By Alex Wigglesworth Philly.com
Two New Jersey men were sentenced Friday for operating a bogus 9/11 charity through which they swindled generous donors out of thousands of dollars.
Mark Niemczyk, 67, of Tinton Falls, and Thomas Scalgione, 42, of Manahawkin, sold t-shirts and collected donations out of a pickup truck emblazoned with 9/11-themed images. They offered assurances the contributions would be used to help families of 9/11 victims.
But the proceeds never reached the coffers of any charity. The cash was instead deposited into Niemczyk’s personal bank accounts and used to pay for routine expenses.
Niemczyk was sentenced Friday to five years of probation. Though the state recommended he serve nearly a year behind bars, the judge cited Niemczyk’s serious health issues as cause to hand down a non-custodial sentence.
Scalgione was sentenced to one year of probation, as well as six months in county jail for violating his parole on an unrelated charge by participating in the scheme.
Both men were indicted last May and pleaded guilty Jan. 6 to one count of third-degree theft by deception.
Investigators said Niemczyk bought a Ford F-150 pickup truck in 2010 and had it custom-painted with images of the World Trade Center towers, New York City police and fire department logos and the names of responders who died at Ground Zero.
Scalgione acted as the “public relations” person, arranging appearances for the duo at 9/11 events in New Jersey and elsewhere.
The two men bought hundreds of 9/11-themed T-shirts at a discount because they convinced the printing companies that the proceeds from their resale would be used for charitable purposes.
Prosecutors said they paid between $3 and $7 for each shirt, then resold them out of the truck for $20 apiece.
They also routinely put out a jug to collect cash donations, all the while claiming they operated a charity or had a charitable affiliation. In fact, they never registered with the state of New Jersey and were unauthorized to collect donations.
The two men have been ordered pay more than $120,000 in restitution for donations, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.
Both Niemczyk and Scalgione are also banned from ever working for any New Jersey charitable organization in the future.