A partial audio recording obtained by the I-Team appears to show the mayor of Irvington, New Jersey, and his township attorney offering a job promotion and a pay raise to a city employee – in exchange for him to drop out. the employee’s wife from his 2014 sexual harassment complaint against the mayor and the city.
In the recording, which documents a pretrial discussion about the settlement of the lawsuit, Mayor Tony Vauss and Irvington Township Attorney Ramon Rivera offer benefits worth “a lot of money” to Carl Brown, the husband of Tamara Smith, a former township code enforcer. officer who accused Vauss of sexually assaulting her inside the Irvington Municipal Building.
“What we’re willing to talk about is a raise for Carl which, you know, would be a raise in salary, an annual raise to his base that he would receive every year for a period of time that would be a lot of money over a long period,” Rivera said. “That’s something we could do as early as Monday and solve the case.”
In the conversation, secretly recorded by Smith, Vauss said he was unwilling to discuss a cash settlement with his accuser, but would agree to compensation being paid to her husband.
“The reason we’re talking about compensating you is that we have a different view of what happened here — in terms of who’s the victim and who’s not the victim,” Vauss told Brown. “So compensating you is something I’m willing to do because you could be the victim in this scenario.”
Settlement negotiations ultimately failed, and Mayor Vauss was victorious in a jury trial. His lawyers successfully argued that the mayor was being targeted by an employee with ulterior motives and credibility issues.
Still, some Irvington ratepayers were disappointed to learn that a city job was used as a bargaining chip in settlement negotiations over a sexual misconduct complaint.
“I disagree with that,” said Golden Robinson, a longtime Irvington resident. “You get a job on your merits.”
Singer Irie, a fellow taxpayer who has lived in Irvington for decades, said the recording raises questions about how the township has handled other legal settlements.
“How do we know how much of this is still going on?” Irie said. “People should get their jobs because of their skills.”
Various federal and state bribery laws prohibit offering resources to taxpayers in exchange for personal benefit, but former prosecutors say the legality of the mayor’s conduct depends on his intent.
“If the public official’s intent was to benefit himself, it could be a crime, but if he was trying to benefit the municipality, the conduct may be permitted,” said Chuck Rosenberg, a former prosecutor. federal. “There’s a big difference between something horrible and something illegal.”
Mayor Vauss did not respond to questions from the I-Team. In the past, he has flatly denied Tamara Smith’s allegation of sexual harassment, calling it “scandalous” and “outlandish”.
Township Attorney Ramon Rivera, who did much of the talking on the audio recording, emailed a statement defending the settlement negotiations.
“The meeting you refer to was a routine settlement discussion with the plaintiffs,” Rivera wrote. “It is important to note that the meeting, which was surreptitiously recorded, took place in the plaintiff’s attorney’s office 8 years ago. The plaintiffs rejected all attempts at settlement, and the mayor and township were ultimately successful at trial, where the plaintiff was also found to have defamed the mayor and was ordered to pay damages. It should also be noted that the judge prohibited the plaintiff from using the subject’s recording during the trial. »
Although the jury ordered Tamara Smith to pay $7,000 in damages for defaming Mayor Vauss, she says she will never pay it and stands by her sexual assault allegation. After the jury sided with Vauss, Smith was fired from her job as a code enforcement officer after she allegedly issued a flawed summons to the mayor’s ex-wife. She appealed unsuccessfully to get her job back and now works in the private sector.
Her husband, Carl, now works as a sanitation superintendent in Irvington. Had he accepted the 2014 job offer in exchange for dropping the sexual harassment suit, Smith says the additional benefits would have represented a legal settlement disguised as a regular municipal payroll.
“If money was coming out of Irvington Township, I think residents — if they were to pay for it — they have a right to know where their money is being spent,” Smith said.