What to Know
- A New Jersey mayor — who has faced calls to resign after allegedly making racist, sexist and hate-filled comments heard on tape — was charged with falsifying records, forgery and official misconduct in connection to his company, state officials announced Monday.
- New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) jointly announced the filing of criminal charges against Salvatore Bonaccorso the longtime mayor of Clark Township, alleging he submitted false and fraudulent paperwork to nearly two dozen municipalities to help his landscaping company’s improper removal of hundreds of underground storage tanks.
- Bonaccorso first became the center of controversy this past April when shocking racist and sexist recordings allegedly involving him and a former police chief were first revealed in legal papers.
A New Jersey mayor — who has faced calls to resign after allegedly making racist, sexist and hate-filled comments heard on tape — was charged with multiple corruption-related counts after allegedly using his office to line his pockets through his landscaping side business, state officials said.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) jointly announced Monday the filing of criminal charges against Salvatore Bonaccorso, the longtime mayor of Clark Township, alleging he submitted false paperwork to nearly two-dozen municipalities to help his landscaping company’s improper removal of hundreds of underground storage tanks.
Bonaccorso, 63, is charged with official misconduct in the second degree, tampering with public records or information in the third degree, witness tampering in the third degree, forgery in the fourth degree and falsifying or tampering with records in the fourth degree, according to prosecutors.
Charges against Bonaccorso come after an OPIA Corruption Bureau probe allegedly found that, while acting as mayor, Bonaccorso operated his landscaping and tank-removal business out of the mayoral office utilizing municipal resources, the attorney general and OPIA said. The resources used by Bonaccorso allegedly include storing the records for the business at his township office, using township computers, fax machines, and other devices, as well as having township employees perform duties involved in running his private business.
Additionally, the mayor allegedly misrepresented to municipalities that an engineer for his landscaping and underground storage tank company, Bonaccorso & Son LLC, was the on-site supervisor for the removal of the tanks as required by state law, according to authorities.
During the probe, OPIA found that Bonaccorso allegedly used an engineer’s name and license number and forged his signature on permit applications submitted to municipalities for tank removals without the required tank inspections.
“In fact, it is alleged that neither Bonaccorso nor his company have the necessary underground-storage-tank-removal license required to do such work,” the attorney general’s office said, adding that the tank removal jobs made by Bonaccorso’s company between 2017 and 2023 amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso apologized after the recordings, first revealed in legal papers, allegedly captured him using racial slurs to describe Jewish people and Black people. NBC New York’s Jonathan Dienst reports.
Bonaccorso was also charged with witnessing tampering by allegedly telling a witness being interviewed by state investigators to lie after he learned of the probe into his alleged actions.
“Any elected leader who abuses his power and position and misuses public property and public employees for his own benefit, at taxpayers’ expense, betrays the public’s trust,” Platkin said in a statement. “In this instance, the complaint charges that the defendant also abused the trust of officials in other towns, allegedly submitting fraudulent documents with forged signatures to enrich his company while circumventing New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regulations.”
The mayor’s office and Bonaccorso’s attorney, Michael Robertson, declined to comment after the charges were announced.
BONACCORSO’S CONTROVERSIAL BACKGROUND
Bonaccorso first became the center of controversy this past April when shockingly racist and sexist recordings involving him and a former police chief were first revealed in legal papers.
On Monday, the state attorney general’s office also issued a long-awaited report on how the town, its police department and later county prosecutors handled what they said were credible allegations of misconduct inside the Clark police department. Platkin’s office called for the former police chief and an internal affairs sergeant to be fired. The attorney general said no criminal charges were warranted, but reforms were needed to ensure fair policing in the town that is 93% white.
The recordings of him using racial slurs to describe Jewish people and Black people led to outrage and calls for the Clark Township mayor’s resignation. “They was looking for some —— walking around or something,” he can allegedly be heard saying in other recordings, as well as “f—–g hang the (racial slur) up there.”
Days after NBC New York and NJ.com reported on the recordings, Bonaccorso issued an apology to residents.
“I’ve made mistakes. And I’d like to apologize for the pain I caused to the residents of Clark, my family, my friends, and all those that were offended by my comments,” Bonaccorso said in a video. “They had a right to expect more from me. My words should not reflect on any of them.”
The mayor of Clark had to face town residents demanding answers after he was recorded allegedly making racist and sexist remarks. NBC New York’s Anjali Hemphill reports.
Bonaccorso called his language “hurtful and insensitive…it was wrong. I’m embarrassed and ashamed to have spoken that way about a race of people. I have learned, and I have changed and it will not happen again,” he said in a video posted to the official Clark Town YouTube channel. “However, a true measure of a man is whether he can admit an error and then learn from it.”
The embattled mayor, who has been in office since 2000, then referenced when Black Lives Matter protests took place in the town, and explained that he “understood…after interacting with people of all generations and races” why people wanted to participate in them.
“I started to see a much bigger picture of how discrimination played into a complex history. These experiences challenge my assumptions. I have never discriminated against anyone based on race, gender, and or any other groupings. I always treat people respectfully and fairly,” Bonaccorso said in the nearly five-minute video which has since been set to private.
He added that the protests started “a journey of awareness” for him and that they “revealed his blind spots.”
“I went to those marches in 2020 thinking I was going to hear people out. Instead, I heard much more inside my own head,” Bonaccorso said. “I now realize that not sharing my insights and lessons from those rallies with this community was a missed opportunity.”
Also heard in the shocking recordings were comments about female officers, in which he can be heard saying “As far as female cops go, I hope there’s never any, but they’re all f—–g disasters that I’ve seen.”
The mayor addressed those remarks as well, saying they were “hurtful and I’m sorry. They were also part of a larger, difficult conversation we were having about performances of several officers employed by Clark.”
The recordings were a few of many made by other Clark employees — some of whom filed lawsuits and got hundreds of thousands of dollars in payouts.
What the apology did not address were the alleged payments made to Lieutenant Antonio Manata, a police lieutenant-turned-whistleblower who privately recorded the mayor. Past legal papers obtained by NBC New York show the town paid Mananta $400,000 dollars on condition he turn over the offensive recordings.
In a previous interview with NBC New York, Manata said prosecutors in New Jersey have dropped the ball.
“The handling of the investigation is lacking. They were in possession of evidence that showed racism and gender discrimination and they did nothing,” said Antonio Manata.
Manata claims the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, now led by William Daniel, and the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office, now led by Matthew Platkin, failed to hold leaders of Clark Township accountable for allegations of race and sex discrimination.
“The Union County Prosecutor’s Office has never approached me and asked me to testify or give any statements in reference to the content of the tapes until January that just passed two months ago. And the only reason why we discussed the contents of those tapes is because they were investigating me for making the tapes,” Manata told NBC New York in the exclusive interview.
The mayor of Clark, New Jersey, was accused of repeatedly using hate-filled and racist remarks, and NBC New York obtained some of the recordings. Jonathan Dienst reports.
Manata said investigators told him that by secretly recording Mayor Sal Bonaccorso’s racist comments, he violated a 2013 town policy about recording internal conversations.
As a result, Manata’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in April alleging the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has retaliated against him for being a whistleblower, and despite the fact that the recordings were turned over 20 months before filing the suit, the prosecutor’s office failed to expose the alleged racism that existed in Clark City Hall and the Clark Township Police Department.
The recordings led to the question of whether taxpayer money was used to keep the controversy under wraps.
They also include conversations of Bonaccorso talking to the one-time Clark Police chief and a sergeant. One conversation centers on the Republican mayor having to apologize to the nearby city of Plainfield for a 2017 incident where girls basketball players complained about a puppet found hanging in a locker room.
The then-chief was recorded saying, “I want to prove that them f—–g (racial slur) did it.” The sergeant at a different time was also heard making offensive statements, saying “he ain’t a big dude. He’s just got a big f—–g monkey head on him.”
Three Clark police officers who are allegedly involved were placed on administrative leave.
“The truth is I do not have a memory of every conversation I’ve had, and these are over four years old. I can say that I am a very different person in 2022 than I was in 2020…Because the world is a teacher and I’ve gotten through good fortune to learn from it, a person’s age doesn’t determine growth.” Bonaccorso said. “I look forward forward to working to change the perception of myself and of Clark.”
News 4 obtained the recordings after nj.com first broke the story. The mayor first responded to their story, not denying the tapes’ authenticity, but instead said “I have many, many Black friends in my life…I mean I’ve been here 22 years, never had a problem, and all of a sudden this is coming up? I find it offensive. I do.”
Mayor Adrian Mapp of nearby Plainfield previously said Clark residents should demand Bonaccorso resign, adding that the racist remarks in Clark Township are just one symptom.
“To use those kinds of racist remarks is something that cannot be overlooked, it can’t be explained away, and clearly it was his voice on the tape,” Mapp said. “Black folks have been afraid at times to go through Clark because of the kind of profiling that we have experienced over the years as a people.”
Back in 2020, the Union County Prosecutor took over the running of the Clark Police Department amid misconduct allegations.