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Checks made out to cash on a Jersey City Employment and Training Program bank account appear to have been both signed and endorsed by the agency’s former chairman, Sudhan Thomas.
The New Jersey Globe obtained copies of the backs of the checks through a request under the Open Public Records Act. Copies of the original checks were included in a letter to federal and state prosecutors from a whistleblower who claims Thomas fired for voicing concerns about three checks made out to cash totaling $16,500.
Thomas, a close political ally of Mayor Steve Fulop and the president of the Jersey City Board of Education, helped the mayor orchestrate the removal of former Gov. James E. McGreevey earlier this year. Thomas later became acting executive director before stepping down last month.
Jersey City provided the Globe with the front and backs of just two of the checks written to cash. The two consecutively numbered checks, each written to cash for $4,500, were written on May 4, 2019 and cashed two days later.
The signature looks to match a public document signed by Thomas, although it has not been verified by a handwriting expert.
The OPRA request was originally filled by Jersey City, but later taken back.
In a lawsuit filed against the city, whistleblower Nuria Sierra claims that within a month of Thomas succeeding McGreevey, he forced the CFO and the accountant who ran accounts receivable out of the agency, leaving Sierra as the lone accountant.
According to allegations made by Sierra in the lawsuit, the JCETP was set to receive a $77,000 check from a Community Development Block Grant that was earmarked as reimbursement for previously incurred expenses. The funds were to be deposited in the agency’s operating account.
“Thomas learned about the $77,000 check – and, oddly, personally traveled to the City of Jersey City office where the check was being held rather than simply waiting (an extra day) for it to be mailed to the JCETP,” the lawsuit says.
“Even more peculiarly, once he picked it up, Thomas did not take the check to deposit at Provident Bank – where the JCETP had always done its business and maintained its accounts,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, Thomas took the $77,000 CDBG check to Bayonne Community Bank, where Thomas used it to open five new bank accounts.”
Sierra says Thomas refused to give her or Santa access to these bank accounts.
“Nuria immediately sounded the alarm,” the lawsuit says.
She says she was told she did not need access, leaving her without a way of tracking the expenditures or verifying that transactions were following internal protocols.
According to Sierra, Thomas wrote checks made payable to cash out of these new accounts, which he called his “Discretionary Account.”
Sierra says she was forced to notify state auditors.