By Kathleen Hopkins Asbury Park Press
TOMS RIVER — Two Jersey Shore men admitted guilt Monday in a scheme in which they stole thousands of dollars in donations by falsely claiming they were raising money to help families of those who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Mark Niemczyk, 67, of Tinton Falls pleaded guilty to third-degree theft by deception, and Thomas Scalgione, 41, of Stafford pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit third-degree theft by deception.
The guilty pleas, entered before state Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney, were related to their activities selling T-shirts and making appearances in a pickup truck custom-painted with September 11 themes.
An earlier civil proceeding brought against the men by the state Division of Consumer Affairs determined they took in about $120,000 in the course of the scam by collecting donations and selling T-shirts under the guise the proceeds would benefit September 11 charities and families of the victims.
In the civil proceeding, the defendants were ordered in November to repay that amount, as well as fines and costs of the investigation. In addition, they were barred from ever working for any charitable organization in New Jersey, authorities said.
In the criminal case, Niemczyk faces 364 days in jail, under terms of his plea agreement. Scalgione faces a term of probation, but he will likely also go to jail because he violated conditions of an existing probationary term imposed in Monmouth County when he committed the theft, authorities said.
The two men are scheduled to be sentenced by Blaney on March 7.
“These con men shamelessly exploited the generosity of others, enriching themselves by diverting funds that were intended for the families of 9/11 victims,” said acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman.
“These defendants exploited a tragedy for their personal gain, and justice demanded that they face criminal prosecution,” said Elie Honig, director of the attorney general’s division of criminal justice.
An investigation by the financial and computer crimes bureau of the Division of Criminal Justice revealed that Niemczyk bought a pickup truck in June 2010 and had it custom painted with September 11 themes, including the World Trade Center towers, the logos of the New York City police and fire departments, and the names of the first responders who perished in the terrorist attacks. Scalgione acted as the public relations person, making arrangements to bring the truck to September 11 events, at which the pair sold T-shirts and collected donations from June 1, 2010, through July 4, 2012.
An indictment alleged the two men purchased hundreds of T-shirts upon which themes similar to those on the truck were printed. They obtained thousands of dollars in discounts from the two vendors who supplied the T-shirts, authorities said. The T-shirts, purchased by Niemczyk and Scalgione for between $3 and $6.90 apiece, were sold for $20 apiece at the events, at which the pair also put out a jug to collect cash donations, authorities said. The events were within and outside New Jersey.
None of the proceeds ever went to any charity or victims, and instead into Niemczyk’s bank accounts to pay for personal expenses, authorities said.
In pleading guilty, both men admitted deceiving the T-shirt suppliers in order to obtain a total of about $5,000 in discounts, which they must repay as part of their plea agreements, authorities said.
Deputy Attorney General Sarah Lichter handled the case and accepted the guilty pleas.