Ex-official admits pocketing thousands in wide-ranging fed investigation of N.J. town

Posted Jan 27, 2020

A New Jersey man faces up to 20 years in prison after admitting to his role in a wide-ranging scheme involving the misuse of public funds at a public library and recreation center in Essex County, according to court documents.

Franklyn Ore, 51, a former member of the Orange Board of Education, pleaded guilty Jan. 13 to two counts in a federal information charging him with fraud, misapplying funds and conspiracy, according to court documents.

Ore’s plea stems from a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation that began with FBI raids of the Orange library and City Hall in 2016 and 2017. More than a dozen people were named in federal search warrants and subpoenas, including Ore, other vendors, and at least two members of Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren’s administration.

Documents suggest authorities have been probing multiple contracts at the library, the YWCA, in city hall, and in other areas. It’s unclear if others will be charged in connection with the alleged scheme.

Ore, a Jersey City resident, admitted to conspiring with other unnamed suspects in Orange city government to create a phony literacy program at the Orange Public Library that purportedly helped underprivileged children, according to court documents.

Ore also admitted to his involvement in defrauding taxpayers and the government out of money and property in the Orange Redevelopment Project and the local YWCA, according to the information.

Court documents state Ore founded Urban Partners LLC, a phony consulting, real estate and education company in January 2015 at the direction of an unnamed city official who has not, at this time, been indicted.

In a sham contract between Urban Partners and the library, the company agreed to provide a 40-week literacy program on Saturdays to families, the information states.

The company falsified reports containing “statistical data about the children who supposedly attended the literacy sessions,” which were known as the “Saturday Literacy Program,” the information states.

The information also includes two other unnamed city officials who were in on the scam and were allegedly “agents of the library.”

On Jan. 28, 2014, the Orange City Council adopted a resolution authorizing Mayor Warren to submit an application to Essex County for a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to tutor low-and-moderate income children at the library, according to court documents.

Fraudulent invoices back-dated to 2014 – before Urban Partners was formed – sought payment to Ore’s company of more than $23,000, the information states.

In March 2015, one of the unnamed officials submitted a false voucher and phony documents to the county seeking payment of $32,331, of which $23,000 would reimburse the library for payments it made to Urban Partners. However, Urban Partners had not performed any services, the information states.

A second fraudulent voucher in the amount of $19,002 was submitted to the county in May 2015 and sought to reimburse the library for payments purportedly made to Urban Partners, according to the information.

Ore and at least two city officials knew Urban Partners had not provided the services, the information states.

Essex County, based on its receipt of the March and May 2015 vouchers and other phony documents, submitted requests to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees CDBG, according to the information.

By August 2015, Ore and the officials had fraudulently obtained more than $78,000 from the government, the information states.

Ore spent some of the money he received for “his own personal benefit,” including entertainment and eating out at restaurants, the information states.

The second count of the information states that the Orange City Council on Dec. 1, 2015 adopted a resolution authorizing city officials to apply for a $2.5 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

The money was to be used for the city to acquire and develop the YWCA in the 300 block of Main Street into a community recreation center, the information states.

The information states Ore, a city official and others conspired to steal tens of thousands of dollars from the city without rendering services.

Of the money fraudulently taken from the city in the YWCA project, Ore distributed $16,800 to a city official for his personal use, the information states.

In a plea agreement signed Jan. 13, Ore admitted he “knowingly converted and intentionally misapplied property of an organization receiving federal funds.”

Ore faces 10-20 years in prison, restitution of $44,800, and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on April 20. The sentence is to be followed by up to three years of supervised release, according to the plea agreement.

His attorney, Adalgiza A. Nunez of Newark, did not return a call seeking comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to a call and email seeking comment.

Others named in the federal search warrants include Willis Edwards, who previously served as assistant business administrator to Warren. Courts have since ruled his position, which was never approved by the town council, was illegal, and he has been ordered to repay to the city the $268,000 he earned in that position.

Tyshammie Cooper, who serves as Warren’s chief of staff and is also an Essex County Freeholder, was named as a person of interest in the investigation last year in a 2018 subpoena.

Neither has been charged.

Edwards could not be reached for comment. Cooper answered a call from a reporter Monday but did not immediately respond to questions.

Keith Royster, spokesman for the Warren administration, on Monday afternoon sent this statement to NJ Advance Media:

“At the mayor’s direction, the city administration and city employees continue to cooperate with federal authorities in the ongoing investigation taking place in Orange. I have directed my administration to comply with all requests for information made by federal authorities during the course of this investigation and we will continue to do so. At this time we all must respect the federal investigative process and allow the authorities to do their job. All further inquiries should be directed to federal authorities.”

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