Ex-New Jersey Housing Official Gets 46 Months For Extortion Scheme

Posted On Monday, July 29, 2013
By: Christopher A. Iacono

A one-time official with North Bergen, New Jersey’s Housing Authority, received a 46-month prison sentence.  According to the United States Attorney’s Office, in exchange for the money, John T. Kennell, falsified records to provide employees with extra vacation days, let one undocumented worker switch identities to keep his job and refrained from using his position to terminate employees.

Arrested in August, Kennell was accused of abusing his position as the director of operations for the housing authority to extort cash payments from six employees of an unnamed Rutherford, N.J., based company that provided repair and grounds maintenance services.  Kennell, who was responsible for supervising maintenance and cleaning of NBHA buildings and grounds, supervised the contracted workers and extorted cash payments from them between February 2008 and May 2012, according to the government’s complaint.

Kennell allegedly extorted cash payments ranging from $100 to $400 from three contracted workers for favors such as authorizing and facilitating additional paid vacation days. Between February 2008 and June 2011, Kennell gave the contracting company falsified time and attendance reports indicating that the company’s employees were present and working at the NBHA during periods when they were not, including occasions when they traveled outside the United States.

In addition, Kennell falsely told the company those three employees were entitled to receive an extra week of vacation pay because they had not taken any paid vacation during the year, federal prosecutors alleged.  All told, Kennell allowed the three to take about 80 days of unauthorized additional paid vacation days totaling $12,498 in salary, for which he accepted approximately $2,000 to $2,400, according to the complaint.

Kennell allegedly also extorted cash payments from an undocumented worker, allowing him to use different identities to maintain employment. Kennell accepted between $50 and $100 for one name change and $50 to $100 for another.  Federal prosecutors also contended Kennell regularly extorted amounts from the six workers’ paychecks, sometimes using a co-schemer to solicit and accept the payments. Kennell had the authority to terminate contracted workers, and if they failed to pay him they would be terminated or he would closely monitor their daily attendance in order to pressure them into paying him. From one worker, Kennell allegedly received cash payments between $10 and $20 as frequently as every two weeks during the worker’s 12-year employment.

Kennell pled guilty in December before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares to extortion under color of official right and by fear of economic harm. During his sentencing, Judge Linares also ordered three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine.