EGG HARBOR TWP. — The former board president and administrator of a charter school here are accused of giving contracts to the ex-president’s outdoor furniture business.
“The misuse of taxpayer dollars for personal gain should not — and will not — be tolerated,” Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said in a statement.
According to the state, contracts to provide outdoor furniture and an outdoor learning center at Principle Academy Charter School were “steered” to Peter Caporilli, the school’s founder and the owner of Modern Boat Works/Tidewater Workshop in Pleasantville.
The orders were allegedly split into one contract worth $40,000 and one worth $75,000 to evade state bidding law requirements.
The indictment lists eight charges against Caporilli, 59, of Absecon, who is a former board president at the school.
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It includes six counts against Caporilli’s business and five counts against Michael Falkowski, 48, of Point Pleasant, the school’s former administrator.
Defense attorney: ‘Shooting first, asking the questions later’
An indictment is not a proof of guilt in the criminal justice system, only an accusation.
Morristown attorney William Hughes Jr., who represents Falkowski, said prosecutors are “shooting first and asking the questions later.”
“I’m a little dumbfounded about this indictment… at least with respect to Falkowski,” Hughes said on Friday. “He is a business administrator, who was working remotely, who contacted the Department of Education with questions relating to this situation. And he did everything according to the law.
“So, I think the Attorney General’s Office is wrong on the law,” Hughes added. “They’re wrong on the facts. And my client is going to plead not guilty, and he is looking forward to being vindicated.”
Voorhees attorney Vincent Sarubbi, who represents Caporilli, issued a statement that called the charges “false and without merit.” It noted Caporilli had abstained from voting on the contracts.
The statement asserted there was no evidence of any “unlawful conduct involving the contracts” and said Caporilli “has always adhered to strict guidelines for transparency between his role as chairman and the operation and impact of Modern Boat Works on the school.”
Education department sought criminal investigation
According to the state, the alleged conduct took place between August 2018 and late January 2019. The state Department of Education referred its suspicions to the Attorney General’s Office in July 2019.
Charges were filed in January 2022, and state police executed a search warrant of the school in October.
The prosecution says nine businesses were interested in the $75,000 contract, but Falkowski allegedly did not send them the necessary paperwork until three days before the bidding deadline. Caporilli emerged as the only actual bidder.
The prosecution also alleges payments were made without trustee approval, and that the project was not completed.
Attorney general: Defendants face prison, fines
The three defendants each face five, second-degree charges: Conspiracy; theft by unlawful taking; official misconduct; false representation for a government contract; and misapplication of entrusted property. Each charge carries a potential sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine.
In addition, Caporilli and Tidewater each are accused of fourth-degree unlawful official business transaction where interest is involved. That charge carries a penalty of up to 18 months incarceration with a year of parole ineligibility, plus a $150,000 fine.
Caporilli alone also is accused of second-degree misconduct by a corporate official, which is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 penalty, and second-degree tampering with physical evidence, which can mean up to 18 months incarceration and a $10,000 fine
Joe Smith is a NE Philly native transplanted to South Jersey more than 30 years ago, keeping an eye now on government in South Jersey. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer for The Daily Journal in Vineland, Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.
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This article originally appeared on the Cherry Hill Courier-Post: NJ prosecutors disclose indictments in charter school investigation