YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Two convicted scammers who claimed to support families of emergency responders killed on 9/11 — and conned Gov. Christie into posing for a photo with them — have been ordered to return more than $120,000 in donations, pay civil fines and never again work for a New Jersey charity.
UPDATE: A state grand jury indicted Mark Niemczyk and Thomas Scalgione in connection with their operation of a fraudulent 9/11 charity using a pickup truck painted with the Twin Towers and the names of police and firefighters who died at Ground Zero, state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced on May 6.
The penalties are part of a consent order resolving a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs against Mark Anthony Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls, and Thomas J. Scalgione ( inset, above ), 40, of Manahawkin.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT broke the story in July of how Niemczyk and Scalgione drove around in a red pickup bearing the names of first responders who died on 9/11 and collected tens of thousands of dollars in donations for family members that state authorities said they kept for themselves.
They even got the governor to pose for a photo in front of the National 9/11 Memorial Truck, as it was called, which bore the names of the more than 400 first responders who died when the Twin Towers collapsed.
The Ford F-150 also carried an American flag with the names of all those who died in all the attacks and a “N SEAL” license plate. It’s been driven around the U.S. — and to Ground Zero — where people have flocked to take photos of it and with it.
The financing company has since repossessed the rig. A judge had it impounded in August while ordering Niemczyk and Scalgione to stop soliciting donations from the public.
“To be playing on the tragedy of September 11th to line your own pockets is one of the most awful things I think anyone can do in this region,” an angry Christie said in July.
Under the final consent judgement, both men admitted to several violations of state law, including operating an unregistered charity, Chiesa said this morning.
In addition to releasing the $121,116 in donations, Niemczyk must pay $98,993 and Scalgione $73,993 in civil penalties, under the order, which also requires them to reimburse the state for its costs in investigating them and going to court.
“This case illustrates how charlatans will use a tragic event, and the pretext of helping those in need, to profit themselves,” the attorney general said.
More importantly, it underscores the need, he said, for people to “perform due diligence” before donating to anyone on behalf of Hurricane Sandy victims.
( NOTE: The Division of Consumer Affairs maintains an online, searchable database of the approximately 26,000 charitable organizations that are registered to operate in New Jersey. To date, the DCA has registered only one charity created specifically to aid individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy: The Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, was created by First Lady Mary Pat Christie, Chiesa said this morning.)
Members of New York’s Rolling Thunder motorcycle club were fooled by the truck scam, as were countless police, firefighters, military members and civilians, as hundreds of photos posted by “Cap Mark” Niemczyk, the truck’s registered owner, authorities said.
Among them was Russell Newberry, former star of the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.”
“Make sure you tell the governor of NJ that you’re impersonating a Navy Seal, or maybe his office should receive a phone call about you with information that can be verified,” Lisa Marco wrote to Niemczyk. “I wonder what the good governor would think of you then.”
Mike Watkins responded that Christie “would think the same thing the SEAL community thinks of him …. IMPOSTER!”
Marco, in turn, said she sent a letter to Christie’s office and told Niemczyk “you owe the American public an apology.”
Scalgione at first said state authorities “are the ones trying to run a scam,” after being contacted by the Asbury Park Press this afternoon. “We are prepared to fight to clear our names. We are running a legitimate group.”
That changed quickly.
An online search found that Niemczyk lied about having graduated Annapolis in the Class of ’53 and done three tours of duty in Vietnam as a secret member of the Navy Seals.
Skeptics contacted several authorities and discovered the truth. For one thing, there’s no such thing as a “secret” Seal.”You might as well come clean now, man …. [Y]ou’re neck deep in your own mess,” wrote William Berrey. “I doubt you were ever in the Military at all, and yet you have the AUDACITY to claim to be one of the best America has…. [d]isgracing the REAL SEALs that gave their lives defending YOU and your home by pretending to be one, and disgracing them EVEN MORE by doing all your stupid protest crap with a SEAL trident in full view.”
It was also found that Niemczyk pleaded guilty in 1989 to welfare fraud.
Retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley is considered the first to blow the whistle. He showed a photo of Niemcyzyk at Ground Zero with Pastor Terry Jones, who was fined in Florida for burning copies of the Qur’an.
“This guy needs a drop by parachute into Afghanistan,” Shipley said of Niemcyzyk. “If this doesn’t set your hair on fire, nothing will.”
SHIPLEY’S YOUTUBE VIDEO:
Meanwhile, Scalgione allegedly claimed to handle public relations for the truck’s appearances.
Scalgione has several criminal convictions on his record, including theft, forgery, fraudulent use of credit cards and possession of an emergency communications receiver during the commission of a crime, Chiesa said.
Records show Scalgione spent two stretches in state prison covering more than 2½ years in state prison, beginning in April 2004, before being released in June 2008.
One cause that Niemczyk and Scalgione claimed to support, the Cain Foundation, didn’t even exist: Rosemary Cain, whose firefighter son died on 9-11, said she was never contacted by the pair and has no connection to them.
Both sold t-shirts bearing the logos of the New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department and Port Authority Police Department at 9-11 memorial events beginning last summer, authorities said.
They even “had a collection jug for cash donations when they attended events with the truck,” Chiesa said.
A former NYPD cop filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs earlier this year after seeing the pickup at a World Trade Center memorial service in Barnegat.
“After doing some research, she had concerns about whether Niemczyk and Scalgione were operating a legitimate charitable organization,” Chiesa said.
In addition to operating an unregistered charity, state authorities said, a review of financial records revealed that donated funds were commingled in Niemczyk’s personal bank account.
“None of the organizations that the defendants claimed to have sent donations to had any records or memory of receiving donations from the defendants,” Chiesa said.
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