Guilty plea catches up with fire inspector

By JANE ROH Courier-Post Staff March 4, 2010

GLOUCESTER TWP. A fire code inspector was forced to resign here this week after township officials learned he pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge two weeks ago and did nothing to inform his supervisors.

Michael Schaffer Sr., 62, admitted his role in a scheme to hide taxable income from a business sale at a federal court hearing on Feb. 18, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Camden.

Gloucester Township Administrator Tom Cardis said he learned of the plea one day later, after federal authorities had issued a press release on the development. Cardis said the township's labor attorney, Vincent Sarubbi, confirmed that the defendant was the same Michael Schaffer who worked for Gloucester Township and that his guilty plea was grounds for dismissal.

When Schaffer, who is free on $100,000 bond, reported to his part-time municipal job on Monday, Cardis summoned him to his office.

"I brought him in with his union rep, along with his director and my human resources person. We had prepared two documents: a letter of resignation, and a preliminary notice for disciplinary action, which we would file with the intent to terminate. We would go that route if he wasn't going to leave," Cardis said. "He decided it was in his best interest to resign, so he resigned."

The Courier-Post on Wednesday published an article on Schaffer's son, Cherry Hill firefighter Michael Schaffer Jr., who resigned from his union in a dispute over volunteer activities.

In interviews for that story, Schaffer Sr. did not mention his job as a municipal code inspector or his legal troubles. He instead described himself as a retired Cherry Hill firefighter.

While his union membership would likely have guaranteed a hearing before the township officially terminated him, a spokeswoman for the Department

of Community Affairs said a criminal conviction or plea would automatically bar him from holding his public position.

"First and foremost, I was not fired," Schaffer wrote in e-mail to the Courier-Post this week. "I resigned from a 12-hour-a-week" part-time position, he continued.

Federal authorities said Schaffer conspired with several other suspects to shield income from the sale of shares in a Washington Township business, Municipal Code Inspections Inc., in 2003 and 2004.

As part of that scheme, federal prosecutors said, a payment to Schaffer of $165,000 in taxable income was falsely described as a loan.
Municipal Code Inspections (MCI) also involved a partner named Anthony Saccomanno, a former director of Cherry Hill's Department of Code Enforcement and Inspections.

Saccomanno pleaded guilty last June to taking $4,500 from an executive of another firm, Building Inspections Underwriters (BIU). Schaffer also was involved in BIU, Cardis said.

A federal complaint describes an unnamed BIU vice president, who marketed the firm's services in South Jersey, as a cooperating witness in a sting that led to Saccomanno's indictment. Neither Schaffer nor his attorney, Michael Riley, responded to queries about whether Schaffer was that cooperating witness.

Two co-defendants in the MCI case -- Lucianno DiSalvatore of Sicklerville and Victor Fabietti of Linwood -- also have pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud and making a false statement.

DiSalvatore is to be sentenced Friday; Fabietti is expected to be sentenced on April 9.

Schaffer is to be sentenced June 4.

"There is a lot going on with this issue that involves our federal government," Schaffer wrote in another e-mail message Wednesday. "I am not permitted to give any details in this matter."

Reach Jane Roh at (856) 486-2919 or jroh@gannett.com

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