2nd corruption bust in month against pol who called McGreevey a ‘con man’
JERSEY CITY — A city official who recently called former Gov. Jim McGreevey a "con man" has now been charged — not once, but twice — in separate corruption cases involving investigators from Trenton and the FBI.
In the second criminal case in less than a month against Sudhan Thomas, federal prosecutors say the former school board president spent seven months last year lining his pockets with public funds meant for a city jobs training program.
In a bit of irony that perhaps only Hudson County's notorious politics could muster, Thomas had replaced McGreevey in an acting capacity as executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program after the former governor was accused of misappropriating funds at the nonprofit.
Thomas was an ally and appointee of Mayor Steven Fulop, who had a falling out with McGreevey and accused him of wrongdoing.
McGreevey was never charged with a crime.
But Thomas now has been.
Last month, state prosecutors accused Thomas of accepting $10,000 and $25,000 cash bribes in return for agreeing to hire an attorney for the district. That attorney turned out to be a cooperating witness.
"Yeah, nobody questions anything," state investigators say they recorded Thomas saying to the undercover witness. "Nobody questions all of that stuff."
The state's charges against Thomas were part of a statewide sting that made headlines after one of the politicians was accused of taking a cash bribe in a paper coffee cup.
Then on Friday, federal prosecutors announced criminal charges in a separate investigation by the FBI, saying the 44-year-old politician stole more than $45,000 from the jobs program by writing himself checks that he used to pay rent and go on a trip to Hawaii.
The charges appear to bolster a whistleblower lawsuit filed last year by a clerk who says she was fired after questioning Thomas' financial activity.
The nonprofit jobs agency receives funds from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help city residents enter the workforce. McGreevey was appointed to head the agency in 2014 and was widely praised for his separate nonprofit that dovetailed with JCEPT in helping ex-cons get back on their feet.
An audit conducted last year by a firm selected by Fulop allies on the JCEPT board claimed that under McGreevey, millions of dollars went unaccounted for or were directed to McGreevey's own nonprofit. McGreevey — who has said that his feud with the Democratic mayor began two years ago after he fired a Fulop ally for taking kickbacks — said all the funds were accounted for and that previous audits had never uncovered any wrongdoing.
Thomas was appointed as acting executive director in January and stepped down in July. During his tenure he faced complaints that he was trying to stack a search for a permanent director in his favor.
Thomas lost re-election to another term on the school board this fall. He also had been planning to run for a seat on the City Council.
Thomas has denied the state charges against him and described the state's case as politically motivated because he had exposed mismanagement at the jobs program under McGreevey.
But evidence of potential wrongdoing by Thomas came to light late last year after a fired clerk filed a whistleblower complaint against the jobs agency and asked the U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey to investigate Thomas. Nuria Sierra said she was fired after 20 years after confronting Thomas for cashing checks made out to "cash."
The agency's finance director, Angel Santa, later corroborated Sierra's accusations, saying in court filings that Thomas had opened a bank account on the side to write himself checks for expenses with no invoices or receipts, and that the clerk who was later fired had "immediately sounded the alarm" when she discovered what was happening.
The FBI began looking into Thomas and said they found evidence that he cashed checks that had been made payable to others or made out to "cash," which he used to obtain bank checks that he then paid to an entity he controlled called Next Glocal, officials said Friday.
A spokeswoman for Fulop told NJ.com on Friday that "it was the mayor and the JCEPT board leadership that submitted documents to law enforcement detailing what seemed to be discrepancies in accounting at JCEPT under Sudhan."
Fulop, who appoints the seats on the JCEPT board, this week announced a campaign to take the Board of Education out of the direct hands of voters and give the mayor and City Council the power to appoint school board members.
Thomas is facing up to 10 years in prison if found guilty on the federal charges. In the state case, he faces a minimum of five years in prison without chance for parole if found guilty.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.