Thursday, June 21, 2018

Councilmembers Ramos & DeFusco: Ravi Bhalla must disclose clients or resign second job

Official release:

In Wake of Bhalla’s Supreme Court Censure, Ramos & DeFusco Call on Mayor to Disclose Clients or Resign from Second Job

Hoboken, NJ – Just hours after it was revealed that Mayor Ravi Bhalla had been censured by the State Supreme Court for an ethics violation, Hoboken City Council members Ruben Ramos and Mike DeFusco's proposed ordinance that would mandate that the Mayor disclose his clients and compensation from his controversial and unprecedented second job was scheduled to be voted on at last night's meeting. That vote was tabled, however, after Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia publicly declared that he would not enforce the ordinance. This shocking refusal by the city’s attorney to hold Mayor Bhalla accountable for potential conflicts of interest related to his business development job with a politically connected law firm leaves the city open to serious liability and undercuts the public’s trust in the Office of the Mayor.

"It's appalling that after months of the Mayor ignoring the City Council and refusing to accept any oversight regarding his second job that he would then send Corporation Counsel out to publicly threaten Council members last night for simply trying to bring sunshine to this unprecedented situation,” said Council President Ramos. “Transparency is essential to protect the city and taxpayers from potentially damaging conflicts of interest due to Mayor Bhalla's employment at a politically connected law firm, and if the city attorney won’t enforce this then the Mayor needs to do the right thing and disclose his clients voluntarily.”

Ramos and DeFusco are calling on Mayor Bhalla to voluntarily disclose his clients and compensation from the law firm in order to ensure that no conflicts of interest with his role as Mayor occur. If Mayor Bhalla refuses, the Council members are calling on him to resign from the law firm and they will continue to pursue all options to ensure outside employment doesn’t create a conflict with Bhalla's role as Mayor, including but not limited to the formation of an ethics board.

“With Mayor Bhalla now being censured by the State Supreme Court for an ethics violation, in addition to his other past and ongoing ethical issues, Council oversight on this unprecedented situation is more urgent now than ever,” said Councilman DeFusco. “Given Mr. Aloia's refusal to act, we feel that there are only two valid options at this point: either Mayor Bhalla must voluntarily disclose his clients and income generated from his second job, or he should resign and return to his broken campaign promise of serving as a full time Mayor."

NJ Supreme Court: Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla just shy of law license suspension

New Jersey Supreme Court finds Hoboken mayor Ravi Bhalla didn't pay employee for six years!

What happened to the money?

It's the day after and a reading of the New Jersey Supreme Court censure of Ravi Bhalla reveals the full gory details.

The Hoboken mayor was an eyelash, one vote from seeing his law license suspended!

Worse, Ravi Bhalla didn't pay his former employee monies owed over years from 2008 and 2009 until a grievance was filed years later in 2015. Only then, in 2016 did he pay over $6,200 in retirement monies owed.

Within the NJ Supreme Court findings:
  • Ravi Bhalla's "nonchalance" regarding his employee's missing monies occurred over SIX YEARS
  • The stated nonchalance occurred while Ravi Bhalla was "under investigation and then disciplined in another matter..." He was reprimanded in that instance
  • The narrow 4-3 NJSC vote came within a vote of suspending his law license for three months
  • 3 votes sought to have Ravi Bhalla's law license suspended; two members didn't participate
  • The decision to censure not reprimand Ravi Bhalla was compounded by his repeated behavior
  • Ravi Bhalla failed to take "any substantial steps" to rectify not making payments to his former employee for "nearly seven years"
  • Ravi Bhalla "despite his promises" did not "return the funds" until 2016 and 2017
  • The employee's funds were not paid until after a grievance was filed in August 2015
  • Ravi Bhalla also failed to make proper Social Security payments for the same employee
  • Ravi Bhalla issued W-2 forms showing payments made to the IRS not made
  • "The question of what happened to the monies is unanswered." NJSC Page 9
  • Ravi Bhalla must reimburse the Disciplinary Oversight Committee for associated costs "in the prosecution of this matter." 
In an official statement on behalf of Ravi Bhalla, his campaign spokesman Rob Horowitz attempted to cover up the actual series of NJ Supreme Court findings saying:

"This was an inadvertent payroll mistake... The employee never informed Mr. Bhalla and then waited seven years and filed an ethics complaint. As soon as Mr. Bhalla realized there was an underpayment, he immediately paid the amount due."

But the NJ Supreme Court's findings differ sharply with that claim. 

Despite his promises, respondent did not review his records, follow up with (Alexander) Bentsen, or ensure that the funds were credited to Bentsen’s IRA. Although Bentsen made numerous requests of respondent to rectify the matter,.. he did not... return the funds to Bentsen until 2016 and 2017, only after Bentsen had filed a grievance against him, in August 2015.

The NJ Supreme Court came within a single vote of suspending Ravi Bhalla's law license for three months.

The complete legal decision rendered by the NJ Supreme Court:

Related: The Hudson County View covered this late-breaking news yesterday and tied it into the City Council's efforts for transparency on Ravi' Bhalla's second job. He is resisting providing their requests for quarterly reports on his outside earnings and client contracts with a Republican land use law firm.

The City Council held off on a final vote on the ordinance for transparency as it explores a possible option for re-establishing a local ethics panel.