Two convicted felons - including a Manahawkin man - defrauded the public by falsely soliciting donations for surviving family members of Sept. 11 victims, according to a lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General's Office.
The two men were accused of driving around in a pickup truck painted with the names of first responders who perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
Thomas J. Scalgione, 40, of Manahawkin and Mark Anthony Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls have been sued for allegedly operating an unregistered charity, according to a release from the attorney general's office.
The attorney general's office has requested that the court order the immediate impounding of Niemczyk's pickup truck to stop soliciting donations from the public, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said in a release.
“The alleged actions of the defendants is an affront to everyone who remembers the fallen and to the family members who continue to endure pain from the lives that were lost among the first responders at the World Trade Center,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “It is beyond comprehension that anyone would try to profit themselves under the guise of collecting donations to help the surviving family members of the fallen emergency responders.”
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 pleaded guilty in 1989 to committing welfare fraud.
Scalgione allegedly claims to handle public relations for truck appearances and has several criminal convictions, including theft, forgery, fraudulent use of credit cards and possession of an emergency communications receiver during the commission of a crime, according to the release.
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 release 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 former New York City police officer filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs in May, 2012, after seeing Niemczyk’s pickup truck at a World Trade Center memorial service in Barnegat.
"After doing some research, she had concerns about whether Niemczyk and Scalgione were operating a legitimate charitable organization," the release states.
The attorney general’s 3-count complaint was filed in State Superior Court in Ocean County and contends that Niemczyk and Scalgione committed multiple violations of the State’s Charities Registration and Investigation Act.
A review of financial records revealed that donated funds were commingled in Niemczyk’s personal bank account and that none of the organizations the defendants claimed to have sent donations to had any records or memory of receiving donations from the defendants.
"The defendants allegedly raised tens of thousands of dollars through public donations and the case has been referred for possible criminal prosecution in addition to the filed civil complaint," the release states.
The Cain Foundation, one charity the defendants claimed to support, does not exist, according to the release. Rosemary Cain, whose firefighter son died on 9-11, was never contacted by Niemczyk or Scalgione and has no connection to them.
The court hearing on the attorney general’s request to impound the truck and to stop the defendants from soliciting donations is scheduled for Friday, August 3, at 10 a.m.
Deputy Attorney General Anna M. Lascurain of the Charities Regulation and Investigation Section within the Division of Law is representing the State in the case, according to the release. Chief Investigator Lawrence J. Biondo and Investigators Raquel L. Williams and Patrick Mullan in the Division of Consumer Affairs' Office of Consumer Protection, Charities Enforcement Unit, conducted the investigation.
The attorney general's office is asking people who believe they may have been defrauded by Niemczyk or Scalgione to file complaints with the Division of Consumer Affairs. A complaint form is available online at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov and complaints may be registered by calling the Division at 800-242-5846 or at 973-504-6200.