Belmar officials could soon be called to testify in a lawsuit alleging the borough illegally fired a contractor within a week of bringing them in to remove the borough’s Sandy-mangled boardwalk.
John de Rouville signed a $100,000-contract with Belmar on Nov. 3, 2012, just days after superstorm Sandy had made landfall, to grind up and haul the remnants of the wooden planks and pilings that once made up the town’s boardwalk, according to de Rouville and the lawsuit he filed in December in Monmouth County. A few days later, the two parties agreed on a $165,000 deal to continue their debris removal work.
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“And then on Friday morning (November 9) we were approached and told that we had to cease and desist by noontime,” de Rouville told the Press on Wednesday.
He said the borough gave him no indication that his work was unsatisfactory, but Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty said the borough sees it differently, calling the lawsuit “frivolous.”
“Their contract was terminated because of lack of performance,” he said Wednesday.
Belmar next entered into a no-bid contract — as they did with de Rouville and legal under emergency circumstances — with AshBritt Environmental, the Florida general contractor with a business connection to Doherty’s family and the state’s company of choice for debris removal. De Rouville said he believes this was no coincidence.
“You second guess yourself and wonder ‘What did we do? What didn’t we do?’ and then you see in hindsight that it was purely political,” de Rouville said.
Doherty denied de Rouville’s assertion.
“It’s important to note that they were not terminated because of AshBritt,” the mayor said. “One had nothing to do with the other.”
Maggie Moran, Doherty’s wife, helped market AshBritt to governments throughout the state. After receiving a state debris-removal contract in late October, AshBritt then hired a construction firm known as Conti Group of Edison to manage its efforts and identify local subcontractors. Conti hired Moran, a former top aide to former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, to develop a marketing campaign.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs forwarded an ethics complaint it received from Jim Bean, a Republican on the Belmar Borough Council, against Doherty, a Democrat, to the Statewide Sandy Fraud Working Group of the state Attorney General’s Office.
A spokesman for the attorney general said Wednesday that it is their policy to neither confirm nor deny that they are investigating any individual and that information would only come to light if someone was charged as a result. Doherty provided the Press with a letter on Thursday that indicates the attorney general has closed its inquiry.
De Rouville’s lawyer, Stephan Leone, said he expects to depose Belmar Business Administrator Colleen Connolly, her predecessor Bill Young and other borough officials within the next month. He does not anticipate calling Doherty, whom Leone said had little involvement with his client’s contract.
De Rouville was paid $52,511 for the work performed, but he is seeking payment for the remainder of the contracts, $212,489, because he forwent other storm-related work because of the deal with Belmar. He’s also asking the court to assess punitive damages and to compel Belmar pay his attorney’s fees.
The existence of the lawsuit was brought to the Press’s attention after a federal audit was circulated last week recommending that FEMA withhold more than half a million dollars in reimbursement, in part, because of impermissibly structured deals with two debris-removal contractors, neither of which was AshBritt or de Rouville.
Russ Zimmer: 732-557-5748, firstname.lastname@example.org