Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy announced that a former shop foreman at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission pleaded guilty today to having subordinate employees complete renovations at the home of a former PVSC superintendent while on agency time. The defendant previously was convicted at trial in connection with a separate indictment.
Paul Bazela, 49, of Northvale, the former foreman of the PVSC carpenter’s shop, pleaded guilty today to third-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge Marilyn C. Clark in Passaic County. The charge was contained in a June 28, 2011 indictment that also charged former PVSC Superintendent for Special Services Kevin Keogh. In pleading guilty, Bazela admitted that he had carpenters and other skilled employees perform work at Keogh’s home while on duty, including installing windows in bedrooms, replacing kitchen cabinet doors, and installing lattice-type material under a deck. They used agency vehicles, tools and equipment. Keogh also has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Previously, Bazela was found guilty by a Passaic County jury of charges contained in a separate indictment. He was found guilty of conspiracy, official misconduct and pattern of official misconduct, all in the third-degree, as well as fourth-degree theft by unlawful taking, for having PVSC employees perform personal work on behalf of Anthony Ardis, a former PVSC commissioner who later was clerk to the board of commissioners, director of management services, and chief ethics officer for the PVSC.
Under his plea agreement, the state will recommend that Bazela be sentenced to three years in state prison on his guilty plea and three years in state prison on his trial conviction, with the sentences to run concurrently. He is permanently barred from public employment. Sentencing is scheduled for May 13.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Manis, who is Deputy Bureau Chief, and Deputy Attorney General Heather Taylor tried Bazela for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Manis took the guilty plea today. The charges are the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau North Squad.
“The arrogance with which Bazela and his co-defendants abused their authority and misused public workers is disgraceful,” said Acting Attorney General Lougy. “By putting these dishonest officials behind bars, we’re sending a message that we’re aggressively targeting this type of public corruption and working to enforce a culture of integrity in government.”
“Taxpayers should not foot the bill while corrupt officials exploit public employees and public resources for their personal gain,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’re holding Bazela and the other defendants in this case accountable for treating skilled workers at this public agency like their personal handymen.”
Ardis, 61, of Paterson, was tried with Bazela in March 2014 and was found guilty of the same charges as Bazela, but Ardis’ conviction was overturned. After the trial, the trial judge granted motions for a new trial for both men, concluding that they should have been tried separately, even though the court had twice denied pre-trial motions by Ardis to be tried separately. On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld Bazela’s conviction, but ruled that Ardis should receive a new trial. Ardis currently is awaiting re-trial.
During the trial of Bazela and Ardis, the state presented evidence and testimony that Bazela – at the behest, allegedly, of Ardis – had carpenters and other skilled workers go to the homes of Ardis’ mother and girlfriend, as well as the home of Keogh, to complete repairs and improvements while on-duty for the PVSC. They used agency vehicles, tools and equipment. Bazela accompanied the workers in some instances to supervise and assist with the projects. The work allegedly performed for Ardis included tearing down sheet rock in the garage of the home of Ardis’ mother, installing a microwave and small wood panels in the kitchen of the mother, and installing air conditioning units at the home of Ardis’ girlfriend.
Bazela was PVSC shop foreman and operations supervisor from April 2006 to May 2010 when the conduct occurred. Bazela was mayor of Northvale at the time of the trial, but he was required to forfeit that position as a result of his conviction.
The PVSC is a state agency responsible for managing and regulating collection and disposal of wastewater generated in a four-county area along the Passaic Valley River Basin, encompassing parts of Bergen, Passaic, Essex and Hudson counties.
Keogh, 50, of Roseland, pleaded guilty in June 2012 to second-degree conspiracy and two counts of second-degree official misconduct. He is awaiting sentencing. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to five years in state prison. Keogh had PVSC employees complete numerous projects for him at his home during their regular shifts for the agency between March 2006 and May 2010.
Another administrator, Chester Mazza, 74, of Totowa, former assistant superintendent for special services, pleaded guilty in May 2012 to fourth-degree theft by unlawful taking, admitting that he had subordinate employees perform work at his home, including installation of a vent or fan in the roof of his home and repairs to a stone wall in his front yard. He also is awaiting sentencing.