Peter Caporilli, 59, of Absecon, and Michael Falkowski, 48, of Point Pleasant, split a single project to build an outdoor learning center at Principle Academy in Egg Harbor Township into two smaller contracts for $40,000 and $75,000, respectively, a grand jury found.
They did so to evade public bidding requirements and prevent competing contractors from bidding on the first phase of the job, an indictment returned by the panel charges.
Although a public notice for bidding on the $75,000 phase was posted in a local newspaper, Falkowski didn’t send the necessary paperwork to nine businesses that expressed interest in the project in time, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said.
The bidders ended up with less than three days each to complete and physically deliver the paperwork, the attorney general said.
In the end, he said, only one company got a bid in on time: Modern Boat Works in Pleasantville.
Its CEO, Caporilli, was also president of the school board at the time, Platkin said.
It didn’t stop there.
Payments to the furniture company began before the school board even approved spending the money, the attorney general said.
Caporilli then approved a change order scaling back the project but still at the original price, he said.
Even then, the company “failed to live up to the less-demanding terms of the deal,” Platkin said.
New Jersey State Police executed a search warrant at the school in October 2022.
They didn’t find the “outdoor learning center” that was approved by the board, the attorney general said, but, rather, a “haphazard collection of wooden furniture in poor condition."
The grand jury indictment charges Caporilli and Falkowski with various counts of conspiracy, theft by unlawful taking, official misconduct, false representation for a government contract and misapplication of entrusted property.
Both men are also charged with conducting an unlawful official business transaction where a conflict of interest is involved, while Caporilli is also accused of misconduct by a corporate official and evidence tampering.
“These defendants used their positions of power over the spending of this charter school to fix the contract-awarding process to enrich the school board president and his business,” Platkin said. “The misuse of taxpayer dollars for personal gain should not – and will not – be tolerated.”
“Other contractors were never given a fair shot at winning this job, as they should have been,” said Thomas Eicher, the executive director of Platkin’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).
Modern Boat Works “not only had a conflict of interest,” Eichler said. “It also never followed through, preventing this school from getting what it paid for. This was a shameless swindle of public funds that also did a disservice to children.”
The case was investigated by the New Jersey State Police-Official Corruption South Unit with the assistance of former OPIA Deputy Attorneys General John Nicodemo and Samuel Rubinstein, Platkin said.
It's being prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Max Lesser and supervised by Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee, OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione Eicher, he said.
Click here to follow Daily Voice North Passaic and receive free news updates.