Paul Bazela, a former supervisor at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, pleaded guilty Thursday to a theft charge, admitting that he used the commission’s equipment and employees to do personal work at his supervisor’s home on several occasions while on the commission’s time.
Bazela, the former mayor of Northvale, will receive up to three years in prison under his plea agreement when he is sentenced May 13. He is barred from public employment in the future, and will be required to testify against other commission officials who are facing similar corruption charges.
Bazela, 49, has already been convicted of similar charges in another indictment in which he was accused of using commission employees to do repairs and improvements at the homes of another supervisor and his relatives. His conviction in that case was later thrown out by a judge, only to be reinstated by an appeals court.
The three-year sentence and the other conditions of his plea agreement will resolve his earlier conviction as well as his guilty plea on Thursday.
“The arrogance with which Bazela and his co-defendants abused their authority and misused public workers is disgraceful,” Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy said in a statement Thursday.
During a Thursday hearing in Superior Court in Paterson, Bazela admitted that he was the foreman in the commission’s carpenter shop from 2006 to 2010 and that on several occasions he deployed workers at the shop to the Roseland home of his supervisor, Kevin Keogh, to have repairs done.
The works were done on agency time, using the agency’s equipment, Bazela said.
Keogh, 50, of Roseland, pleaded guilty in June 2012 to conspiracy and official misconduct, admitting that he used commission employees to handle repair work for him at his home. He has been awaiting sentencing pending the resolution of his co-defendants’ cases, but he has recently filed a motion to withdraw his plea agreement, under which he could receive up to five years in prison. Judge Marilyn Clark on Thursday scheduled his case for a May 3 hearing.
Bazela’s earlier conviction relates to a former director at the commission, Anthony Ardis, who also was the chief ethics liaison officer. Prosecutors alleged that between 2007 and 2010, Ardis ordered Bazela to take carpenters and electricians to the homes of Ardis’ mother and girlfriend, where the employees completed repair and improvement work.
Ardis had asked to be tried separately, but his request was denied and his defense often clashed with Bazela’s lawyers. The two were tried together and convicted of official misconduct, pattern of official misconduct, theft by unlawful taking and conspiracy.
A Superior Court judge in Paterson granted a new trial to both men, saying they should have been tried separately.
The state Attorney General’s Office appealed the ruling, and an appeals court ruled in January that Ardis was, indeed, entitled to a new trial. The appeals court, however, reversed the ruling that granted a new trial for Bazela, in effect reinstating his conviction.
Another commission administrator, Chester Mazza, 74, of Totowa, also admitted in May 2012 that he used commission employees to do repair and improvement work at his home, including the installation of a fan in the roof of his home and repairs to a stone wall in his front yard. Mazza, a former assistant superintendent for special services, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree theft.
His plea agreement offers him a probationary sentence, but also requires him to testify against Ardis.
Jeffrey Manis, a deputy state attorney general, said at a hearing Thursday that the state is offering Ardis a plea deal with a maximum term of three years in prison, in return for his guilty plea to a charge of official misconduct. Clark, the judge, scheduled his case for a May 3 hearing.
Ardis’ attorney, Gregory Aprile, said later that he and his client will decide by that date whether Ardis will accept the plea or go to trial.