UPDATE: Judge Stops Alleged 9/11 Charity Scam Artists From Soliciting Donations
Judge says 9/11 truck can be 'seized;' Manahawkin and Tinton Falls men sued for their part in alleged scheme
A judge has stopped two men who allegedly ran a bogus 9/11 charity in Ocean and Monmouth counties — and throughout the state — from soliciting more donations.
State Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso issued an injunction Friday halting Thomas J. Scalgione, 40, of Manahawkin and Mark Anthony Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls from raising funds that were supposed to aid 9/11 victims' families.
Grasso also authorized the seizure of any evidence relating to the investigation, including authorizing the impoundment of a truck that transported a tower piece recovered from the wreckage of Ground Zero to Barnegat last year.
In a statement to the court this morning, The Division of Consumer Affairs' Deputy Attorney General Anna M. Lascurain accused Scalgione and Niemczyk of promoting the bogus 9/11 victims' charity by driving around in the pickup truck, which was painted with the names of first responders who perished.
She said that Consumer Affairs requires that registered charities file paperwork and have a degree of "transparency and openness" in their record-keeping, which, she said, was not followed in this instance. "They used a national tragedy and are profiting from that tragedy," she said.
Scalgione and Niemczyk appeared in court Friday, representing themselves. Niemczyk said he couldn't afford legal representation; adding "I would like to have [a lawyer]."
Grasso noted that since this is a civil proceeding, "I don't know that you'd qualify," to have court-appointed representation. He advised the pair that some attorneys would at least consult with them for free.
Scalgione claimed he filled out some paperwork to register the charity, and has provided proof, in the form of cancelled checks, to the Consumer Affairs office that some of the funds were distributed to families of 911 victims.
Lascurain noted that in the registration paperwork that was filed, both men failed to disclose the facts that Niemczyk pleaded guilty in 1989 to committing welfare fraud and Scalgione had been convicted on seven counts of criminal acts, including: criminal sex acts; credit card fraud; forgery; and computer related theft.
Grasso froze the charity's assets and permitted the seizure of all documents and materials connected to the charity, including the truck.
Both Scalgione and Niemczyk helped contribute a piece of World Trade Center steel for a monument at Barnegat High School. Through the efforts of resident and Patch blogger Charles Giles and others, the 9-foot steel beam was gifted to the Barnegat Township School district in time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
Giles has told Patch he contacted Scalgione to book the truck to pick up a piece of steel from one of the towers and bring it to Barnegat High School for a memorial held there last year, but declined to elaborate further.
Both Scalgione and Niemczyk drove the red pickup truck, which bore the names of first responders who perished in the attacks. Lascurain noted that the truck is currently located at a dealership in Ocean Township where it was being serviced.
A person who answered the phone at the dealership, whom declined to be identified, said that they had been in touch with the Attorney General's Office, but were waiting to hear about the jduge's order before commenting.
According to Patch and MSN file photos of the truck, it bore different logos and license plates at different time periods.
Niemczyk allegedly lied to the people he solicited by telling them he was a former Navy SEAL and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and at one time had a license plate on the pickup truck reading “N-Seal”.
Niemczyk and Scalgione also allegedly have been selling T-shirts with New York City Police and Fire Department and Port Authority Police Department logos at 9/11 memorial events since mid-2011 to raise funds for their charity.
The Attorney General's Office states that both were not authorized to use the logos and that they allegedly also had a collection jug for cash donations when they attended events with the truck.
A number of Barnegat Township residents attended the hearing, including Bill Cox, transportation coordinator for the Barnegat Township School District.
Cox, a former New York City police officer, has raised questions about the operation since seeing Niemczyk’s pickup truck at a World Trade Center memorial service in Barnegat.
"I am very happy with the result today," Cox said.