Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weehawken pays $120,000 to settle tax collector's whistleblower suit.

On May 14, 2014, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $120,000 to its former tax collector who had filed a Conscientious Employee Protection Act (i.e. "whistleblower") lawsuit against the Township, Mayor Richard Turner and Manager James Marchetti.

In his suit, Joseph Fredericks, who served as Weehawken's tax collector since 1994, said that Turner would call him into his office "to instruct him as to what amount of taxes to assess for political reasons."  According to a December 24, 2012 Jersey Journal article, Fredericks claimed that "at times when it was politically expedient, Mayor Turner would have me manipulate the collection of garbage levy to advance his political agenda, such as the last May election when minimum garbage levy was collected."  Fredericks also claimed that Marchetti simply shrugged his shoulders and asked "What do you want me to do?" in response to Frederick's complaints.

Frederick claimed that after he reported Turner's alleged wrongdoing to Weehawken Police Lieutenant Richard DeCosmis, Turner retaliated against him by not paying for him to go to a tax collector's conference, not paying him for additional work performed and not giving him the raises that were given to other employees.

The settlement calls for Fredericks to receive a) a $15,000 annual increase in salary retroactive to May 14, 2011 (for a total of $45,000); an additional $30,000 and $45,000 for attorney fees.  Fredericks has agreed to "leave the Township's employment irrevocably on May 14, 2014."

The case is captioned Fredericks v. Weehawken, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-0536 and Fredericks's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Fredericks's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $120,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Weehawken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fredericks $120,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.