Assemblyman Joseph Vas (D-Perth Amboy) was indicted today on charges that he conspired to steal about $5,000 in funds of Perth Amboy city funds to pay for personal purchases and expenses and rigged a public lottery so that his personal driver could buy a two-family home through a local program
Vas was charged by a state grand jury with second-degree conspiracy, six counts of second-degree official misconduct, second-degree pattern of official misconduct, third-degree theft by unlawful taking, third-degree misapplication of government property, and third-degree tampering with public records or information, According to Deborah Gramiccioni, the director of the Division of Criminal Justice, The driver, Anthony Jones was charged with one count each of conspiracy and official misconduct, both in the second degree.
"Joseph Vas took an oath as mayor to honestly and faithfully serve his city, but instead he shamelessly exploited his position for personal gain," said Attorney General Anne Milgram. "We charge that he stole taxpayer money from Perth Amboy's recreation department to pay for personal expenses, including hundreds of dollars for clothing and sneakers for himself and $1,450 for basketball camps for his son. And by rigging a housing lottery, he rewarded his personal driver at the expense of the city, denying deserving families who might have been able to purchase this two-family home. Public officials are elected to serve the public, not exploit their positions for private gain."
According to the indictment, Vas received payment from the Perth Amboy Recreation Department for personal expenses, "including $1,450 in fees for two basketball camps for his son, $289 for refreshments for his father's funeral, and hundreds of dollars for sportswear, sneakers, beachwear and other personal items for himself."
"Mayor Vas treated taxpayer money like his own, enlisting others to help him cover up his fraudulent expenditures," said Gramiccioni. "Fortunately, the detectives and attorneys assigned to our Corruption Bureau uncovered his various schemes.
He is also charged with arranging for a co-conspirator, who was not named in the indictment, to "conceal a folded index card bearing Jones' name and pretend to randomly draw it as the winner from among 40 participants." That enabled Jones to purchase the low-income housing, which was made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development New Construction First Time Home Buyers Program. Jones paid $129,800 for the home and received $2,000 in subsidized closing costs from the city.
Fraudulent expenses allegedly billed to the Perth Amboy by Vas included:
- $1,400 in fees for a private basketball training camp, including $1,000 in fees for his son as well as fees for a co-conspirator's son;
- $153.22 for beachwear for himself;
- $142.38 for sneakers and a duffle bag for himself;
- $3,800 for various expenses, including personal clothing and other unidentified items;
- $450 for a second basketball camp for his son;
- $289.37 for refreshments for his father's funeral.
Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of ten years in state prison and a criminal fine of $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
According to the Attorney General's press release, four of the second-degree counts against Vas – three of the official misconduct counts and the pattern of official misconduct count – carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without parole because they involve conduct that occurred on or after April 14, 2007. The third-degree tampering with public records count carries a mandatory minimum of two years in prison without parole.
Vas, 54, spent eighteen years as the Mayor of Perth Amboy before his defeat in May 2008. He is the Perth Amboy Democratic Municipal Chairman and is already facing a challenge in the Democratic State Assembly primary from South Amboy Mayor Jack O'Leary
Shortly after PolitickerNJ.com reported Vas' indictment, his chief of staff, Angelique Rajski, denied that the three-term Assemblyman was in any trouble.
"He was in the office until 3:45 p.m. today," Rajski said. "He just left to go speak to his accountant."
Rajski later called back to deny the report again.
Vas sought the Democratic nomination for Congress in 2006, but was soundly defeated in the primary by Albio Sires, the former Assembly Speaker.