2003-10-30 / Front Page
Administrator indicted on misconduct charge
on misconduct charge
charges stem from
BY KATHY BARATTA
& VINCENT TODARO
Jacqueline Ascione will take a "leave of absence" from her position as Spotswood business administrator after being indicted by a state Superior Court grand jury last week on charges of official misconduct and conspiracy.
The charges are in connection with her former position as township manager in Howell, Monmouth County.
Also charged with Ascione were two Howell employees who had been previously charged in the same matter and remain suspended without pay from that township due to their previous indictments.
Howell’s former Director of the Office of Emergency Management and Assistant Director of Public Works Theodore Shostak, 52, and public works employee Michael D’Amore, 38, had both been arrested over the same matter in June 2002. However, according to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Edward Quigley, Shostak’s and D’Amore’s previous charges have been superseded by the new indictment that now includes Ascione.
All three were charged in the latest two-count indictment handed up by the grand jury on Oct. 20 with official misconduct and conspiracy. Each charge of the indictment carries a potential 10-year sentence.
According to the indictment, on or about dates ranging between Sept. 9-15, 2000, all three individuals are accused of "the crime of official misconduct by committing an act relating to their duties as public servants but constituting an unauthorized exercise of their official functions, knowing that such an act was unauthorized ... with the purpose to obtain a benefit for themselves or others, or to injure or deprive another of a benefit."
Cited in the indictment as "overt acts," it is charged that "on Sept. 9, 2000, Shostak conducted a public auction in such a way as to deny the sale of a 1985 Ford ambulance to a legitimate bidder."
It is further alleged that "on Sept. 15, 2000, Michael D’Amore purchased the 1985 Ford ambulance after Ascione approved the sale for a price much lower than the amount offered by the legitimate bidder at the auction."
According to Howell Mayor Timothy J. Konopka, that legitimate bidder, Rodney Battista, later complained to him that he had wanted to buy the ambulance for $400 but was denied the opportunity to do so by Shostak. Konopka said that upon looking into the matter he ascertained that D’Amore had bought the ambulance for $50.
"That really struck my curiosity. If a man offers $400 and it’s not sold to him, and then it’s sold to an employee for $50. Well, I just felt there was something wrong there," the mayor said.
Konopka said that after meeting with Battista, he and then-Councilman Reinhard Kirchhof began gathering documents relating to the situation.
One of the items Kirchhof was able to produce was a picture of the ambulance with a "For Sale" sign in its window parked on property allegedly owned by Ascione’s family.
Konopka said the information he and Kirchhof obtained was presented to the Township Council, which presented it to then-Township Attorney Richard Schibell for advice on how to proceed.
Konopka said Schibell recommended that everything be turned over to the Prosecutor’s Office, which began its own investigation.
Ascione had served almost a year as Howell’s township manager before being fired by a majority vote of the council in January 2001.
Ascione countered with a notice of intent to sue the township for $2 million for various charges that included breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of implied contract, wrongful discipline, breach of confidentiality for a public employee, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, slander, libel and discrimination based upon her sex.
This week, Township Manager Bruce Davis confirmed that Ascione never followed through on her threat of filing a lawsuit.
After leaving Howell, Ascione went to work in April 2002 as the administrator in Spotswood.
Though she was running this fall as a Democratic candidate for Township Council in Dover Township, Ocean County, Ascione announced after the indictment that she was withdrawing her candidacy.
Spotswood officials announced last week that Ascione has taken a voluntary unpaid leave of absence "pending resolution if the charges placed against her in Monmouth County."
"Ms. Ascione realizes that it is essential that the residents of the borough have the utmost confidence in the honesty and integrity of those who serve the public," according to a press release from Spotswood officials. "She feels it is appropriate to step down until the matter is resolved and any cloud of suspicion or doubt has been lifted.
"The entire governing body extends its best wishes to Ms. Ascione and wishes her well," the statement reads.
Spotswood Mayor Barry Zagnit said he would assume Ascione’s duties and become acting administrator, but it is possible that the borough will hire a part-time administrator to help out on a temporary basis.
Zagnit assumed the administrator’s duties between the time when former Administrator Wayne Hamilton left and when Ascione took the job. He was monetarily compensated for his work then, and said he will be paid again in a lesser amount than Ascione was earning.
"We’re going to just keep the day-to-day going as we work through this," he said, adding that he will have assistance from department heads.
There was about a one-month gap between the time Hamilton left and Ascione began, but it is unclear how long the position will remain unoccupied this time, said Zagnit. He said the earliest Ascione could return would be after the trial is over, but her return would depend on the outcome of the trial.
"I have no idea what’s entailed," he said of the situation. "It’s not our county or town. It’s all closed. Nothing’s been divulged."
Zagnit did stress that borough workers will band together to make sure Spotswood keeps running well and that services are not hindered.
Councilman Curtis Stollen said Zagnit took a poll of council members to get their feelings on the situation with Ascione. He did not wish to comment further.
In Howell, Shostak was in his 13th year of employment at the time of his arrest in June 2002. D’Amore, a fabricator-welder, had been employed by the township for almost three years. After their arrests, both men were suspended from their positions by Township Manager Bruce Davis pending the disposition of their grand jury indictments.
Attorney Edward Bertucio, who is representing Shostak, did not return requests for comment.
Attorney Evan Nappen, representing D’Amore, said the indictment brought against Ascione came a year after Shostak and D’Amore were first charged. He noted that the fact that their original indictments were superseded in order to include Ascione a few weeks before an election in which she is a candidate indicates to him the motive is to sabotage Ascione.
Nappen said he questioned why Ascione, who he called "our witness," wasn’t charged a year ago on the original indictment.
"Just look at the timing. She was our witness and the next thing you know, she’s indicted," he said. "Clearly they would have had a thorough investigation before bringing charges like this. Yet now, weeks before her campaign and before she’s to be our witness, she’s indicted. Very interesting."
Nappen said D’Amore would plead not guilty and said his client had "lawfully acquired the automobile."
Charles Uliano, who is representing Ascione, also did not return requests for comment.
Quigley said no arrests or bail arrangements accompanied the new indictments. He said a pretrial conference is scheduled for Nov. 12 to establish that each individual has retained an attorney.