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Paterson mayor, 3 city officials facing corruption charges

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PATERSON, N.J. — The mayor of Paterson directed three supervisors in the public works department and other municipal employees to perform work at a warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew and allowed them to be paid overtime by the city for the work, state authorities said Tuesday.

A Tuesday indictment charges Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres' and the supervisors with theft, misconduct, tampering with public records and other offenses, Attorney General Christopher Porrino said.

"This is a case of old-school public corruption and abuse of power," Porrino said. "Mayor Torres is alleged to have misappropriated public resources and workers to advance a family business, and his co-defendants allegedly joined in his blatantly crooked scheme. We have zero tolerance for this type of abuse of public office in New Jersey."

The indictment alleges Torres directed the supervisors to work at the warehouse leased by "Quality Beer," a company formed by Torres' daughter and nephew. The work included renovation, painting, carpentry and electrical work, officials said, and allegedly was performed on several days between July 2014 and April 2015.

Prosecutors say the supervisors and other city employees did the work for Torres, but Paterson paid them for it. Torres' daughter and nephew intended to use the warehouse as a wholesale liquor distribution facility, Porrino said, but they ultimately terminated the lease after failing to obtain necessary permits and license from the state.

The public works officials charged were Joseph Mania, 51, who supervises the facilities division; Imad Mowaswes, 52, who heads the traffic division; and Timothy Hanlon, 30, assistant supervisor of the facilities division.

Mania caused false time-keeping records to be submitted to the city, including overtime verification forms and bi-weekly time sheets that allegedly falsely stated he and other employees were working overtime details on legitimate city projects, Porrino said. Mania knew he and the other employees spent at least part of the overtime shifts working at the private warehouse, he said.

Standing on the steps of city hall later Tuesday, Torres' executive assistant read a statement as he stood next to her. In the statement, Torres said he would "vigorously defend myself" against the charges and said he is confident he will be "vindicated when the full story is told."

"I am extremely disappointed and surprised that the Attorney General has elected to pursue this case and file these charges against me today," the statement said, noting that Torres and his attorneys "were in the process of addressing certain issues" with that office when "we were notified at the last possible moment that the state would be unsealing an indictment today."

Torres later left city hall without speaking to reporters, driving through a stop sign in his SUV.

It wasn't immediately clear if the other defendants have attorneys who could comment on their behalf.

Torres, the first Hispanic mayor of Paterson, won his first term in 2002 as a Democrat and was re-elected in 2006. He lost another re-election bid in 2010 but won the office again in 2014, running as an independent.

He has been the focus of a state investigation for the past year involving work city public works employees allegedly did at his home while being paid overtime.

Torres previously has said no city workers had ever done private jobs for him, but he has repeatedly declined to comment about the allegations at length. Media reports have appeared to show city employees doing such work for Torres, from washing his scooter and building bookshelves to doing construction at his nephew's would-be business.

The indictment does not prevent Torres from continuing to serve as Paterson's mayor while the charges are pending, and city officials say
they don't expect him to resign anytime soon.

Torres' predecessor, Martin Barnes, also was indicted in 2002 while he was in office. He fought the indictment and unsuccessfully sought re-election that year, losing to Torres. Barnes later pleaded guilty and served more than two years in federal prison.

Paterson, New Jersey's third-largest city, is a few miles from New York City.