Three months ago on Sunday, September 9, 2012, Mary D’Agostino had her vehicle delivered from Florida via a car carrier to the rear of the property owned Railroad Industries, LLC – a corporation owned by her husband, George D’Agostino – located at 293 West Clay Avenue. The building is on the east side of a vacated section of Roosevelt Street with a walkway tunnel that connects West Clay and Seaton Avenue. It also happens to be the property that is in a dispute through lawsuits filed by George D’Agostino against both the municipality and Gilda DeIorio. Ms. DeIorio is the owner of Iorio Deli and Casa de Martino, the property on the west side of the disputed area. She also is the mother of Joseph DeIorio, Roselle Park’s former mayor.
What happened during and after that delivery is where things take a turn, with allegations of alteration of an official report by a municipal employee, government harassment, and a mayor overstepping his bounds as an elected official.
According to Mary D’Agostino, Mayor Joseph Accardi and Fourth Ward Councilman Modesto Miranda harassed and humiliated her as well as the driver. According to Councilman Miranda, he was simply responding to a resident’s complaint and never spoke with Mrs. D’Agostino. According to Mayor Accardi, he had nothing to say on the matter as he refused comment after repeated attempts to get his side of the story. The only things left are what Mrs. D’Agostino and councilman Miranda had to say as well as what was recorded by a security camera.
At around 8 p.m. on September 9th, Gilda DeIorio called the Roselle Park Police Department (RPPD) that a big truck was ‘dropping cars’ on the parking lot. She gave the address of the incident as 301 West Clay Avenue – her business’ location – although the car trailer was on the 293 West Clay Avenue side. The police dispatcher asked what the issue was and asked if the cars were not parking legally. Ms. DeIorio gave concerns that all the cars might be left at the property. The dispatcher stated that it would be a couple of minutes because all the officers were busy with other calls but that the police would respond.
Just three minutes later, Joseph DeIorio called the police station about the matter, even though he does not live on Clay Avenue nor, according to filings, is the legal owner of the business at 301 West Clay Avenue. After being put on hold for 20 seconds, he repeated that a ‘tow truck vehicle’ was dropping cars off near the tunnel on the corner of Roosevelt and Clay. The dispatcher confirmed that this was the same incident as previously reported and told the Mayor Emeritus that police were on their way.
Officer Deegan, the police officer on scene, called into dispatch a few minutes later to clear the truck and driver. He clarified the matter as occurring on 293 West Clay Avenue. Additionally, he stated that vehicles on the carrier were being moved off the carrier but that, in fact, only one of the vehicles – Mrs. D’Agostino’s car – was being dropped off. It just happened that Mrs. D’Agostino’s was the first car all the way to the front of the trailer, necessitating the temporary removal of other cars in order to unload it. With that, the matter was officially – and legally – resolved.
It was after then, according to George and Mary D’Agostino, that the problems really started.
“All of a sudden, these three cars from different directions pull up,” Mrs. D’Agostino stated, referring to the appearance of Mayor Joseph Accardi, Fourth Ward Councilman Modesto Miranda, and Code Enforcement Officer Carl Pluchino at 293 West Clay Avenue that night. She noted, “He [Accardi] pulls in, runs over next door, checks something, comes over to George’s property and he goes, ‘What is going on here? Why is he taking all these cars off?'”
Mrs. D’Agostino stated that she replied to the mayor that the driver was taking her car off the trailer and dropping it at the back of the property but had to move the other cars to get to her vehicle. It was then, she stated, that the mayor began badgering her with accusations and yelling. She commented during the sit-down interview, “The little guy [Mayor Accardi] is like attacking me.”
Repeatedly he kept asking her why is the driver on her property and why is he taking all the cars off. She continued, “And he’s badgering and badgering me. Asking me over and over and over ‘What am I doing here? Why is he here? This truck should not be on the street, it’s illegal.’ And I’m telling him the same thing over and over.”
It was then, Mary D’Agostino said, that he started talking to the driver. Going back and forth between Mrs. D’Agostino and the driver, Mayor Accardi accused her of making the driver lie for her and asked her if the driver had a special license. Mrs. D’Agostino stated she never met the driver before that night. Mayor Accardi stated that the driver cannot have a CDL (Commerical Driver’s License) because he was not speaking English to him. The mayor was referring to Code of Federal Regulations 49 CFR 391.11(b)(2) which reads that ‘a person is qualified to drive a motor vehicle if he/she can read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records.’
The problem with that assertion was that the driver had already had a conversation with RPPD officer Deegan who cleared the driver after questioning him; thereby meeting that requirement. After some moments, he interrupted Councilman Miranda, who was talking to the driver in Spanish, and began to speak to the driver in Spanish. Mrs. D’Agostino was taken aback since she was unaware the mayor could speak Spanish. “I wasn’t aware he could speak it. If he could speak Spanish, why didn’t he do that before?”
“I’m getting so nervous like I’m in a free country here, why is he doing that?” Mrs. D’Agostino stated, recounting the incident and the mayor’s interrogation, “What authority does he have to question me?”
Mrs. D’Agostino had reason to feel nervous about the incident that unfolded before her eyes of the town’s most prominent representative questioning her about what she was doing on her property. Mary D’Agostino was born in the Soviet Union at a time when people were harassed, intimidated, and unjustly persecuted for going against their government. Her mother was pregnant with Mrs. D’Agostino’s brother when they were sent to Siberia, a place in the Soviet Union where political opponents, Russian Jewish families, and petty criminals were sent to live in exile.
“I’m going to myself. My God, I come from a Communist country. My mother was on [the] train with all the other people,” she said relating how that evening made her feel, “I’m so nervous. First, I was angry. Afterwards . . . I was crying. We came here. We were refugees. We became citizens of the United States and I’m being badgered by the mayor of Roselle Park? Who does he think he is?”
“What authority does he have to badger me like this? Who the hell do they think they are? For what reason? What did I do?”, she stated, adding that she could not sleep that night and still has moments of nervousness and unease in town. She summed up the mayor’s actions by stating, “He wouldn’t let up. There’s no excuse for that.”
The councilman had left the scene after speaking with the driver. It was presumably sometime around then that Mayor Accardi called into the police station and asked the dispatcher to have the officer in charge call him back on an unrecorded line. The dispatcher innocently misheard the mayor and asked if this was about an unreported crime. The mayor responded yes.
Sgt. Wintermute called Mayor Accardi back and the mayor began their conversation with, “I guess you know what’s going on over at D’Agostino’s parking lot right now.”
The sergeant recounted to the mayor what he heard over the radio that a vehicle was being delivered via a car carrier and that the matter was cleared by the officer on scene.
“The problem is that they had unloaded a bunch of vehicles and the driver wasn’t telling anybody what he’s doing,” the mayor continued. It has not been determined who – other than the property owner and the police – the driver was supposed to notify as to what he was doing. Mayor Accardi then said, “I had some concerns because it’s a huge truck going down a street that we have with collapses and all. I don’t know if there’s a weight limit on this street or not.”
The mayor was notified by the police officer that normally weight limits do not apply to vehicles making deliveries and that there was nothing that could be done about that.
“I’m going to just wait here and make sure that that’s all it is,” the mayor stated, referring to the removal of cars to unload Mrs. D’Agostino’s vehicle. After some hesitant words, the mayor stated to the sergeant, “Not a problem. I’ll let it go for now.”
Continuing with the conversation, Mayor Accardi tried to find another angle of questioning, “Did you run the truck at all or anything ’cause the guy is acting like he doesn’t speak English.”
“Normally, it’s a situation where you wouldn’t take it that far,” Sgt. Wintermute responded, referring, again, to the fact, that all legal protocol was followed by the RPPD and that there was nothing illegal about the situation at 293 West Clay Avenue.
The mayor ended the conversation by thanking the officer for his call back.
Councilman Modesto Miranda, when reached for comments, was willing to answer questions about the evening and his involvement, “I don’t know how Joe [Accardi] got there but I got two phone calls from residents that there’s a tractor trailer dumping cars in a lot.”
The councilman stated that he was at home that Sunday evening when the first call came in. He asked if the police had been called and was told that they were. It was when he received a second phone call that he decided to visit the lot because the impression the caller was giving was that cars were being unloaded and that the property was going to be used as a car lot. Not being well-versed with the specifics of all code enforcement, Councilman Miranda contacted Carl Pluchino, the Code Enforcement Officer, and asked if there had been a change of use for the property. When Mr. Pluchino stated there was no change of use to his knowledge, the councilman asked Mr. Pluchino to meet him over at 293 West Clay Avneue to see what the situation was.
“I go over there,” Councilman Miranda said, “I didn’t speak to her. I talked to the driver and the driver explains that he needs to move the car.”
The councilman stated he explained to the driver the reason he was there was because of the calls and not knowing if the cars being unloaded were going to be left overnight. “It’s his lot and he can put whatever he wants in it but the way people talk [with using the words] dumping cars, I was worried that they were probably blocking the whole [easement].”
“I just wanted to make sure there was no change of use. Once he explained to me what was going on, I left and I waited for the resident to call me back to explain to them the situation,” Councilman Miranda commented, “That was it. There was no harassment. I don’t know where these people are getting this harassment. I never even spoke to the lady.”
That following week, Mr. and Mrs. D’Agostino went to the police station to obtain a copy of the incident report to determine how a car delivery ended up with the mayor showing up on a personal matter. According to the D’Agostinos, they spoke with Gabrielle Olivo from the records room. When they received the report, the names of the complainants were whited out and, according to them, Ms. Olivo had claimed that the caller(s) were anonymous. George D’Agostino asked, “Why would you white them out if they were anonymous?”
He stated that Ms. Olivo responded that they were ‘just anonymous’ so the names were whited out. The D’Agostinos contacted their attorney to handle the matter and when he contacted the police station, Ms. Olivo handed them the report unaltered, with the names of the complainants visible. When reached by telephone for this article, Ms. Olivo stated she had no comment on the matter.
The latest chapter in the evolving story came on November 14, 2012, when William J. Courtney, the attorney for George and Mary D’Agositno, sent the Borough of Roselle Park a Tort Claims Notice against Mayor Accardi, Councilman Miranda, and other parties. Under New Jersey law, in order to sue a municipality, a complainant cannot simply sue them, they have to file what is called a Tort Claims Notice which puts the municipality on notice of the incident and allow them time to investigate it. Such a notice needs to be filed within 90 days of the incident.
“This is not a claim. This is a notice of something that occurred that we are considering suing about. We’re putting them on notice of a potential claim,” Mr. Courtney said, “Theoretically, it allows them a timely investigation. It also allows them a chance to try and rectify the wrong.”
Mr. Courtney asserted that his clients are claiming that representatives of the Borough of Roselle Park – by their actions – purposely caused injury to Mary D’Agostino because of the lawsuit that had been filed by her husband.
So, in three months, what started out as a simple car delivery has escalated into what could now result in yet another lawsuit against the borough brought by someone already involved in litigation with the municipality; and with no one other than the mayor being able to explain why he showed up to an incident that involved private property where that ward’s councilman was already addressing the matter or why he would want the police to contact him on an unrecorded line or why he was questioning if the police followed all legal protocol or even who called him to West Clay Avenue in the first place. But he is not talking.
Update: A copy of the Tort Claims Notice can be viewed/downloaded/printed below: