Newark fire director's office raided by corruption detectives, sources say

By Dan Ivers and Vernal Coleman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on July 17, 2015

Detectives with the Union County Prosecutor's Office seized computers and other documents from the office of Newark Fire Director James Stewart on Friday morning, sources told NJ Advance Media.

 

NEWARK — Detectives with the Union County Prosecutor's Office's Corruption Unit raided the offices of Fire Director James Stewart Jr. Friday morning, several sources confirmed.

Members of the unit left with computers and other files of documents from offices belonging to both Stewart and a secretary, which the sources said were related to an investigation into the department's Environmental Dumping Task Force and one of its members, Capt. Anthony Graves.

In February, the state filed a lawsuit in Essex County Superior Courts against the city, Stewart, the fire department, Director of Neighborhood and Recreational Services Patrick Council and Assistant Corporation Counsel Avion Benjamin, alleging they had failed to comply with subpoenas from the Essex County Prosecutor's Office ordering them to hand over various documents related to Graves and the unit.

According to the documents, the parties were ordered to hand over records acknowledging the creation of the task force, along with the schedules, incident reports and overtime records of Newark Fire Department Captain Anthony Graves and all other personnel assigned to it.

Law enforcement sources said investigators are also looking into allegations that Graves misused powers granted to him as a member of the fire department's Arson Squad to pull over vehicles for reasons unrelated to any fire investigation.

The investigation was initiated by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, and has been active since at least January, according to the filing. Sources said Union County took over the investigation because Graves had a romantic relationship with an investigator with the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.

Stewart was out of the office today and could not be reached, and fire department spokesman Capt. John Brown also did not return messages from reporters.

Fire Officer Union President Capt. Anthony Tarantino also declined to comment, saying he had not been advised about the details of any investigation.

Graves was promoted to captain along with three others during a ceremony in October, and was appointed to supervise the Arson Squad. He has since been transferred out of the unit, however, and sources said he is currently on leave from the department. He also could not be reached for comment.

The raid is not the first time Stewart has caught the attention of law enforcement.

In March 2014, just four months after he took over as director, a Star-Ledger report revealed he was the subject of investigations by both the state and Essex County Prosecutor's Office related to allegations that he tried to give firearms to employees who were not allowed to carry guns, and that he shoehorned an unqualified politically connected candidate into the fire academy.

He was eventually cleared in both investigations.

Earlier this year, a labor arbitrator ruled that he was motivated by race when he denied Battalion Chief Arthur Mauriello a transfer to the department's Arson Squad.

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