Former Assemblyman And Perth Amboy, New Jersey Mayor Joseph Vas And Aide Melvin Ramos Sentenced To Prison For Mail And Federal Election Fraud
NEWARK, N.J. – Former Assemblyman and Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas and his longtime aide Melvin Ramos were sentenced today to 78 and 37 months in prison, respectively, for corruptly misusing Vas’ position as mayor to steal affordable housing funds and for committing federal election fraud, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
The defendants were convicted following a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton, who also imposed the sentences today in Newark federal court. Vas, 56, and Ramos, 55, both of Perth Amboy, were each convicted of two counts of mail fraud for misappropriating $360,000 in affordable housing funds. The jury also convicted Vas of one count of fraud and misapplication of funds in connection with unlawfully misapplying $90,000 in low income housing funds; one count of making false statements to FBI agents; and one count of accepting contributions to a federal candidate in the names of others. The jury also convicted Ramos of one count of making contributions to a federal candidate in the names of others and two counts of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”). The jury acquitted Vas and Ramos of four counts of mail fraud.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Vas and Ramos misused Vas’ position and authority as mayor to assist Vas in selling a 12-unit Perth Amboy apartment building on DeKalb Avenue in Perth Amboy. As part of the scheme, Vas bought the building in December 2005 for approximately $660,000 – well under the $955,000 property appraisal Vas had obtained. Five months later, Vas “flipped” the property to a contractor for approximately $950,000. To induce the contractor to buy the property, Vas and Ramos assured him that a significant amount of affordable housing funding would be available to offset the cost of renovating the building. After selling the property, Vas directed city employees to submit a resolution to the Perth Amboy City Council to authorize $360,000 in funds for the rehabilitation of the property. City Council members voted to approve the resolution on June 14, 2006. Though Vas was present at the council meeting, he did not disclose any facts regarding the profit he received from the sale.
Vas also misused his authority to direct city employees to make a $90,000 advance payment, even though state officials had not yet approved this project as state law required. Vas failed to completely recuse himself from this matter. Vas and Ramos also concealed material aspects of the arrangement and used mail and a courier service in furtherance of the scheme.
In an interview by FBI agents in December 2008, after the investigation began, Vas falsely stated that he had never spoken with the contractor about the availability of city funds for the property, and that he never directed city officials to sign off on the $90,000 disbursement.
Ultimately, Vas used approximately $75,000 of his approximately $290,000 in profits from the sale of the apartment building to fund his 2006 congressional primary campaign for the Democratic nomination in New Jersey’s 13th District.
Ramos was convicted for his participation in a scheme to use conduit donors to funnel contributions to that same campaign. Ramos, who was Vas’ campaign treasurer, used four straw donors to contribute between $2,000 and $2,100 each to the campaign. Ramos funded the straw donations by giving cash to each donor, who then gave Ramos a check made out to the campaign fund. He then filed false and fraudulent reports with the FEC regarding the contributions.
The jury also convicted Vas of accepting campaign contributions which he knew to have been obtained in violation of federal election law.
U.S. Attorney Fishman stated: “The lengthy prison sentence the defendants will serve is an appropriate punishment for abusing the power of Vas’ office.”
In addition to prison terms, Judge Wigenton sentenced Vas and Ramos to three years of supervised release and ordered them to pay $90,000 in restitution to Perth Amboy. Vas was also ordered to pay a $73,200 fine.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward, for the investigation leading to today’s sentences.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian R. Howe, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division, and Jenny R. Kramer, Acting Deputy Chief of the Office’s General Crimes Unit.
Vas: Alan L. Zegas and Edward J. Byrne, Esq., Chatham, N.J.
Ramos: Jerome A. Ballarrotto, Esq., Trenton, N.J.