TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced ex-Paterson Mayor Joey Torres was indicted today on a criminal contempt-of-court charge, after he allegedly launched a new bid to be the city’s mayor in 2022, in violation of a 2017 court order banning him from pursuing or holding public office.
A state grand jury in Trenton today voted to file a criminal charge against Jose “Joey” Torres, 64, of Paterson, New Jersey, at the conclusion of its deliberations on his 2022 campaign to retake the mayor’s seat, despite a ban imposed after he pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiracy to commit official misconduct (2nd degree).
After hearing the testimony and evidence, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on September 26, 2023, and voted “true bill,” meaning jurors concluded a new charge of criminal contempt (4th degree) was warranted against the former mayor.
The indictment stems from an investigation by the Corruption Bureau of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).
Torres entered a guilty plea in 2017 after directing, while serving as mayor, that city employees perform work at a private warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew for a liquor distribution business, while the employees’ overtime pay was covered by city taxpayers. Torres was sentenced to five years in state prison in that case, prosecuted by the Corruption Bureau of the Division of Criminal Justice.
As a result of the plea, state Superior Court Judge Sheila Venable entered a forfeiture order on Sept. 25, 2017 — which was signed and agreed to by Torres — that permanently barred Torres, pursuant to state law, from holding any public office or employment in the state of New Jersey. The order specifically states that if Torres makes any application for public employment in violation of the order, he would be subject to a charge of criminal contempt.
Nonetheless, it is alleged that on or about Feb. 12, 2022, Torres made a public speech stating that he was running for mayor of the City of Paterson in the 2022 election and requesting that the people in the audience vote to return him to City Hall. On March 4, Torres went to the Paterson City Clerk’s Office and presented a stack of purported nominating petitions in support of his candidacy. After the petitions were rejected by the clerk, Torres filed a civil action seeking to compel the clerk’s office to accept the petitions. In that civil action, Torres certified that he submitted the petitions to run for mayor and if the city clerk continued to refuse to accept his petitions, he would be irreparably harmed by being denied his right to run for office.
It is alleged that by holding himself out as a candidate for mayor, soliciting signatures on nominating petitions, and attempting to force the petitions upon the clerk’s office, Torres purposely and knowingly disobeyed the 2017 forfeiture order that followed his guilty plea.
“It takes remarkable brashness to flout a state court order and then attempt to strong-arm the city clerk, via civil litigation, into allowing an impermissible campaign to proceed,” said Attorney General Platkin. “That is bold. And, according to the grand jury, it is also indictable.”
“Under state law and a court order, this defendant was forever disqualified from holding any public office or position of honor or public trust,” said OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher. “His alleged disregard for that order, and the rule of law, illustrates why he cannot, and should not, hold public office in the future.”
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kenney is prosecuting the case, under the supervision of OPIA Corruption Bureau Deputy Chief Jeffrey Manis, Bureau Chief Peter Lee and OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione.
Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Defense Attorney: Michael DeMarco of DeMarco & DeMarco, P.C., North Haledon