A longtime Jersey City Employment and Training Program employee who was fired after voicing concerns about a top ally of Mayor Steven Fulop writing out checks to cash, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit.
Nuria Sierra is accusing then-acting executive director Sudhan Thomas and CFO Angel Santa of retaliating against her after she called attention to issues related to the financial management of the agency.
The New Jersey Globe first reported Sierra’s allegations and also Thomas’ resignation.
Fulop had named Thomas as JCETP chairman and then directed him to orchestrate the firing of former Gov. James E. McGreevey as executive director earlier this year. McGreevey was a close friend of Fulop until the two had a falling out.
Thomas became the acting executive director following McGreevey’s termination and then became a candidate for the post on a permanent basis.
An accounts payable clerk who joined the JCETP as a high school intern in 1990, Sierra sent a letter to federal and state prosecutors that included at least three checks made out to cash from the government agency totaling $16,500. The checks appear to be signed by Thomas.
Sierra is represented by Bill Matsikoudis, a former Jersey City Corporation Counsel who ran against Fulop in 2017.
“Nuria was a model JCETP employee. She was never reprimanded, suspended or otherwise disciplined during her tenure,” the lawsuit says. “To the contrary, Nuria’s JCETP personnel file is replete with letters of commendation and good evaluations, and she consistently received merit-based raises.”
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.
The Jersey Journal reported today that Fulop has named four new members of the JCETP board, including former Hudson County Register of Deeds and Mortgages Pamela Gardner, and former Assembly candidate Kristen Zadroga Hart.
Fulop did not immediately respond to 1:06 PM direct message seeking comment.Nuria sierra Filed Complaint