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NORRISTOWN, PA—Timothy Hyungrock Haahs, a Presidential appointee and prominent player in the US parking business with deep ties to the New Brunswick and Middlesex County government, was found guilty of indecent assault in a Pennsylvania court late last year.
The criminal case against Haahs has led to big changes at the company he started 27 years ago, and led some Middlesex County officials to cut ties with THA Consulting, formerly known as Timothy Haahs & Associates (THA).
It also raised questions about the role the firm played in the design of a controversial New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) project that displaced over 700 New Brunswick schoolchildren.
While the case against Haahs quietly played out in Pennsylvania, the parking design firm won a “Marketing Legends” award and continued working with DEVCO to design the project’s massive 975-space parking garage, all part of a partnership with Rutgers University and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Haahs is a powerful and well-known figure in the Korean-American community, the founder of a church, and a board member of the National Institute for Building Sciences (NIBS).
He founded the Calvary Vision Church, a religious institution that shares its suburban headquarters in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, with the parking firm, which also operates satellite offices in Atlanta and Miami, and one inside a lawyer’s home in New Brunswick.
OFFICIAL FOUND GUILTY OF SEX CRIME AGAINST HIS EMPLOYEE
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Plymouth Township Detective Joseph LaPenta III, Timothy Haahs was praying with his victim just moments before he forced himself on her.
The incident occurred at the company’s headquarters one day before Easter 2019, and just 17 days after the company celebrated its 25th anniversary.
“At one point, Haahs asked [the complainant] if they could sit down and pray on the couch in his office… After the prayer, Haahs asked [her] if he could give her a hug,” reads the affidavit.
“Haahs was holding [her] in a tight grip with his left arm. Haahs then began to touch her lips with his right fingers and force open her mouth with his right hand,” the document continues. “Haahs put his fingers into [her] mouth and forced her face towards him. Haahs forced his lips and open mouth onto [her] forced open mouth.”
The affidavit also describes a text message conversation between Haahs and his victim later that same day.
After Haahs asked how she was doing, she responded that she was traumatized, and that Haahs’ actions were unacceptable.
“I am so sorry! I have sinned,” replied Haahs, according to the affidavit.
Haahs’ attorney Frank DeSimone declined to comment when reached by New Brunswick Today.
Originally charged with three offenses, Haahs was found guilty of just one charge: indecent assault without consent.
While Haahs was found guilty of indecent assault, he was found not guilty on a charge of harassment, according to records. A third charge, a different type of indecent assault, was remanded to a lower court, where it was dismissed.
Despite a guilty verdict from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Judge Thomas Branca following a bench trial held on December 2 of last year, Haahs still remains a free man and an active board member at NIBS.
Eight days after the guilty verdict, changes were made to the company’s incorporation paperwork, where Haahs’ wife Janice still plays a key role.
The punishment for Haahs’ crime, a second degree misdemeanor, could be up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
DELAYS HAVE KEPT HAAHS OUT OF PRISON AND IN OFFICE
It took almost two months before charges were filed, but the biggest and most surprising delay was the fact that, as of April 20, it had been more than 260 days since Haahs’ guilty verdict and sentencing had still not been scheduled.
Questions are also swirling about the timing of the different elements of the criminal case, which has now dragged on for more than two years after the victim reported it on April 27, 2019.
“Normally, this would have been adjudicated by now,” said Kate Delano, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, which handles approximately 9,000 cases each year. “He pled guilty in December of 2020, and he hasn’t been sentenced?… Holy moly, I don’t know what happened. It’s odd.”
Then, just days after New Brunswick Today began asking about the Haahs case, a sentencing order was entered by Branca, setting down a September 15 court date in the same courthouse where infamous comedian Bill Cosby was found guilty of aggravated indecent assault, a conviction that was recently overturned by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.
On August 23, Delano provided New Brunswick Today with a copy of the sentencing order, as well as documents from the case, explaining the delays in Haahs’ sentencing were partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, partly due to pre-sentencing investigations undertaken by the court, and some delay came at the request of Haahs’ attorney.
The date of the criminal complaint was June 12, 2019, which means the case has been kept out of the limelight for over two years.
It appears Haahs’ crime has been largely kept under wraps, without any announcements from prosecutors, and no media coverage until this article.
While the case was playing out, Haahs’ company continued to gobble up government business, pushing questionable projects like the one with DEVCO, Rutgers University, and RWJ Hospital, and taking on new clients like New Brunswick’s neighbor Highland Park, where THA has been retained by the local government.
NBToday learned of the criminal case through “Survivors of Sexual Assault” (SOSA), the anonymous authors of a June 18, 2021 letter to Chris Paladino, the President of DEVCO, a notorious developer that had partnered with Timothy Haahs & Associates on their next project: a controversial hospital expansion that has displaced hundreds of local schoolchildren.
The letter from “SOSA” managed to expose the crime to a whole new audience, called on DEVCO to stop doing business with the company, and raised questions about DEVCO’s knowledge of the situation.
DEEP TIES TO NBPA, COUNTY GOVERNMENT, AND DEVCO
Over the years, Haahs and his business built deep ties to the New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA), the largest parking authority in New Jersey, and their frequent development partner: DEVCO.
In an ethically questionable arrangement that New Brunswick Today exposed, Haahs’ company opened a satellite office based in the Livingston Avenue home of longtime NBPA attorney Leonard Bier, who was later fined for failing to disclose it after this reporter complained to the New Brunswick Ethics Board. Bier ceded the attorney position after the conflict was exposed.
Timothy Haahs & Associates was paid handsomely to consult on nearly every parking project in New Brunswick and dozens more beyond the city limits. The NBPA paid them $106,778.55 just last year, according to the NBPA website, which also lists THA Consulting twice under the heading “Professionals & Consultants,” in the roles of “Parking Consulting Services” and “Parking Structure Design & Engineering Services.”
NBPA Executive Director Matthew Kennedy confirmed THA is currently still in the process of carrying out a paid “assignment” for the NBPA.
“THA Consulting is a New Brunswick Parking Authority vendor inasmuch as it received a single 2021 assignment from the parking authority back in May,” wrote Kennedy. “THA Consulting completed about half of the assignment by mid-June and is in the process of finishing its single assignment, for which it has been paid $23,250 thus far.”
Middlesex County Utilities Authority Commissioner Jim Zullo, a former DEVCO Vice President and former head of the NBPA, has assumed the role of President at THA Consulting, making him the first and only person at the firm to hold that title since Timothy Haahs.
Todd Helmer, a veteran of the company, assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
The personnel shuffle was not enough to satisfy the concerns of SOSA, who point out no one with an architecture license is currently in the company’s leadership, which is typically a requirement for a firm to provide architectural services.
Addressed to DEVCO President Chris Paladino, the letter asks if THA was “hired knowingly” or if he “failed to perform… due diligence.”
“We are… disappointed with your hiring of the firm Timothy Haahs & Associates for the design of the new Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Cancer Pavillion parking garage structure, central utility plant and loading docks,” reads the letter. “Such a flagship project should be designed by professionals of high moral and ethical character.”
“We would like to know if his firm was hired knowingly or if you failed to perform your due diligence and conduct a background check. It is not right that funds are being distributed to a firm’s owner of such character and history.”
COMPANY TRIES TO SPIN ABRUPT DEPARTURE AS “RETIREMENT”
Two months after his conviction, Haahs’ company changed names, switching from “Timothy Haahs & Associates” to “THA Consulting.”
THA Consulting continues to put a positive spin on the departure of Haahs, retaining the services of a crisis communications company that is also undergoing a name change as part of a “re-branding.”
After New Brunswick Today reached out to Helmer and Zullo, Kevin Israel from “Evergreen Partners, Inc.” called this reporter.
“Timothy Haahs stepped down on Dec. 4, 2020 and now has no involvement in THA Consulting. The firm severed ties with him, and is organized under a new leadership structure. CEO Todd Helmer and President Jim Zullo are guiding the firm,” said Helmer, apparently referring to himself in the third person, in a statement provided by Evergreen.
But Evergreen’s website says they are now “Kessler PR Group” and a new website is “coming soon.” The site also says the company does “Public Relations, Crisis, and Strategic Communications” and that “Confidentiality is at the core of our work.”
A February 3 THA press release framed the “company-wide rebranding” as indicative of “growth” and characterized Haahs’ abrupt departure as “retirement.”
“These leadership changes – and the rebranding – follow the December retirement of Timothy Haahs, the company’s founder, President, and CEO,” reads the statement, which was reported on by several media outlets.
Haahs’ wife, Janice Haahs, was among three executives promoted to new roles at the helm of the company, according to the release.
The statement did not acknowledge the conviction against Haahs, and affirmed that his wife, Janice Haahs, would be taking over as Chief Administrative Officer. The company’s website now lists her as “Executive Chairman/CFO.”
“Janice Haahs has been with the firm since its inception and has held a leadership position throughout. She is THA’s Chief Financial and Administrative Officer and oversees the accounting and human resources offices. Jim and Todd run the day-to-day operations of the firm and oversee all strategic and business decisions,” said CEO Todd Helmer, in a statement provided through THA’s crisis communications firm.
DEVCO MISREPRESENTED NON-ARCHITECT AS “OUR ARCHITECT”
Helmer, a veteran of the company who has been elevated to CEO, is an engineer but not an architect.
Helmer’s new role was made official in the press release spinning the removal of the convicted man’s name from the company: “This rebranding reflects the evolution and growth of our firm,” said the newly-minted CEO.
However, a few weeks earlier, Helmer was playing it fast and loose with his credentials, as DEVCO Attorney Charles Liebling introduced Helmer to the New Brunswick Planning Board as “our architect.”
The hearings were held during a period of time after Timothy Haahs had departed the company, but before the name change and restructuring. It appears none of the directors of the company at this time were licensed architects.
Helmer identified himself as “a principal” at Timothy Haahs & Associates and was “licensed in New Jersey and other states,” but did not say what kind of license he held.
The board qualified him as an expert in architecture so that he could testify in support of the plans for a new parking deck as part of the controversial Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey project.
When asked about this by New Brunswick Today, New Brunswick Planning Board Attorney Aravind Aithal, of the firm Bob Smith & Associates, stated: “My recollection is that Mr. Helmer was proffered by the Applicant as a New Jersey licensed architect. I’ll look into this.”
City Council President Suzanne Sicora-Ludwig, who presided over the tumultuous hearings on the development did not immediately respond to New Brunswick Today’s messages.
Charles Liebling did not directly answer our question about whether he knew Helmer was not a licensed architect.
“I have to look into all this,” said Liebling on August 25. “I don’t remember obviously… I don’t know if I’ll call you back.”
THA CONSULTING OUSTED FROM ROLE IN CONTROVERSIAL PROJECT
DEVCO President Chris Paladino did not respond to questions, nor did Rutgers University. RWJBarnabas Health confirmed that they received our messages, but has not yet substantively responded to our inquiries.
Other sources in the county confirmed THA Consulting was no longer involved in the massive development, though the firm’s design work has largely been completed.
Because DEVCO has not responded, we cannot say for sure how much THA has already been paid for their services on the project, including the misrepresented testimony.
The joint Rutgers/RWJ/DEVCO project drew criticism from community members and this reporter, mostly for the city’s haphazard plan to close, demolish, and move the Lincoln Annex School to a new location.
As many parents feared, the students were booted from their school, it was quickly demolished and, while construction is underway on the hospital project, there is no visible progress on the promised replacement school.
The children now take classes in a converted warehouse over a mile away.
By July, the SOSA letter had made its way to the attorneys for the Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA), the government agency that has taken charge of the controversial project that displaced Lincoln Annex, and the parking deck for it, as well as the replacement school.
Asked if they were working with THA Consulting on the project at the MCIA’s July 14 meeting, MCIA attorney Anne Rowan responded.
“Yes, we are aware of the correspondence that was circulated,” said Rowan, “I’m not going to get into the details of that. However, you should be aware that [THA is] no longer involved in the project and we’re working to gain another vendor.”
Rowan is a partner at Rainone Coughlin Minchello, the law firm of the Speaker of the State Assembly, Craig Coughlin, a powerful political force in Middlesex County.
“They’re being replaced,” added James Nolan, the Chairman of the MCIA Board of Commissioners, the Woodbridge Township Law Director and an executive board member for the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.
MCIA Executive Director James Polos, a former Middlesex County Freeholder, did not respond to questions about who would be replacing THA on the project, and whether their design for the parking deck would still be used.
Paladino, the DEVCO President, previously told the MCIA Board that the NBPA would invest $65 million to own and operate the parking garage portion of the new project.
But the NBPA leader at the time, Mitch Karon, said they had made no such commitment.
“Where did you get this from? I haven’t even performed a feasibility study,” asked NBPA’s then-Executive Director when we asked about the supposed $65 million investment.
One year later, the MCIA decided to start its own “parking division,” making its first construction project the 975-space deck to support the hospital’s expansion.
On August 19, the Board of County Commissioners could not say which firm designed the planned New Brunswick parking deck, even as they prepared to borrow $60 million to pay for its construction.
When confronted with questions about THA Consulting, the County Administrator confirmed the company was cut out.
“They’re no longer involved,” said Administrator John Pulomena, whose daughter works for DEVCO.
Asked if it was because of the criminal case against Haahs, Commissioner Director Ron Rios responded: “We don’t know.”
POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES FOR HAAHS’ FEDERAL POSITION
Haahs has a compelling life story, growing up in a leper colony before immigrating to Southeastern Pennsylvania, having two heart transplants, and starting the company in his garage, with its stated mission to “help those who are in need.”
His firm has worked on dozens of projects across the country and internationally, including the parking facility for the Atlanta Falcons Stadium. Their other clients included Amtrak, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and several universities.
Haahs’ unique background may be why, in 2013, President Barack Obama nominated him to the prestigious position on the NIBS Board, and he was subsequently confirmed for the role by the United States Senate later that year.
Now in his seventh year on the board, it’s unclear if he will be removed or resign due to his legal troubles.
The White House did not respond to questions about Haahs’ position and whether US President Joe Biden would call for Haahs’ resignation, as Biden did for ex-Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, who ultimately resigned after a report from that state’s Attorney General validated claims of Cuomo’s illegal sexual harassment against his colleagues and constituents.
“We were only recently informed of the matter,” said Lakisha Woods, the President of NIBS, adding that her agency was conducting its own investigation. NIBS staff did not respond to our questions about when Haahs’ term on the board is set to expire.
Woods said that the other board members could potentially vote to remove Haahs, under the NIBS code of conduct, and that she had “alerted our Chair of the board.” The code requires members of the board to “comply with all governmental laws, rules and regulations”
“Any Board member may be warned or censured, or may be recommended for removal, by the Board as shall be determined in accordance with this Code, for conduct in violation of this Code,” reads Article V of the code of conduct, “Misconduct.”
Only another NIBS board member can formally charge another member of the board with violating the code of conduct.
It remains to be seen what actions might be taken by the board.
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 an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.