NEWARK – Two convicted felons who drove around New Jersey in a pickup truck painted with the names of first responders who perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9-11 and solicited donations for surviving family members are being sued for allegedly defrauding the public by operating an unregistered charity.
In its Complaint, the State contends the defendants defrauded donors by using the monies to enrich themselves. The State has requested that the Court order the immediate impounding of the pickup truck and that it order defendants Mark Anthony Niemczyk and Thomas J. Scalgione to stop soliciting donations from the public, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said.
“The alleged actions of the defendants is an affront to everyone who remembers the fallen and to the family members who continue to endure pain from the lives that were lost among the first responders at the World Trade Center,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “It is beyond comprehension that anyone would try to profit themselves under the guise of collecting donations to help the surviving family members of the fallen emergency responders.”
Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls is the registered owner of the pickup truck. He allegedly told the public he was a former Navy SEAL and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, when such is not the case, and at one time had a license plate on the pickup truck reading “N-Seal”. He pled guilty in 1989 to committing welfare fraud.
Scalgione, 40, of Manahawkin, allegedly claims to handle public relations for truck appearances. He has several criminal convictions, including theft, forgery, fraudulent use of credit cards and possession of an emergency communications receiver during the commission of a crime.
Both defendants allegedly sold tee shirts bearing the logos of the New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department and Port Authority Police Department to the public at 9-11 memorial events from mid-2011 to date, purportedly to raise funds for their charity. They were not authorized to use the logos. They allegedly also had a collection jug for cash donations when they attended events with the truck.
A former New York City police officer this May filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs after seeing the defendant’s pickup truck at a World Trade Center memorial service in Barnegat. After doing some research, she had concerns about whether Niemczyk and Scalgione were operating a legitimate charitable organization.
The State’s three-count Complaint, filed in State Superior Court in Ocean County, contends that Niemczyk and Scalgione committed multiple violations of the State’s Charities Registration and Investigation Act.
In addition to operating an unregistered charity, a review of financial records revealed that donated funds were commingled in Niemczyk’s personal bank account. None of the organizations that the defendants claimed to have sent donations to had any records or memory of receiving donations from the defendants.
The defendants allegedly raised tens of thousands of dollars through public donations and the case has been referred for possible criminal prosecution in addition to the filed civil Complaint.
One charity the defendants claimed to support, the Cain Foundation, does not exist. Rosemary Cain, whose firefighter son died on 9-11, was never contacted by Niemczyk or Scalgione and has no connection to them.
“These defendants used a national tragedy to dupe the public,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “Rather than aiding the families of first responders who perished, these defendants are causing additional emotion distress through their alleged avarice and greed.”
The court hearing on the state’s request to impound the truck and to enjoin the defendants from soliciting donations is scheduled for Friday, August 3, at 10 a.m.
Deputy Attorney General Anna M. Lascurain of the Charities Regulation and Investigation Section within the Division of Law is representing the State in this matter. Chief Investigator Lawrence J. Biondo and Investigators Raquel L. Williams and Patrick Mullan in the Division of Consumer Affairs' Office of Consumer Protection, Charities Enforcement Unit, conducted the investigation.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey ) or 973-504-6200.
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