Kakoleski testimony reveals ‘one job, paid twice’ anomaly, sparks evidence violation claim

Robert Kakoleski’s testimony started off a dull morning, but by the time he walked off the stand, 23 instances of duplicate payments in NJDOT billing records were revealed and tensions over perceived evidence violations erupted in the courtroom. 

Attorney Charles Sciarra – Former Jersey City Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski – Judge Mirtha Ospina – First Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Peter Stoma

ICYM DAY 1: Read breakdown & watch highlights from opening statements in The State of New Jersey vs Joseph Ascolese, Kelly Chesler, and Michael O’Neill.

When former Jersey City Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski started testifying, it was a sleepy Friday midmorning. By the time he walked out the door, around 4 P.M., all eyes were open after cross-examination by defense lawyers and tensions over potential evidence violations reached a boiling point.

Kakoleski, the first witness called by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO), went through an academic exercise explaining municipal code, bureaucracy, and his responsibilities throughout his career related to the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) in front of Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mirtha Ospina – who is both the judge & jury in The State of New Jersey vs Joseph Ascolese, Kelly Chesler, and Michael O’Neill.

HCPO First Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Peter Stoma questioned Kakoleski regarding his knowledge of police off-duty pay, rules, and regulations. Specific to the case, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Fulop Administration and New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) for the Pulaski Skyway and Route 139 rehabilitation projects was discussed at length.

Most notably, when asked by Stoma if there were differences in his role related to the regular operation of the JCPD’s off-duty jobs program and NJDOT off-duty jobs, Kakoleski stated “this was the only project that required my signature as part of the documentation” – based on “pre-meeting agreements” between the City of Jersey City and NJDOT.

Also, it was established that the Fulop Administration was paying for police off-duty work related to the NJDOT up front – eventually being reimbursed for invoices submitted months later.

Evidence Tensions Resurface

During his opening statement, Robert Lytle, who represents retired Captain Joesph Ascolese, revealed that one of Stoma’s main witnesses, Michael Maietti, recently entered into a settlement agreement with the City of Jersey City – for $80,000 – that “resolves a number of matters he was involved in.”

The timing of defense attorneys receiving the settlement agreement, less than 24 hours before the trial started, was a repeated point of contention on day one of the trial – even though Stoma was never actually accused of withholding the document.

On day two of the trial, Stoma tried turning the tables – objecting to Lytle introducing a Residents Response Center (RRC) flyer as evidence not submitted during discovery. Lytle shot back that it was “not true,” and provided the bates number.

Attorney Jeffrey Garrigan, who represents Lt. Kelly Chesler, noted to the court that the plethora of documents related to the case will lead to instances where the defense and prosecution don’t have a good recollection of all evidence introduced.

Off-Duty Anomalies

During Garrigan’s opening statement, he stated to Ospina that he discovered 600 anomalies among the JCPD’s off-duty billing in a four-month period. On day two of the trial, the defense attorney focused on 23 instances of officers being paid twice for the same detail as he cross-examined Kakoleski.

Garrigan provided Kakoleski with an invoice, which is ultimately signed-off by him as business administrator, that the city provided to the NJDOT. In lieu of that piece of evidence, the picture below serves as an example of the document Kakoleski was apparently looking at:

“Take a look at some of the highlighted entries there,” Garrigan instructed Kakoleski. “Do you see anything there that would sort of jump at you?”

“It appears to be duplicate payments for the same time period,” Kakoleski responded.

“Just so the record is clear,” Garrigan continued. “There would appear to be the same officer, 23 different officers, whose name appears twice in a row, for the same date, and the same shift, and they were paid twice for that same period, correct?”

“Correct,” Kakoleski acknowledged, who admitted that the error would’ve had to go through layers of bureaucracy, but added that it may have been caught by NJDOT and caused a reimburse loss.

Garrigan questioned Kakoleski if he had “any information whatsoever that those 23 officers had to pay back their… mistake?” Which the former business administrator responded by stating “I do not know that.”

Kakoleski admits Stoma talked with him about “clerical errors”

“At any time, did Mr. Stoma, or anybody from the prosecutor’s office, show you a document, specifically [invoice introduced as evidence],” Charles Sciarra, who represents Officer Michael O’Neill, inquired as he cross-examined Kakoleski. “And say we’re doing a good faith investigation into the skyway detail, carmageddon, and we noticed 23 cops paid twice for the same exact work, ‘can you explain that’?”

“No,” replied Kakoleski.

Sciarra followed-up by asking if anyone from the HCPO had ever raised an issue with Kakoleski related to off-duty anomalies over the summer of 2014, to which he replied “[Stoma] acknowledged that there were some clerical errors made in the process of the paperwork.”

In response, Sciarra questioned the former business administrator as to when he discussed the errors with Stoma, which Kakoleski said happened in preparation for his testimony in the past few weeks. Kakoleski testified that they discussed “clerical errors,” but that Stoma raised nothing specific, and that he himself may have brought up that the NJDOT “kicked back” some vouchers.

Sciarra focused the rest of his cross-examination building an argument that Stoma not sharing his discussion with Kakoleski regarding clerical errors represented withholding of evidence.

Ospina sides with Stoma on show cause order, notes it for the record

With Kakoleski off the witness stand and out of the courtroom, Sciarra requested a show cause order for clerical error discussions between Stoma and the former BA related to NJDOT billing.

“If I did not get something, about some anomaly, or something that was caught up with regard to this thing, and I’m just learning about it now from a witness, then that is highly offensive and sanctionable,” Sciarra stated.

“I have provided every piece of paper that exists in this that would be able to identify any clerical errors,” Stoma responded.

Judge Ospina questioned Stoma on whether he, or anyone else from the HCPO, followed-up on any clerical errors raised by Kakoleski during pre-trial preparation. Stoma said there was no follow-up because Kakoleski was not specific about information he received from the NJDOT related to clerical errors, and that’s why there was nothing to turn over.

“It becomes a question, when I have a witness, under oath, that’s mentioned that he’s had a conversation with the prosecutor’s office with regards to anomalies, mistakes that were made, that the DOT has kicked back some of the pay reimbursement letters that were sent in, and there was no follow-up,” Ospina stated.

Stoma reiterated that he has no information because Kakoleski didn’t provide any specific information with respect to the defendants, or specific information with respect to clerical errors that may have existed with NJDOT reviewing paperwork.

“What the court fears is god forbid there’s exculpatory information with regards to these defendants,” Ospina expressed from the bench regarding the controversy sparked by Kakoleski’s admission. “That’s what really concerns this court.”

Furthermore, Ospina raised concerns regarding selective prosecution, saying “please correct me if I’m wrong… if these 23 mistakes, of these officers, did they pay back the money of this $4,800?”

“If not, we’re talking about a $4,800 theft, that these officers, so now we have, what? Selective prosecution going on? I don’t know; I don’t think so; I hope not.”

Stoma rebutted that the matter of whether there was selective prosecution had already been litigated when Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez was handling the case, and that the motion was dismissed.

“What Mr. Stoma fails to understand here, judge,” Garrigan said, cutting into a back-and-forth about anomalies between Ospina and the prosector. “He has a witness, an investigator, [JCPD Lt. Robert Sjosward], who specifically testified before the grand jury.”

Garrigan pointed out that Sjosward testified to the grand jury that he “looked at all of the paperwork involved in this case, and [Sjosward] selected the paperwork with regard to these individuals because they were the only anomalies [Sjosward] saw.”

The defense attorney then attacked one of the state’s main witnesses, retired Officer Joseph Widejko, who allegedly received double payment for the same job, and asked if Widejko had paid back the money – adding that a number of other officers on the state’s witness list were in a similar predicament.

“I don’t think, unless Mr. Stoma talks to them about it over the weekend, I don’t think they’re going to realize that they got paid twice,” Garrigan stated about the other officers. “Or that they knew they got paid, and didn’t open up their mouths because they got paid twice, and my client’s sitting on trial for $800 worth of invoices?”

“To what extent does the state, is the state required to follow through,” Stoma responded regarding potential thefts committed by the state’s witnesses – which could’ve been investigated through clerical errors discovered by the NJDOT.

“I don’t concede at all, that it in some way goes to the credibility of certain witnesses, when he’s not specific about what’s been caught,” Stoma argued.

Ultimately, Ospina sided with Stoma, but noted the defense’s arguments for the record.

VIDEO FROM DAY 2 BELOW:

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