After campaigning on promises to end pay-to-play and political favoritism, the City Council has been brutally criticized for many of their politically motivated hires. The majority of these hires have brought nothing more than shame, and increased litigation costs, to the City of Hackensack.
Thom Ammirato, the Citizens for Change campaign spokesman, was hired as a $78,000 per year public relations consultant. He was fired from the City of Hackensack after a flurry of subpoenas from the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office were served upon Hackensack relative to Ammirato's holding conflicting full-time government employment was uncovered by the Hackensack Scoop.
Ammirato's close friend, Anthony Rottino, served as a fundraising coordinator for the Citizens for Change. Rottino was awarded with a newly created job, "Director of Economic Redevelopment." Rottino was quickly promoted to Interim City Manager receiving $176,000 per year, a vehicle, and health insurance benefits. Rottino was, well, quite literally shamed and driven out of town by a band of fed up residents. Rottino seemingly unable to handle the heat stopped coming to council meetings, and eventually showing up to work, until he filed a lawsuit against the City of Hackensack and was fired. The newly created position "Director of Economic Redevelopment" remains vacant. Offering more proof that the hire was political, the council has advised they have no intention of filling the position.
The third leg of this political patronage triple crown is Rottino's personal friend and business partner Frank Catania, Jr. who was hired as Hackensack's Municipal Prosecutor. Rottino allegedly improperly, and without authorization, enrolled Catania (and his children) in the city health insurance plan.
Catania, an attorney with an office in North Haledon, has been criticized by residents for a drug related arrest in the 1980's--a matter that is reported to have been expunged but was not disclosed as part of the hiring process. Catania, however, is also facing an ethics complaint for the alleged misappropriation of client funds that he held in an escrow account--a matter that (judging by the reaction of the council when brought to their attention) was not disclosed to the city by Catania either.
In February of this year, the Supreme Court of New Jersey's Office of Attorney Ethics brought a complaint against Catania for the "knowing misappropriation of client funds; dishonesty; failure to safeguard client funds and failure to make prompt disposition of client funds." These allegations arise from a real estate transaction which closed in 2010.
In connection with this transaction, Catania's client was purchasing a riparian grant from the State of New Jersey. The title agency required that $190,000.00 be held in escrow. Catania held these funds in his attorney trust account for his client. Despite the need for $190,000.00 to remain in escrow, Catania allegedly withdrew $25,000.00 from the client's funds for personal use. The withdrawal of $25,000.00 was made in two installments: $15,000.00 made payable to Cattino Fitness Corporation and $10,000.00 made payable to Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith, and David for legal fees that Catania had incurred relative to his own business. The complaint further alleges that Catania settled other client matters using funds that were held in unrelated trust accounts until completely replenishing the $25,000.00 in September of 2012.
In May of 2013, Catania advised the Office of Attorney Ethics that he had borrowed $25,000.00 from his client. He justified the $15,000.00 loan to Cattino Fitness as being necessary to meet payroll and the $10,000.00 loan to Essex County Motors as having been necessary for the payment of legal fees [side note: both of these struggling businesses were 50% owned by Anthony Rottino according to public documents]. Catania produced two handwritten notes authorizing his borrowing the funds from the client. These handwritten notes, however, are in direct contradiction to earlier information that he had provided to the Office of Attorney Ethics. In July of 2012 when Catania's trust account was audited, he explained that the $10,000.00 deficiency in his trust account ($15,000.00 had been repaid at this time) was due to a mistake in advising the client of funds necessary for a closing--there was no mention of the subject loan.
When the city council was publicly questioned why Catania
remained employed by the city despite his political connections and
troubled past, Mayor Labrosse explained that Catania is "doing a great job." Deputy Mayor Kathy Canestrino went on to offer lip service on the topic during her closing remarks, "none
of us want anyone in a position because of a political affiliation, we
all agree to that...the folks that are here, if they are here if they
are working and proving themselves and doing a good job then to remove
them from that position because it is a perception they are politically
connected to someone else, is just as wrong as hiring someone under that
pretense...if these folks are doing a good job for the city, there is
every reason to have them continue to work for the city and it is to
your benefit as residents..." Whether Canestrino was admitting that
she was wrong in voting to hire Catania, or she was saying that she won't
fire him now because two wrongs don't make a
right, I am not sure. I do, however, know that Hackensack can do