Fire chief ensnared in arson probe
Saturday, August 28, 2004
The chief of a Hamilton fire company has pleaded guilty to obstructing an investigation into a major arson-for-profit ring in Mercer County, according to court documents.
William Kiernan Jr., who remains chief of the Enterprise Volunteer Fire Co., was accepted into the pretrial intervention program, which keeps nonviolent first-time offenders out of the court system, in April, according to the documents.
Kiernan, 38, of Sandalwood Drive in Hamilton initially told investigators he was not approached by the two main suspects in the ring with requests to allow fires to burn longer and thus become more damaging, the court filing said.
He later acknowledged he met with the pair and accepted a designer shirt from them but did not disclose the meeting because he felt threatened, court papers said.
The allegations against Kiernan came to light as part of the continuing legal saga of former Hamilton Police Sgt. Jeffrey Nemes, whose construction business fraudulently profited from work gained through arsons.
Nemes, 36, already convicted of theft for keeping money from insurance companies without repairing the homes of fire victims, faces new charges of bribery and conspiracy. He is seeking to change the location of his upcoming trial.
In response to that request, the state Attorney General's Office detailed Nemes' alleged contacts with Kiernan in papers filed in Mercer County Superior Court.
Deputy Attorney General Lew Korngut said he did not make Kiernan's name public previously as a favor to Kiernan's defense lawyer, Daniel Graziano.
Kiernan declined to comment, referring questions to his lawyer, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Kiernan's father, William Kiernan Sr., president of the Enterprise board of commissioners, said the board was aware of what had happened with his son, who has been the fire chief for four years. The board "absolutely" supports him, said the senior Kiernan.
"He's a good chief," he said.
However, another member of the fire board, Frank Zielinski, said he did not know of any charges against the chief or of a guilty plea.
"I am surprised. That's really news to me," he said.
The allegations of bribery came to light when former Mercer County detective Marc Rossi, 41, of Hamilton pleaded guilty to an arson-for-hire scheme last year.
The ring has been blamed for setting six fires starting in the late 1990s in a $500,000 fraud scheme that investigators say is the biggest arson-for-profit conspiracy in the county's history.
Rossi, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, alleged Nemes had tried to bribe two fire chiefs.
Rossi, who had operated an insurance claims adjustment business after leaving the prosecutor's office, was friendly with Nemes, whose sideline construction business, Nemes Enterprises Inc., rebuilt structures damaged by fires.
Kiernan at first told investigators that he was not approached by Rossi and Nemes, the court filing indicated.
Later, he said Nemes asked him to "throw work his way" and pass out his business cards, according to court documents.
After Kiernan failed a polygraph test, he admitted in a sworn statement that he was approached by Nemes after a fire chief's meeting in 1998 and asked to go to dinner to discuss "ways of making additional money," according to court records.
Kiernan then met with Rossi and Nemes, who was then deputy fire chief at the White Horse Fire Co. in Hamilton, at a local restaurant, according to court records.
Rossi told him he would give Kiernan 1 percent of the entire insurance claim if Kiernan would do additional damage to buildings where his company fought fires. Nemes allegedly made the same offer, Kiernan told officials.
Kiernan said he did not accept their offer but was given a designer dress shirt as a token of their appreciation, records show.
He said he felt threatened by Nemes and feared for the safety of his wife and children, the records state. He also feared for his reputation if the alleged bribery attempt became public, the document said. Kiernan turned over the shirt he allegedly received from Nemes for evidence.
In an account he gave investigators, Rossi claimed that Nemes gave Kiernan a $100 bill and told Rossi that "Bill was on our team now," according to the legal filing. Rossi also asked Kiernan if he had any problem knocking out windows or "that kind of thing . . . he said he had no problem," according to the court document.
Another fire chief, David Sabo of Rusling Hose Fire Co. in Hamilton, who was allegedly approached by Nemes, was not charged.
Sabo told investigators that Nemes approached him in March or April 1999 and offered him $500 for every fire job if he would delay response to fires, according to court records. Sabo turned Nemes down.
Sabo, reached yesterday, confirmed that account. He said he plans to testify for the prosecution in the case. He declined further comment.
Nemes, who is free on bail pending an appeal of his theft conviction, is asking that a trial on bribery charges be moved from Mercer County.
His defense lawyer, Harold Ruvoldt Jr., said in his petition that his client cannot get a fair trial from a Mercer judge or jury, citing widespread publicity in local newspapers and the fact that Nemes' wife, Joann, is employed by the municipal court in Hamilton.
Superior Court Judge Charles A. Delehey will hear arguments on that motion Friday.
Nemes also faces charges, along with John Fiore, 58, related to an alleged scam to skim $50,000 from a building project for the East Windsor PAL, another accusation made by Rossi. Fiore, former PAL executive director, was suspended from that position.
Korngut opposes the change of venue, saying in a court filing that it is unnecessary. A trial date has not been set.
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08-28-2004, 07:42 AM #1
NJ Fire chief ensnared in arson probe
Last edited by sconfire; 08-28-2004 at 07:44 AM.
08-28-2004, 01:57 PM #2
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08-28-2004, 03:53 PM #3
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08-28-2004, 08:28 PM #4
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08-28-2004, 09:57 PM #5
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