Published on NorthJersey.com, Tuesday, April 28,2009
[HUMC, Coniglio, Sanzari, Bergen Dems, PMK, more]
Sanzari got years to pay his dumping bill
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Last updated: Tuesday April 28, 2009, 10:07 AM
BY JEFF PILLETS
Firms owned by Joseph Sanzari, the prominent contractor with deep ties to Bergen County's ruling Democratic Party, dumped fill and construction debris at the Overpeck Park site for two years without being charged, while other haulers paid by the truckload.
The firms dumped well over 100,000 cubic yards of debris at the county-owned site before Bergen County officials even sent a bill, in October 2007.
Sanzari's trucks by that time had been coming to Overpeck since the spring of 2005 and had run up a $609,000 tab, delivering thousands of loads from publicly financed road and redevelopment jobs across North Jersey.
Scores of other haulers, by contrast, paid tipping fees as often as 10 times a month, records show, with most paying two or three times a month.
Even after Sanzari began to make payments, records show he maintained a significant balance. In fact, his companies still owed $320,000 in tipping fees when The Record first started to ask questions about the matter earlier this month. County officials said that Joseph M. Sanzari Inc. made payments of $150,000 and $18,000 the week of April 13. A second firm, Creamer-Sanzari, A Joint Venture, paid $152,000 last Friday.
Bergen County's failure to collect from Sanzari's companies came at a time when officials were struggling to finance skyrocketing expenses associated with the Overpeck project. More than $100 million in bond offerings and open-space tax reserves have already been dedicated to the project site in Leonia, Teaneck and Ridgefield Park, where a former garbage dump is being converted into what officials promise will be "Bergen County's Central Park."
Those officials are now declining to discuss details of their dealings with Sanzari, a leading Democratic contributor who is also the employer of state Sen. Paul A. Sarlo of Wood-Ridge.
The Bergen County Improvement Authority, which has responsibility for the project, said it was not equipped to keep tabs on such a large undertaking. The quasi-governmental agency outsourced oversight for the project to PMK Group, a politically connected project-management firm.
"There's basically a staff of three people over there," Keith Furlong, a BCIA spokesman, said last week. "They rely on hired professionals to do the oversight."
Furlong, in a prepared statement, said Overpeck truckers "occasionally" make late tipping-fee payments. "This is typical during such a large construction project," he said.
He added that the agency has full faith in the work of PMK of Cranford, which has received $6.7 million since being hired as project manager in 2005.
In a brief interview before issuing the statement, Furlong said he could not explain why the agency had waited more than two years to collect payments from one of Overpeck's major fill suppliers. He did not respond to further questions this week.
PMK officials also did not respond to requests for interviews last week. Discussing the issue earlier this month, PMK executive Bashar Assadi said the county, not PMK, made all decisions about the haulers who dumped at Overpeck.
"We aren't bill collectors," said Assadi, PMK's lead man at the Overpeck site. "We tell the county if someone owes, and after that it is up to them."
BCIA records show that all Overpeck documents, including billing invoices, are signed by Executive Director Edward Hynes. In addition to its $140,000-a-year chief, the BCIA has a board of directors that has approved a range of expensive add-ons that have pushed the project's price tag past $70 million, from a $45 million cost estimate just two years ago.
Neither Hynes nor BCIA Chairman Ronald O'Malley returned phone calls for this story.
Sanzari's office also declined to discuss their record at Overpeck. But in a statement released last Friday, a company official said the county sent Sanzari's firms only two tipping-fee bills in the past four years.
"As of today Joseph M. Sanzari Inc. and its affiliated companies does not owe any money to the BCIA," said Jo Ann M. Dellechiaie, the company's vice president. "At all times during the project, [Sanzari companies] followed all protocols regarding testing, sampling and invoicing as established by PMK Engineering."
She said that the Sanzari firms — which have supplied about 15 percent of all Overpeck fill — have paid as much per cubic yard as other haulers who dumped at Overpeck, and sometimes more.
Sanzari, of Ho-Ho-Kus, and his construction firms enjoy a reputation for timely completion of complex public projects, including the successful reconstruction of the once-snarled intersection of Routes 4 and 17.
He also is known as one of New Jersey's most visible pay-to-play contractors, one with deep ties to officials who set state policy and make key spending decisions. State records attribute more than $100,000 in contributions to New Jersey candidates and committees since 2006 to Joseph M. Sanzari Inc. and those associated with the firm.
Between 2006 and 2008, his companies were awarded more than $380 million in public contracts.
As the chief operating officer of Sanzari's construction firm, Sarlo has a direct role overseeing the firm's multimillion-dollar dealings with state and local public agencies. His work includes the endorsement of bid documents and the review of expenses in public projects.
Sarlo also had his Trenton aide, Chris Eilert, sign some Sanzari company documents as a witness. Eilert said he is a notary public and any signature for Sarlo's company was probably done "over dinner" with Sarlo, off government property.
Sarlo says his employment by Sanzari does not conflict with his part-time job in Trenton, where he sits as a majority member of key committees that control state spending on construction projects. He declined to speak about Sanzari's record at Overpeck.
"I'm not really allowed to say anything," Sarlo said.
Sarlo declined to respond when informed of data that show J. Fletcher Creamer of Hackensack, Sanzari's partner in the Joint Venture, made frequent and regular payments to the county for material trucked in by a firm he owns separate from Sanzari.
Overpeck project records show that in the fall of 2007, Sarlo stepped in to stop the county from an attempt to collect some of the money owed by Sanzari's companies.
In a letter to the BCIA, PMK had recommended that the county withhold $200,000 it owed to another Sanzari-related firm, North Bergen Rock Products, for clean rocks used at the Overpeck site.
But in conversations with PMK, the records show, Sarlo successfully argued that the county could not withhold payment because North Bergen Rock, legally, is a separate company.
Asked if the county challenged Sarlo's interpretation or sought any further negotiation on the debt, a PMK official said he was uncertain what happened next, if anything.
"Sarlo told us we couldn't deduct the payment and, as far as I know, that was the end of the matter," said Assadi, the project manager.
North Bergen Rock Products lists its business address as 90 W. Franklin St., Hackensack. It is the same address as Joseph M. Sanzari Inc., and at least two other Sanzari companies.
Overpeck project invoices show that the county does not have records detailing how much material Sanzari's crews trucked in from the Carlstadt project. An Oct. 31, 2007, letter shows that the Overpeck project manager instead estimated the amount once it was already in place, noting that it was spread over 6 acres to a depth of about 4 feet.
Online story here. Archived here.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.