Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: Contractor Rips "Racist" Moves by Michaelangelo Conte
Now that all of the theft and embezzlement charges against him have been dropped or dismissed, Minority Contractors Coalition of Trade Workers President Donald Wilson said yesterday that racism prompted officials to charge him with the crimes in the first place.
"The only difference between us and other contractors is the color of our skin," Wilson said yesterday at a news conference in the office of his Jersey City attorney, Vincent J. D'Elia. "It's total racism. It started in Jersey City and went to the county and then the state."
The charges have crippled the MCCTW in its mission to train and provide employment to minority workers, he said.
But Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said Wilson's prosecution was made in good faith, and that accusations of racism are unfounded.
He also noted that charges against Wilson also emanate from the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which is part of the office of Attorney General Peter Harvey, an African-American.
"I'm sorry Mr. Wilson feels the way he does, but the grand jury saw fit to indict him on the charge of theft by failure to make required disposition of property received, also known as embezzlement," DeFazio said.
The charges against Wilson arose from the MCCTW's role in the $5.3 million Wilkinson/Bayview Project, a development of 27, two-family homes in Jersey City's Greenville section. Contractors working on the Wilkinson project were required to use a percentage of minority employees, according to Wilson.
The nonprofit MCCTW tried to kick off the construction project in 1983, but for many years faced resistance from Jersey City leaders.
Then in 1997, under Mayor Bret Schundler, the MCCTW won the bid for the development and the land was signed over to the organization to coordinate the project, hire contractors and secure grant funding.
The organization was thrown off the project in 1998, when questions of financial irregularities were raised.
But Wilson said these allegations never triggered criminal charges and were unfounded.
But charges did come on May 5, 2002, when, Wilson said, he was arrested at gunpoint in his Madison Avenue home after the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office alleged that he stole $120,000.
Those charges were dropped in October 2003, Wilson said.
The Prosecutor's Office then indicted Wilson, alleging he received money earmarked for the Wilkinson Project, but failed to pay about $15,000 in real estate taxes and home warranties.
Those charges were dismissed by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Elaine Davis, Wilson said.
According to Wilson's attorney, the MCCTW had been forced to use $15,000 to cover administrative costs because of additions to the project. The attorney also said that another $1 million in expenses had been added to the project, but the MCCTW was not given funds to cover those costs.
The project was funded by the Housing Mortgage Finance Agency, a quasi-governmental institution that funds public construction projects. The state Department of Consumer Affairs is currently seeking to bar Wilson from participating in government contracts, because of the issues surrounding the $15,000.
DeFazio said prosecutors can revisit the dismissed charges.
"Just to make it clear about the dismissal of the indictment, it was dismissed on a unique legal interpretation, and it was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can once again be presented to another grand jury," he said. "It was not a disposition on the merits of the case, and is therefore not final."
Wilson, along with three other parties, are currently involved in another civil suit involving environmental issues at the development site. According to D'Elia, the contamination came to light after the MCCTW had already been thrown off the project.
Wilson said the stigma of the charges his organization had faced has stifled his the MCCTW's ability to get projects. It has also caused the organization's membership to shrink, and has generated about $200,000 in legal expenses and the MCCTW is now facing bankruptcy.
Wilson will likely sue for damages, he said. "Right now, with all the work going on in Hudson County, the African-American community has none of it," Wilson said. "The last time we were fully employed was in slavery."
DeFazio said Wilson's claims of racism may be tactical.
"Some might think that the accusations of racism have been made to intimidate the state from seeking to reindict him on the charges," he said. "The determination on whether the case will be presented to the grand jury again will be made in the near future."
Note: This article first appeared in The Jersey Journal
Wednesday, April 14, 2004