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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Middlesex Borough Fire Inspector And Another Individual Charged In Strongarm Extortion Scheme

NEWARK, N.J. – A fire inspector for Middlesex Borough and other New Jersey municipalities and another individual have been charged with conspiracy to commit extortion using threats of force, violence, and fear, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced today.

Billy A. Donnerstag, 49, of Hackettstown, New Jersey, and Joseph P. Martinelli, 64, of Kenvil, New Jersey, are charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. Donnerstag is expected to make his initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III in Newark federal court. Martinelli is expected to make his initial appearance on June 16, 2017, before Judge Clark.

According to the complaint:

From December 2016 and through June 2017, Donnerstag and Martinelli conspired to extort the owner and operator of a real estate development and construction company. The victim, identified in the complaint as “Individual 1,” was allegedly threatened with physical harm if Individual 1 did not pay thousands of dollars to Donnerstag and Martinelli, both of whom intimated that they had connections to organized crime. In a series of telephone and in-person conversations with Individual 1, Donnerstag and Martinelli told Individual 1 that, in addition to being a fire inspector for Middlesex Borough, Donnerstag also collected debts. Martinelli and Donnerstag allegedly wanted Individual 1 to pay Martinelli because Individual 1 had not paid Martinelli enough money for the sale of a property a decade earlier.

Donnerstag described himself to Individual 1 as “the guy that you don’t want to see,” “a problem for you right now,” and “someone that you need to deal with about this issue.” Donnerstag explained that he was a collector of debts who operated outside of the legal system and was “not somebody who’s in the yellow pages.” Donnerstag further explained that people who did not want to deal with lawyers would “rather deal with somebody like me, who’s just very cut and dry” because “I get the job done . . . and I get it done fast. Don’t ask me . . . how I get it done fast, cause you already know how I get it done fast.” Donnerstag told Individual 1 to ask others about Donnerstag’s father, whom Donnerstag referred to as “Jerry the Jew,” because, according to Donnerstag, “that’s what I do.” According to publicly available information, in the 1970s, Gerald Donnerstag of Belleville, New Jersey, a/k/a “Jerry the Jew,” reportedly was connected to organized crime, and was convicted of murder in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and theft in Essex County, New Jersey.

Donnerstag made a series of threatening statements to Individual 1 regarding the consequences of failing to pay, including:

  • “if you were in front of me right now, you’d be on the floor. Okay? Cause I don’t talk—I don’t get talked to like that. You don’t know who I am.”

  • “You need to iron this out with Joe. Again, if, if I have to come meet you now—again, it, it, it, it’d become, it’s gonna be a problem.”

  • “What I do, is I make sure that people don’t take advantage of other people. Do you understand that? Now I also do other things, but this is one of the things that I do. Now, again if you’re not figuring wh, what my business is by now, you’re either, and again I, I say this with as much respect as I can, either an idiot, or you’re just lying because you don’t want to, to, to understand that I come from somewhere that most people don’t wanna see.”

Martinelli similarly made threatening statements to Individual 1 about what Donnerstag would do if Individual 1 failed to pay, including:

  • “He’s [Donnerstag] a collector. And when he sees those kind of dollars, he gets a percentage of ‘em. He comes hell bent for election. He don’t fucking care . . . . He comes—he’ll collect the money one way or the other that’s the way he is. I don’t want to get involved in that.”

  • When asked if Individual 1 could choose not to pay: “If—you know—I can only go so far with this guy cause I don’t know when he’ll stop down to see you.”

  • When asked what would happen if Individual 1 would not pay: “you may get a visit. And he’s going to probably want something because he already came out once and that’s his problem, and once he starts, he don’t stop. He’s hopin’ I settle it, that’s what he’s hopin’. And I’m hopin’ I can settle it with something, with some kind of figures, I don’t care how. . . .”

During the conspiracy, over two separate meetings (both of which were lawfully recorded), Donnerstag and Martinelli obtained $15,000 in cash from Individual 1. The cash had been provided by law enforcement officials.

The count of conspiracy to commit extortion carries a maximum potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents with the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark, New Jersey, with the investigation leading to today’s charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee M. Cortes, Jr. of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defense counsel:

Donnerstag: Carol Gillen Esq. Assistant Federal Public Defender, Newark

Martinelli: Brian N. DiGiacomo Esq., Madison, New Jersey

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 
Updated June 15, 2017