The Mecka Files: What Was Fired Detective Investigating in Little Egg Harbor?
Detective Steven Mecka was fired from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office earlier this summer, with Mecka filing suit against his former employer earlier in 2016. But before he was fired, Detective Mecka was investigating some of Little Egg Harbor’s top power brokers, including former MUA chairman Joseph Mezzina and others, with no charges having been brought as a result of Mecka’s reports, most of which were compiled while Marlene Lynch Ford led the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Through our network of sources, Ocean County Politics is the only news outlet to have obtained full, unredacted copies of Detective Mecka’s reports on alleged public corruption in Little Egg Harbor that were compiled and sent to his superiors for review. Despite his reports appearing to reference alleged instances of quid-pro-quo tradeoffs and official misconduct among some influential Little Egg Harbor appointed and elected officials, nobody has been charged thus far in connection with the three reports published in this article. Thus, the allegations contained within Detective Mecka’s reports have yet to be proven or disproven in a court of law, but they provide additional insight into some of the issues currently plaguing Little Egg Harbor’s local government.
When we first reported on the allegations contained in his lawsuit, court filings provided a basic overview of some of the players Mecka investigated, but these full case files provide a detailed account of some allegations of public corruption the detective made in the course of discharging his duties.
Mecka said in his lawsuit that he was retaliated against after he was set to interview a confidential informant in Little Egg Harbor that reportedly had incriminating evidence against several OCPO employees. The detective was fired in late July, with spokesman Al Della Fave alleging that the firing was over “credibility issues,” and not the lawsuit Mecka filed.
The careful reader should note that most of these investigations originally began during the tenure of previous Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford, who is now the Ocean County Superior Court’s assignment judge, the top judge in the vicinage.
Given the age of these reports, we’re doubtful that any charges will be filed (at the county level) since nothing has happened thus far. But for those following the troubles of Little Egg Harbor, this is just the latest chapter.
Case #1 – Did former Little Egg Harbor Public Works Superintendent Anthony “Tony” Savino give the Tavistock Homeowners Association a second trash pickup in exchange for a “no-show” job for his son-in-law?
Accused: Anthony Savino. Charges sought: Theft, Official Misconduct
In the detective’s first Little Egg Harbor corruption case, which he began investigating in 2010, Mecka investigated an alleged deal made between Little Egg Harbor DPW boss Anthony Savino and James Sica, the then-president of the Tavistock Homeowners Association, a development in Little Egg Harbor. The deal involved Tavistock hiring Savino’s son-in-law in exchange for Savino using his official position to provide the development with a second weekly trash pickup, at no additional cost to the HOA.
“An investigation into alleged wrongdoing by members of the Little Egg Harbor Township Department of Public Works has provided Little Egg Harbor Police Officers and the undersigned evidence, documentation, and witness statements that implicate Anthony N. Savino’s wrongdoing, while acting in his official capacity,” Detective Mecka wrote in his report.
Deal Made Between DPW Head And HOA President For Free 2nd Trash Pickup
Mecka alleged that Savino entered into an agreement with then Tavistock HOA president James Sica to provide an additional weekly trash pickup for the residential development.
“James Sica made a proposition of employment to Director Savino with the implied expectation if the offer of employment was accepted, a secondary garbage pick-up would be provided to Tavistock at no additional expense,” continued Mecka in his report.
Shortly after accepting the deal, Savino altered the DPW schedule to add the additional trash pickup for the development, according to Mecka.
“Joseph Capriotti received gainful employment as Tavistock began receiving their second trash pick-up,” Detective Mecka continued in his report. “This writer confirmed that Joseph Capriotti is the son-in-law of the Little Egg Harbor Township Department of Public Works Director Anthony Savino.”
Trash Pickup In Exchange For “No Show Job”
When Mecka interviewed Mr. Sica, the HOA president admitted to having provided Capriotti a “no show job” and remarked that it was a favor to Director Savino, and that it was necessary in order to continue receiving the extra trash pickup, which is valued at $15,000 per year, according to the Mecka report.
According to the investigation report, current Little Egg DPW Director Patrick Donnelly told Detective Mecka that in addition to the second trash pickup, the Tavistock community’s dumpsters were being repaired by Little Egg Harbor DPW workers at taxpayer expense, something that no other development in the township was able to obtain, according to Donnelly. Dumpster repairs were only normally made by township workers when their equipment damages them, but the work done was no routine maintenance, according to Donnelly’s statement.
Subpoena Reveals “Fraudulent” Financial Activity
After the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office subpoenaed the bank records of both Savino and Capriotti, Detective Mecka along with Little Egg Harbor Police Chief Richard Buzby inspected the records, and according to Mecka’s report, after inspecting the bank statements he found that Capriotti was signing the payroll checks from Tavistock for the “no show job,” but that his payroll checks were actually being deposited into the bank account of Mr. Savino.
Mecka wrote that the examination of Tavistock financial records revealed “fraudulent” activity and noted that the records appeared to corroborate testimony given in previous witness statements related to the case.
The detective also noted that the financial records of DPW Director Savino indicated that he received a $2,500 check from Schaefer Systems International that was deposited into his personal bank account. Mecka noted that this company receives several public contracts from Little Egg Harbor, including being the provider of robo-trash cans. “Director Savino’s involvement with Schaefer Systems International requires further investigation,” concluded Mecka’s report.
Police Chief Alleges Witness Tampering
A frantic December, 2012 memo sent from Little Egg Harbor police chief Richard Buzby to then-Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford indicated that Committeeman Ray Gormley was approached by an enraged Savino while shopping at the Lowes store located on Route 72 in Manahawkin.
Mecka’s full report on this case is below. (Social Security numbers and other PII redacted)
Case #2 – Township vehicle batteries and scrap metal, allegedly sold to Waretown private recycling center, DPW boss accused of pocketing the cash.
At issue in Detective Mecka’s second case against Savino was a program established by the township in 2001 that allowed residents to recycle used 12-volt auto and marine batteries by dropping them off in a collection bin located at the township’s Department of Public Works facility. After completing his investigation, Mecka alleged that Savino converted the batteries for his own profit by arranging the batteries to be transported to Sonny’s Recycling Center in Waretown, where he purportedly received cash for the batteries taken from the LEHT recycling yard.
“Director Anthony Savino instructed subordinate employee(s) to remove, transport and sell certain property belonging to the Township of Little Egg Harbor. (i.e.: recyclable auto batteries),” wrote Mecka.
“The auto batteries were turned over to recycle yards in return for cash,” he continued. “It is alleged that Director Anthony Savino removed precious metals (i.e.: Aluminum, Copper, Brass and other miscellaneous material) that belonged to the Township of Little Egg Harbor and personally received the revenue derived from the recycled materials listed above.”
Township Employee Claims She Falsified Reports
As a part of the investigation, Mecka spoke with multiple employees of the DPW that knew of Savino’s activities. One employee, Carol Evans claimed that she falsified recycling reports which were later approved by Savino, rather than confront him about the matter. “Carol Evans claimed that she purposely misrepresented the accounting with hopes that someone in the township would identify the issue and address the matter with Director Savino,” Mecka wrote. The detective said that Evans, a clerk employed with the DPW, was inconsistent with her other statements and could not otherwise provide a reasonable explanation for her handling of the matter.
Another DPW employee who reportedly drove some of the metals to Sonny’s Recycling, Wayne Kershaw, told Mecka that he did not report or speak out about what was going on due to fear of losing his job. The Mecka report also accused Savino of tipping certain employees off when random drug tests were to be adminsitered to assist them in circumventing the township’s drug policy.
Ultimately, a different employee eventually agreed to wear a wire, and Savino was recorded making incriminating statements and admissions of wrongdoing, both via telephone and in-person conversations, according to Mecka’s report, but never faced charges related to the incident.
The full report detailing the allegations against Savino is below.
Case #3 – Former MUA chairman and political boss Joe Mezzina’s land deals and alleged influence peddling at the Little Egg Harbor Planning Board.
Accused: Former LEHT Deputy Mayor Arthur Midgley, Dorothy Midgley, LEHMUA Director David Johnson. Charge sought: Official Misconduct
“An investigation into alleged acts of misconduct by Little Egg Harbor Township Deputy Mayor Arthur Midgley and members of the Little Egg Harbor Township Municipal Utilities Authority has provided the undersigned with evidence, documentation, and witness statements that implicate David Johnson in criminal activity, while acting in his official capacity as Director of the Little Egg Harbor Township Municipal Utilities Authority,” Mecka wrote.
We last caught up with Mr. Johnson, who was at one time the highest paid MUA executive director in all of Ocean County, earlier in 2016 when the MUA paid out a six-figure settlement after a female employee alleged that Johnson sexually harassed her on the job.
“Evidence, documentation, and witness statements also implicate Joseph Mezzina in criminal activity, while acting in his official capacity as Board Chairman of the Little Egg Harbor Township Municipal Utilities Authority,” added Mecka’s report.
The alleged criminal activity centered on a position at the MUA that was created for the wife of former Little Egg Harbor Deputy Mayor Arthur Midgley, Dorothy Midgley.
The Midgleys were known to be personal friends of MUA director David Johnson along with his wife Sandy, and the job offer is reported to have been made at a social get-together at the Johnson residence. According to Mecka’s report, Mr. Midgley confessed in an interview that his wife was hired by Mr. Johnson as a “favor.”
But Johnson’s help in getting Mrs. Midgley a job as a cleaner at the MUA came with a price of its own, as Johnson needed to call in a favor of his own.
“Director Johnson asked Midgley to use his position and influence on the Little Egg Harbor Township Planning Board to assist Chairman Mezzina with obtaining building approvals for the construction of residential townhomes on property owned by Mezzina and the Sea Oaks Country Club,” wrote Mecka.
Mr. Mezzina, known to be influential in Little Egg Harbor politics, was also at the center of allegations made by Mathistown Road property owner Lori Aceto.
Mecka wrote in his report that Midgley was pressured by Johnson to publicly support and vote “yes” on Mezzina’s building approval applications at planning board meetings, despite public opposition.
“Midgley said that he was asked to manipulate the other planning board members into voting in favor of Chairman Mezzina’s approval,” Detective Mecka reported. “Deputy Mayor Midgley stated that he advised Director Johnson that it would be extremely difficult for the planning board to support Chairman Mezzina’s application due to the high level of resistance and lack of public approval in the community.”
Other misconduct alleged in the report included an allegation that Little Egg Harbor MUA commissioners were able to use their influence to purchase township-owned vehicles at below market value.