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Ex-Prosecutor Hired By NJ Attorney General's Office

Outgoing Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan Leaves Office Amid Controversy
Bruce Kaplan
Former Middlesex Co. Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan was criticized for his response to a shooting at the Old Bridge Pathmark last year. NJ.com

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Home News Tribune (HNT) reported that longtime County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan has resigned from office to take a position in the state Attorney General's office.

"MCP Bruce Kaplan resigned today to take a job as counsel to Division of Justice in AG Office. Sen. Bob Smith rumored to have hooked him up," tweeted HNT reporter Bob Makin early Saturday morning.

On Friday, NewBrunswickToday.com broke the story that Kaplan had resigned from his eleven-year position as the Middlesex County Prosecutor.

Kaplan’s tenure as county prosecutor was riddled with controversies and criticisms that have followed him until his resignation.

Many of Kaplan’s troubles stem from his inactivity or questionable decisions in many legal cases during his tenure.

A prime example was his office ignoring public claims of election fraud in New Brunswick's first-ever school board elections.

Kaplan’s office opted not to investigate those claims, as has been the case with other criminal accusations against New Brunswick political figures including Kevin Jones, an aide to Mayor James Cahill.

New Brunswick Today even approached Governor Christie about the election irregularities we first reported on in January, during a town hall event in Middlesex Boro.

There, Christie promised to look into the botched school board election, an act that would have normally been initiated by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office.

Two days later, the governor announced his intention to replace Kaplan with Andrew Carey, a former colleauge of the governor's in the US Attorney's office.

Kaplan's second term expired on January 14, but Carey has yet to receive approval from the NJ State Senate.

The most nefarious piece of Kaplan’s legacy as county prosecutor is his continued association with former New Brunswick mayor, and convicted felon, John Lynch.

Lynch was mayor of New Brunswick from 1979 to 1991, and became one of the most powerful politicians in the state before he was convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion.

According to the Home News, Lynch’s power brokering continues now that he has been released from jail, especially within the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Kaplan, along with other influential lawyers from New Brunswick, has represented Lynch during his legal troubles.  The two were once law partners, at a powerful firm that remains today at the corner of Easton Avenue and Hamilton Street.

Makin's editorial in this Wednesday's HNT declared, “For more than 20 years, three members of a law firm that has represented Lynch have held powerful county positions: Kaplan, prosecutor since 2002 and county counsel before that; the county’s current counsel Thomas Kelso, who replaced Kaplan, and former prosecutor Robert Gluck, who served from 1992 to 1998.”

PARKING AUTHORITY SCANDAL
NewBrunswickToday.com reported on one of the more egregious actions taken by Kaplan's office when we covered the cases of Emil Hanna and Emad Naguib, two former New Brunswick Parking Authority employees who a jury acquitted of stealing from their employer.

Hanna and Naguib, who both worked as security guards for the Parking Authorities, still face a maximum of ten years in state prison for failing to report on the thefts of their supervisors at the Parking Authority.  Both would be required to service a minimum of five out of the ten years without parole.

As we reported in April, Judge Bradley Ferencz postponed the sentencing for two weeks to decide on a motion to throw out the case, because the defense argued the official misconduct law that the two were convicted of violating should never have been applied to the security guards.

Along with Hanna and Naguib, a high-ranking official in the authority named Michael Lapidus was also accused of theft, but the charges against him were dismissed by Kaplan's office when Lapidus agreed to re-pay the authority $24,000 in missing funds, and agged to enter a pre-trial intervention program that kept him from going to prison.

Mitch Karon, the executive director of the New Brunswick Parking Authority, granted the program to Lapidus, but did not do the same for Hanna, while Naguib was ineligible.

Karon was also accused, during the trial of Hanna and Naguib, of failing to prevent regular thefts from garage ticket machines, but was never indicted for questionable handlings of the agency’s cash.

Kaplan says that Karon testified saying that he was not aware of any theft back in May 2010 by the New Brunswick Police Department. 

But according to the defense attorney Joe Mazaraani, Karon definitely knew about the financial mishandling within his department, but probably did not know about any specific thefts.

ALLEGATIONS OF RACISM
Recently, one of Kaplan’s assistant prosecutors, Manny Sameiro, has faced allegations of racism from a former colleague and current adversary, defense attorney, Kevin Flood.  

In April, the Home News reported on a case where an assistant prosecutor was challenged by the defense for a past racial incident that was allegedly ignored by Kaplan.

Kevin Flood,  is representing Rahway resident Kevin Slaughter in a case of an alleged robbery that took place almost three years ago.

Aside from his defending his client, Flood is also fighting against the appointment of Sameiro to prosecute the case.

Flood, who used to work under Sameiro at the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office, has twice filed two motions to have the assistant prosecutor removed.

Sameiro allegedly used a racial slur in conversation with his team members, as he complained of always having to push the cart of legal documents, along with colleague Carl Swanson.

However, the Superior Court judge, Dennis V. Nieves, presiding over the case has not accepted those motions, stating that albeit his disapproval of the situation, he cannot remove Sameiro because of delays that the investigations would cause. 

Jordan Rickards, a lawyer based in Milltown who is also running for Middlesex County Freeholder as a Republican, was a part of Sameiro’s legal team (under Kaplan) and present for the ordeal.

Rickards recounted the incident in his official report to the court:

Once assembled in the hallway, Mr. Sameiro told me, in a not subdued voice, that when it came to pushing the cart, ‘Me and Carl are not your n*****s. It’s not our job to push the cart for you every morning.’ He continued this complaint for several more lines, though mercifully without using any further profanity or epithets. When Mr. Sameiro said ‘n*****s,’ Mr. Swanson instantly looked down the floor in a manner that indicated obvious embarrassment. Mr. Flood and I looked at each other in stunned disbelief, not simply because we were so shocked to hear the word, but also because it was used so carelessly, brazenly and loudly in, of all places, a courthouse hallway, where it could be heard by anyone.

Although he disagrees with having Sameiro removed from his job as assistant prosecutor, Rickards continued to affirm that the situation should have been managed better by Bruce Kaplan.

Kaplan, as acting Middlesex County Prosecutor, defended his decision to keep Sameiro employed in his office:

“On the eve of trial in a matter involving two defendants, a matter which has been pending for more than two years, one of the defense attorneys sought disqualification of the assigned assistant prosecutor for an alleged statement made approximately four years ago,” Kaplan said.

"The alleged statement was made to members of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and was in no way related to the pending case or to any case pending at that time," the prosecutor continued.

WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION SUIT
Just last week, Makin revealed another case that proved damaging to Kaplans's reputation.

Apparently, Middlesex County and the Prosecutor’s Office are being sued by a highly-honored investigator in a workplace discrimination and whistle-blower lawsuit. 

Gabriela Nieves, an investigator with the agency since 1993, filed suit claiming that the Prosecutor’s office had done nothing to prevent the harassment and retaliation that she was getting in her work environment.

Nieves is related to a New Brunswick police officer with the same last name, but not the judge in the case involving Samiero.

The Home News Tribune's Bob Makin also broke the story of the lawsuit by Nieves:

Gabriella Nieves complained about the 2010 promotions of four male colleagues with less experience to the rank of sergeant over her, the prosecutor’s office retaliated by creating a hostile workplace environment. Nieves was excluded from investigations, stripped of her county vehicle and office space, and was the subject of an internal affairs investigation that yielded no results other than to destroy her career, according to the suit.

The defense attorney hired by Middlesex County to defend the prosecutor's office is local attorney Laurie Dvorak, the daughter-in-law of Lynch – the convicted former mayor of New Brunswick. 

OTHER CONTROVERSIES
Among the other allegations against Kaplan, nepotism and preferential treatment for favored political allies – such as his hiring of Patrick Barnes, the brother of state assembly of Peter Barnes of the 18th district; and for appointing Lt. Andrea Craparotta – the wife of his former legal partner Robert Gluck, as interim police director at Middlesex County College.

On the same day that Kaplan resigned, Barnes' father Peter Barnes Jr. announced he will not seek another term as Chair of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.

Makin again slammed on the issue of preferential treatment in an editorial last week, taking the prosecutor to task for hiring eleven employees who were already collecting pensions from former governmental jobs they had retired from.

Kaplan also accused of showing preferential treatment to the son of Assemblyman Joseph Cryan.  The younger Cryan was involved in a road rage assault incident, where he beat a victim with baseball bat in 2002.  The case was moved from Union County to Middlesex County, where the defendant was only punished with probation, which he eventually violated twice.

Last year, Kaplan was criticized by the Star-Ledger for his handling of a mass shooting in an Old Bridge supermarket, where authorities waiting almost two hours before entering the building:

Why is Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan refusing to address these questions, and others, except for written releases? He is paid with tax dollars and in charge of public safety for one of the state's largest counties in size and population. After an initial press conference his office went silent for two weeks. The 911 tapes were released 13 days after the shooting, and Kaplan made no other public statements until he issued a prepared release Saturday evening.

He did so, according to the release, "after weighing legitimate public interest against the privacy rights of the two families." This makes it sound as if the public is only interested in the details of the murders, when the issue of police response is of far greater concern moving forward.

Hopefully, there were lessons learned here, and maybe the prosecutor will be more forthcoming about improvements he plans to make to streamline response.

And, hopefully, the attorney general will too.

UPDATE: According to an article on NJ.com, Kaplan is taking a pay cut of more than $30,000 his new position, which comes with a $134,500 annual salary.

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said Kaplan will be “focusing on projects along with an ongoing partnership and supervision of the 21 county prosecutors.”