Lawsuit against Stack alleges ‘pay-to-play’ system, heavy-handed micromanagement

TRENTON – A former government attorney in Union City has filed a lawsuit alleging state Sen. and Mayor Brian Stack, (D-33), awarded city contracts based on contributions made to his nonprofit organization; controlled federal housing assignments and Section 8 vouchers; and instructed the city planning board to only approve projects Stack had cleared first.

The civil suit was filed Thursday by Mateo Perez, former attorney for the Union City Housing Authority and Library Board, who said he lost his jobs because of a rift with the mayor.

According to Perez’s lawyer, Louis Zayas, Stack is using his nonprofit, the Brian Stack Civic Association, to “bypass election law limitations on contributions” and using the donations to fund charitable endeavors in Union City that “are designed to create goodwill in the community,” adding to Stack’s political support. “It is a means to maintain his political power,” Zayas said today by phone. “The very contributors who donate money to his nonprofit organization end up getting government contracts.”

Stack: no merit to ‘money-hungry’ claim

Stack denied the claims through a spokesperson. “It is a completely false and baseless claim thrown about by a money-hungry attorney,” Mark Albiez, Stack’s chief of staff, said referring to Perez. “We look forward to disproving all claims in the suit and proving just how ridiculous and ludicrous they are. The claims made in this lawsuit are clearly off-base and an attempt to disparage Brian Stack’s character, all while pursuing monetary gain.”

The complaint states that Stack “has created a political machine to foster a ‘play to play’ culture in Hudson County with the primary purpose of promoting, protecting and maintaining Mayor Stack’s political power in Union City and the 33rd District, in particular, and Hudson County politics, in general.”

Last year, Stack and Union City settled a 2007 lawsuit filed by a local developer who was denied zoning approvals twice by the city. The suit claimed that zoning officials said Stack was controlling the board, and it cited eight times when developers made donations to the mayor’s political and charitable organizations within months of Zoning Board approvals, totaling $146,000 in 2005 and 2006.

“We are not going to settle (out of court),” Albiez said of the new lawsuit. “No one in the legal community takes (Perez) seriously.”

Zayas said Albiez’s remarks are “outrageous and clearly meant to further damage Mr. Perez’s reputation in the legal community.”

Perez is a former supporter, according to the suit, who has with his family “provided Mayor Stack with substantial financial and political support in the Cuban-American community.”

He said city employees are expected to sell a certain number of fundraising tickets for Stack and the Civic Association, the efforts for which were rewarded through promotion and “good assignments” in the case of police officers. Perez said he was rewarded with several jobs, including a stint as the Union City Planning Board attorney.

Buildings, jobs, and housing

In that role, Perez said he was “frequently approached” by Stack to discuss board agendas and given a list of projects that Stack wanted approved – recommendations which Perez said were always followed by board members.

On one occasion, Perez claimed Stack told him to inform a businessman that the man could not open his business until he bought tickets for Stack’s fundraiser.

Perez claims in his lawsuit that Stack helped him land a position as the Housing Authority attorney in 2004, even though as mayor Stack is not empowered to staff the federal agency. He claims Stack decides when to open the Section 8 housing list for tenants; adds names to the list as he sees fit; and controls who gets an apartment.

Perez alleges in the suit that Stack intervened in eviction proceedings, “often call(ing) Plaintiff and tell him not to evict certain people who supported him politically.” One such case, the complaint alleges, involved a drug dealer who was protected from eviction by Stack due to political support.

Among the details of the complaint are allegations that Stack pressured Housing Authority commissioners and Library Board members to fire Perez from his posts because the plaintiff “no longer contributed ‘sufficient’ money” to Stack’s cause. Perez’s contracts with the entities were not renewed, which Perez blames Stack for.

Backstory

The relationship between Perez and Stack went sour in 2010, according to Perez’s account, when an airplane “trailing a banner about Mayor Stack’s sex exploits, lies and cheating of the public” flew overhead at an outdoor fundraiser Stack hosted. The event was attended by Gov. Chris Christie, a Stack ally, and other politicians; sometime after, Stack told Perez that he believed a business associate of Perez’s father had organized the flyover. Stack allegedly told Perez that he would “destroy (the business associate) and everyone around him,” according to the lawsuit. Perez took this as a threat to himself and his father and began severing ties to Stack.

Following the fallout, Perez’s father was allegedly denied a certificate of occupancy by the city for a building he was selling – causing a loss of $1 million – according to the suit.

The suit also claims Stack “exercises complete control over the Union City Board of Commissioners, effectively using the city to gain and maintain power and political capital and forcing city employees to support him and fundraise on his behalf.”

Lawsuit against Stack alleges ‘pay-to-play’ system, heavy-handed micromanagement