Former West Orange councilman sentenced to five years in prison

TRENTON, NJ — Acting Attorney Gen. Christopher S. Porrino announced July 26 that three former supervisors at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission were sentenced to state prison or jail for having subordinate employees at the agency complete renovations and tasks at private homes while on duty.  A fourth supervisor was sentenced to a term of probation.

Among those sentenced is Kevin Keogh, 50, of Roseland, who served on the West Orange Township Council from 1998 to 2005, before resigning when he moved to Roseland.

The defendants who were sentenced July 26 to terms of incarceration by Superior Court Judge Marilyn C. Clark in Paterson are all permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey, according to a press release from the N.J. attorney general’s office.

Keogh, the former superintendent for special services at the PVSC, was sentenced to five years in state prison. He pleaded guilty on June 21, 2012, to second-degree conspiracy and two counts of second-degree official misconduct for having on-duty PVSC employees complete renovations at his home and run numerous personal errands for him.

Paul Bazela, 49, of Northvale, the former foreman of the PVSC carpenter’s shop, was sentenced to three years in prison.  He pleaded guilty on March 17, 2016, to third-degree theft by unlawful taking for using his authority as foreman to have on-duty PVSC employees perform work at Keogh’s home.  He also was convicted at trial in March 2014 of conspiracy, official misconduct and pattern of official misconduct, all in the third-degree, and fourth-degree theft by unlawful taking for having PVSC employees perform personal jobs for co-defendant Anthony Ardis.

Ardis, 62, of Paterson, a former PVSC commissioner, was sentenced to 90 days in the county jail and one year of probation.  He pleaded guilty on June 1, 2016, to a charge of third-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct.  In addition to serving as a PVSC commissioner, Ardis later was clerk to the board of commissioners, director of management services and chief ethics officer for the PVSC.  Ardis was convicted at trial on the same charges as Bazela in March 2014 but his convictions were overturned on appeal.

In addition, Clark sentenced Chester Mazza, 75, of Totowa, former assistant superintendent for special services for the PVSC, to one year of probation.  Mazza pleaded guilty in May 2012 to fourth-degree theft by unlawful taking, admitting that he had subordinate employees perform work at his home, including installation of a vent or fan in his roof and repairs to a stone wall in his front yard.

“These men arrogantly abused their positions and exploited public workers, vehicles and equipment for their selfish purposes, all at the expense of the taxpayers who fund this state agency,” Porrino said in the press release. “The sentences imposed today demonstrate our resolve to hold public officials accountable if they abuse their power.”

“These defendants were entrusted with the management of public employees and resources, and they betrayed that trust by using them for personal gain,” Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig said in the release.  “We will continue to protect public assets by aggressively investigating and prosecuting corrupt officials like these.”

The PVSC is a state agency responsible for managing and regulating collection and disposal of wastewater generated in a four-county area along the Passaic Valley River Basin, encompassing parts of Bergen, Passaic, Essex and Hudson counties.

Keogh, Ardis and Mazza were immediately terminated from their positions at the PVSC following their arrests in February 2011.  Bazela’s employment at the PVSC also was terminated in 2011.

In pleading guilty, Keogh admitted that between March 2006 and April 2007, he conspired to have PVSC employees perform work at his residence during their regular shifts for the agency.  Bazela admitted in connection with his plea that, as foreman, he had carpenters and other skilled employees perform work at Keogh’s home, including installing windows in bedrooms, replacing kitchen cabinet doors and installing lattice-type material under a deck.  They used agency vehicles, tools and equipment.  PVSC employees built, fit and finished the kitchen cabinet doors at the PVSC facility before installing them at Keogh’s home.

Keogh further admitted that he had PVSC employees perform numerous personal errands for him while on agency time.  The investigation determined that the errands included putting up holiday decorations at his home and picking up landscaping items and other personal supplies from Home Depot and Lowe’s, including plants, fertilizer, a propane tank, decorative stone and pool supplies, and delivering them to his home.  Keogh also admitted that in 2005, he had mechanics from the PVSC’s vehicle maintenance department replace the motor in the pump for his swimming pool.

Bazela’s trial conviction related to a separate indictment charging that he used his authority as foreman to have on-duty PVSC employees perform personal work on behalf of Ardis.  In pleading guilty, Ardis admitted that he conspired with Bazela to have carpenters and other skilled workers go to the homes of Ardis’ mother and girlfriend to complete repairs and improvements while on-duty for the PVSC.  They used agency vehicles, tools and equipment.  Bazela accompanied the workers in some instances to supervise and assist with the projects.  The work performed for Ardis included tearing down sheet rock in the garage of Ardis’ mother, installing a microwave and small wood panels in the mother’s kitchen, and installing air conditioning units at the home of Ardis’ girlfriend.