinced government not to prosecute licensed pharmacist for money laundering and structuring cash transactions
- Avoided prosecution of client targeted in federal grand jury investigation for pay-to-play and political corruption
Donahue also represented the one-time attorney for the Elizabeth school board, Kirk Nelson, who was accused but later acquitted on charges of official misconduct, tampering with public records, hindering prosecution records and conspiracy.
Still, Cahill is probably not Donahue's most famous client, or even the most famous Mayor represented by the high-powered attorney.
Donahue's biggest case was representing an alleged victim: Mark Sokolich, the Mayor of Fort Lee who was allegedly targeted by cronies of Governor Chris Christie in the bizarre scandal where a traffic jam was caused on purpose in that town during September 2013.
The Fort Lee Council approved up to $17,000 for Donahue's contract representing the Mayor, but the costs exploded to more than $220,000 over the course of the epic case.
Just recently, Sokolich has been making a play to get a different government agency to pay for the legal fees: the notoriously corrupt Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
From a February 2017 article about the case by NorthJersey.com's Svetlana Shkolnikova:
Borough council members announced their intention to recoup Fort Lee’s legal costs from the debacle in 2014, shortly after hiring special legal counsel to represent Sokolich, the borough’s police chief and other municipal personnel during multiple investigations into the lane closures.
The borough initially imposed a $17,000 spending limit on criminal defense attorney Timothy Donohue, a partner at Arleo & Donohue LLC in West Orange, but it ultimately ballooned to approximately $220,000, according to borough officials.
Fort Lee also paid about $110,000 in additional fees to its borough attorney, Lee Cohen, and his firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole LLP for handling public records requests, subpoenas and other work related to the investigation, borough officials said.
“Fort Lee taxpayers have been compelled to ‘pick up the tab’… as a direct result of the criminal behavior of high ranking Port Authority executives,” Sokolich wrote. “Since the Port Authority has provided monetary indemnification and defense to many of its own accused and involved functionaries for their actions connected to Bridgegate, Fort Lee’s demand is demonstrably fair and equitable.”
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 and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.