Friday, September 5, 2014

Hackensack's Municipal Prosecutor Facing Complaint by New Jersey Supreme Court's Office of Attorney Ethics

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 better.


  1. Wonder if the Bergen County Board of Social Services was aware of any of this, as he was general counsel for them while these shenanigans were going on.Would think his Uncle Jack would have spoken up, he's usually very quick to discuss the shoort comings of other attorneys and professionals

  2. The director of personnel/interim city managers daughter was hired by the city. Currently "executive assistant" to her father. Hackensack Nepotism at its finest

  3. The N.J. Supreme Court has one hard and fast rule: Dip into clients fund and you're gone as an attorney. The fact that it was brought by the Office of Attorney Ethics and not by some whacko disgruntled client is super significant. The best he can possibly hope for is that they(the Supreme Court) buys his argument of "mistake" and only suspend him for a year or more. If he received that, he should get on his knees every day and thank the Lord. Odds are he's going to be disbarred. If you read the pleadings posted he does not deny that he"changed his story".That is likely going to be fatal to his defense. They ,the investigating entity, do not abide being lied to. So where do we go from here? Your move,John and Kathy.

  4. It is absolutely crazy and off the wall as to how this council collectively responds to these sort of issues; as if they are in a bubble, in a state of denial .or are in fact being told what to say or do by a "higher authority". It is totally unreasonable and totally out of the realm of reason that intelligent individuals collectively running on a platform of trust and transparency, would now find themselves mired in this mud. The city is in need of development. And the developers do not appreciate this lackluster and confused state of affairs. As a city, we do not need this at all. And to date, no further mention of the proposed new city manager, Troast, from Sparta, who also carries with him political connections to this crew, and a fair amount of unnecessary baggage, and a profile of not getting along with his peers. Why does this council act so strangely and in the face of all this mess claim they are doing such a great job? I scratch my head at their lame responses offered on a consistent basis. On this Catania issue, it should not even be a question what should be done. The guy should not be here. Simple.

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  7. This slander of a public official is insane. The investigation concluded there was no illegal activity. Maybe its time to edit your blog. You are making Hackensack look terrible for no reason. These are good people working for our city.

    1. The Office of Attorney Ethics investigation is still very much underway.