FBI back at Hoboken City Hall!
Patrick Ricciardi pleads guilty
Former management information systems specialist for the city of Hoboken pleaded guilty today for intercepting communications meant for the mayor of Hoboken and top city officials and passing some of those communications on to other officials, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Patrick Ricciardi, 46, of Hoboken, entered a guilty plea – before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in Newark federal court – to an Information charging him with accessing a computer without authorization, interception of wire and electronic communications and disclosure of intercepted wire and electronic communications.
According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Ricciardi was a longstanding employee of the city of Hoboken and worked as the chief information technology officer for the mayor’s office. As part of his job duties, Ricciardi was responsible for keeping the city’s network running and had access to email accounts within the city’s computer system and other aspects of the city’s computer network.
In April 2011, Ricciardi created an archive file on his work computer to intercept and store all emails sent to and from the mayor and certain of the mayor’s employees. Neither the mayor nor any other city employee authorized the storage of the emails or the creation of the file.
During his guilty plea proceeding, Ricciardi admitted he used his access to set up the email accounts of the mayor and two of the mayor’s top lieutenants so all of their incoming and sent emails would be sent to the archive folder.
He also admitted that he read some of the emails in order to spy on the mayor and her assistants, and forwarded them to other current and former city officials.
Ricciardi is scheduled to be sentenced on July 1, 2013, before Judge Salas. Each of the three counts carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Fishman praised special agents of the FBI’s Cyber Crimes Task Force, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez, for the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Intrater of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Section in the Office’s Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.
Ricciardi surrenders to FBI; more shoes to drop…
As Hoboken411 already told you five months ago – part of the FBI investigation was involving all sorts of inappropriately misdirected emails by then IT department employee Patrick Ricciardi (who managed much more at city hall, including the live streaming video). See all related documents below regarding the charges. Bail was set at $100,000 for Ricciardi, and his travel is restricted.
Makes you wonder how many other “client / attorney” violations were made by other staff members at city hall after you dig through the 30,000 emails!
Mason calls Zimmer’s bluff by calling FBI
So much for Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s efforts to hide the emails of political aides Juan Melli and Dan Bryan. Zimmer and her taxpayer-paid lawyers have been claiming the release of the emails (which are public documents) would “compromise the ongoing investigation by the FBI.”
Council President Beth Mason contacted the FBI agents on the case who had a different view than Zimmer’s party line. Turns out the Feds have no interest in being used by Zimmer as a political weapon to protect Melli and Bryan. Here’s Mason’s statement in it’s entirety:
“Last week I asked Mr. Tabakin for the phone number for the FBI Agent who is in charge of the on going investigation into certain activities in City Hall. On Monday I spoke to this Agent and explained to him that the City Council voted to release the emails of the Mayor’s two confidential aides to explore whether or not political work is being performed on taxpayers’
I conveyed to the Agent that we are not attempting to interfere with this investigation. In fact, we requested this information before the investigation even started. I explained that we are simply attempting to determine if taxpayers’ money is being used for political purposes.
In reply, the FBI expressed that they have no interest in interfering with our ability to govern the City of Hoboken. Like the members of this City Council they only want what is best for our City.
As a result we have come to a mutual agreement. Mr. Tabakin will immediately deliver the requested emails to the FBI to review, at no cost to the taxpayers. The FBI will determine if releasing the emails will compromise their investigation. If they feel the release will interfere with this ongoing criminal investigation then they keep the emails in their possession until the conclusion of the investigation and release them at the appropriate time.”
Latest Hoboken FBI Buzz involves Fire Dept.
6/5/2011 Flash update: Sources tell Hoboken411 that one aspect of the FBI investigation allegedly involves leaked emails from City Hall (in the tens of thousands), which could have illegally influenced the recent Hoboken Fire Department re-organization (amongst other things).
That’s all I’ll share at the moment – but sources also say the FBI supposedly stumbled on this information by accident – which could lead one to believe there are multiple investigations now happening concurrently.
FBI agents swarm Hoboken City Hall
At least two cars and a large SUV full of FBI agents unloaded behind Hoboken City Hall this morning.
Sources tell Hoboken411 the agents have been busy once again in the city’s Information Technology office (which was padlocked last week) and the Mayor’s office. With reporters around the state looking for answers about the latest raid, Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s office issued a brief written statement claiming the FBI is investigating “compromised security in the electronic communications within the City.”
Zimmer goes on to claim that her office contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation notifying the agency of the “potential breach,” but some sources believe this may be little more than a cover story, and that the FBI was moving in on City Hall with or without Zimmer’s blessing.
Melli not listed on press statement to the city
The statement was released to the press not by city “Communications Manager” Juan Melli as the main contact, but Dan Bryan, Zimmer’s political gopher. This is believed to be the first press release from Zimmer’s office with Bryan listed as the contact since Melli took the $75,000 a year job.
Update: Zimmer Administration under Federal Investigation
Mums the word at City hall since Hoboken411 broke the news the FBI is apparently investigating the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
Rumors and theories as to how and why the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have found itself rummaging through Hoboken hard drives have been fast and furious. The latest development involves word of a return trip by investigators who came back to City Hall with a subpoena for the hard drive of a computer in the City Clerk’s office. There is also word that taxpayer-paid Mayoral Spokesman Juan Melli is now referring reporter inquiries to his personal attorney. The focus for some remains on the question of whether the Zimmer Administration aided and abetted the destruction of public documents on city computers to avoid an embarrassing investigation, while others say the inquiry may also involve questionable procedures for the awarding of public contracts.
Once again this is published with the caveat that what follows includes a greater reliance on rumors than I’m normally comfortable with, but my charge is to bring you the best information available under the circumstances. Each rumor is supported by facts.
Beware: False info from Mayor’s office via internet operatives
Contrary to the moronic musings of certain Zimmer-worshiping online minions, the FBI couldn’t care less about who releases public documents to members of the credentialed media. The press has a legal right and responsibility to inform the public about the government’s operations. Anybody who says otherwise isn’t familiar with The Pentagon Papers.
The FBI doesn’t care that Zimmer and her henchmen have issued a “Gag Order” to city employees, or whether someone may have violated Zimmer’s Big Brother communications policy. It’s more likely that a far stronger parallel rumor is true – that Zimmer brought in private Information Technology experts to scour the city’s hard drives for evidence employees were whistle blowing to the media. As the rumor goes, this IT crew is purportedly somehow connected to (or recommended by) the New York political campaign team that ran Zimmer’s council elections.
Private IT consultants scour Ricciardi’s office on false pretenses?
According to one Hoboken411 source, several weeks ago a small group of people who claimed to be an “Audit Team” from the Group Insurance Fund (GIF) that insures the city came to the now-padlocked IT office on the 3rd floor of City Hall. The source says such an audit would include making sure the city servers were operating safely and not causing a fire hazard. The alleged “GIF audit team” actually went well beyond that and secured access to the information on the hard drive.
This “Audit Team” apparently didn’t “Audit” anything else but the hard drives in the IT office, which was seen as suspicious. Some people wonder if this was a GIF team, or private IT consultants brought in by the Mayor and Business Administrator Arch Liston under false pretenses. One source says Hoboken IT department head Patrick Ricciardi (right) was sent “on an errand” away from City Hall while the outside IT team spent hours scouring the city’s servers in his office.
Another theory is the team was sent in to cover the computer tracks of Zimmer Administration officials who had illegally deleted files they were concerned would come back to haunt them in a City Council investigation. Deleting public documents to escape public scrutiny is against the law. Efforts to reach Ricciardi for comment have been unsuccessful, and it is unknown if he has been formally suspended or simply “relieved of his duties” with pay by Liston.
Rumor: FBI and/or Atty. General investigating Zimmer’s contracts
Hudson County and Hoboken have a long history of arrests and convictions associated with public officials who go out of their way to “steer” contracts to favored bidders. Sometimes this involves outright bribes, and other times it involves stubborn politicians who just want a certain contract to go to a certain bidder, and will risk going outside the law to get it done. The Zimmer administration has raised eyebrows with the way it has handled several bids, most recently for City Auditor and Bond Counsel.
City Auditor contract already under state scrutiny
As Hoboken411 reported in February, the State Comptroller criticized the awarding of several contracts, including the city’s initial Auditor contract with the firm of Ferraioli, Wielkotz, Cerullo & Cuva. When the contract went out for bid again for 2011, several firms submitted much lower bids than the incumbent firm. In response, Zimmer’s allies implored the Council to reject the low bidders for the auditor contract, which was recommended after review by the council subcommittee, and instead go with Zimmer’s choice of the high bidder. Zimmer ignored two other bidders as she pushed the $80,000 contract for her choice. 5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham led the charge to hire the firm whose original contract we now learn the State Comptroller was telling Zimmer was not awarded in “a Fair and Open process.” In response Zimmer’s team went back to Ferraioli and negotiated the contract price down to a level closer to the lower bids, but never went back to the other bidders to see if their prices were also negotiable. Some may see this as unfair bid-rigging.
Cunningham also urges contract for friends at Gluck Walrath
Cunningham pulled a similar move when Bond Counsel Gluck Walrath was not the low bidder for services to the city.
Cunningham – who handles municipal bond deals and has municipalities as his clients for BNY Mellon – has professional ties to Gluck Walrath. Cunningham took the unusual public step of urging the council and administration to do all they could to retain Gluck.
Is that now under investigation as part of Operation Bid Rig?
That’s a question nobody is answering right now. Also in question is the over $300,000 in contracts awarded to powerful State Senator Ray Lesniak’s law firm by Zimmer, including $103,000 for 3-day-a-week Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin and $200,000 for “other employment related lawsuits” facing the city. This kind of multi-contract arrangement has been under scrutiny by state investigators in Ridgefield, and may have caught the attention of the state in Hoboken as well.
Fact: Corporation Counsel’s office feeds political spin operation
When Hoboken411 broke the news of the FBI investigation last week it set off a firestorm at City Hall. What was the response? The Mayor’s office gave Assistant Corporation Counsel Melissa Longo a list of reporters and Zimmer-friendly online operatives to call and give a brief statement to about the report. The fact that she called non-credentialed people (including an operative who gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Zimmer and her candidates) goes to show just how politicized the offices of the Mayor and Corporation Counsel are under Zimmer and Melli.
Here’s how Hudson County Political Insider Columnist Augie Torres summed it up in his weekend column:
“This past week has been much talk about an investigation in Hoboken by an “unknown” agency. At least this is the on-record explanation by Mile Square officials who know more than they are publicly saying.
What has caused a stir was City Council anti-administration members Beth Mason and Mike Russo attempting this week to introduce a resolution demanding the release of email from Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her communications (or is that the city’s) communication staff members…Whatever the motives, I don’t see anything wrong with releasing email. They are public records. If you want privacy, go on your home computer. If the city believes they involve personnel, a standard excuse for denying access, then fine — for now. It may get to the point of an OPRA request.
There is much more to this story, obviously, but the rumors should congeal into more pertinent facts. Meanwhile, the accusations are starting to remind me of the phone game where by the time you get to the end, everyone in Hoboken has been handcuffed. By the way, a call by assistant Corporation Counsel Melissa Longo to the media to clarify the issue only did more to exacerbate and confuse.”
– JJ Political Insider Augie Torres
See below for Hoboken411’s original report on this bizarre situation.
Crazy happenings in Hoboken
May 19, 2011:
The Hoboken City Hall rumor mill has been on overdrive this week, and once again the rumors involve a visit from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, for the lamen). This story includes a greater reliance on rumors than I’m normally comfortable with publishing, but the stakes are high, and the questions legitimate. If you know more, please comment below…
First, a call for transparency in communications
The latest craziness began after Council President Beth Mason began calling for an investigation into allegations of political activities on City time by two operatives hired by Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
Under NJ state law, the City Council has investigative powers that allow the release of email correspondence on city email addresses by city employees using registered city email accounts. These are public documents, and there are allegations Zimmer aides Juan Melli and Dan Bryan have been using their taxpayer-paid offices to direct political activities with the press and some hardly-read Zimmer-worshiping online minions.
Last night, the council spent an unscheduled hour behind closed doors discussing the situation with the city attorney.
Melli and Bryan’s emails allegedly vanish into FBI custody
One rumor said while emails were being deleted on computers and Blackberries from the Mayor’s office, they remained on the servers overseen by Information Technology department head Patrick Ricciardi, who was not anxious to be complicit in the crime of destroying public records. This week Ricciardi was mysteriously relieved of his duties by Zimmer and her henchmen, Business Administrator Arch Liston and Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin.
A padlock was placed on his door amid rumors Zimmer had brought in IT professionals from Albany associated with the campaign consultants she hired for the City Council races to check out the city’s servers. Another rumor said it was the FBI that eventually came to claim the computers. It’s possible both events transpired.
Why does the FBI apparently have Hoboken’s servers?
The FBI didn’t need Hoboken’s servers after the arrests of Anthony Russo and Peter Cammarano, so why would they need them now?
That’s one of the many unanswered questions lingering above City Hall today. Here’s another: did the FBI come in on their own or did Zimmer bring them in to investigate something in the hope they would take the computers, providing a convenient excuse for why she wasn’t producing Melli and Bryan’s potentially damning emails (which could prove they were running political operations from the Mayor’s office.)
The names Angel Alicea and John Corea come up again
As the rumor mill rumbles, the names of other former Hoboken officials who have found themselves the subject of FBI interest inevitably comes up. Some wonder whether the FBI learned anything from former Public Safety Director Angel Alicea’s tenure in the Zimmer inner circle that may lead to further investigation. Others note former HPU head John Corea is still facing charges associated with the hundreds of thousands of dollars of missing Hoboken parking meter quarters, and that investigation could yet touch others who served beside him.
Others say Ricciardi is on a long list of people Zimmer has been working to eliminate to make room for more political cronies, and whatever is causing the latest controversy is just a means to that end.
The only thing that seems certain – is the FBI is back in town. Whether they’re here for the latest chapter in a long-running investigation, or have been sent on a wild goose chase by a Mayor desperate to avoid transparency is unknown. At least now you’re up to date on the rumors!