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The top finance official of the Jersey City Employment & Training Program (JCETP) has admitted several key allegations made against Sudhan Thomas, the agency’s former executive director who is now running for re-election to the Jersey City Board of Education.
In a response to a whistleblower lawsuit, JCETP Finance Director Angel Santa acknowledged that Thomas opened a checking account at Bayonne Community Bank and refused agency finance officials to have any access to it.
The lawsuit alleges that Thomas, a top political ally of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, used the side account to write checks payable to Cash and then cashed them himself.
Santa admitted in a filing made by his lawyer that Thomas did not have invoices or receipts to back up more than $16,000 in checks made out to Cash.
The signature on the check, and the endorsement on the back of the check, appear to belong to Thomas, based on other samples of his signature that are publicly available.
Whistleblower Nuria Sierra “immediately sounded the alarm and questioned – both verbally and via e-mail – Thomas and Santa about the account, Santa said.
Sierra says she was fired from her job after more than twenty years with the JCETP because she spoke up about the financial mismanagement of the agency.
Santa himself “took charge of reconciling – or, at least, trying to reconcile – the JCETP’s new BCB accounts.”
According to court filings, Santa “quickly ran into trouble.”
“In or about late April 2019, Santa came to Nuria with one canceled check drawn from one of the JCETP’s BCB accounts in April 2019, and said: “I know you’re not doing this [i.e., reconciling the accounts], but, I need your help – what do you do with this [check]?” the response showed.
Santa admitted that he told Thomas not to write checks and said Thomas checks made out to Cash were for ‘training.”
One cancelled check for $7,500 signed by Thomas and made out to Cash listed “Capital Outlay Purchase” on the memo line.
Santa acknowledged that Sierra told him he needed to question Thomas about the $7,500 check, since neither had access to the account.
“Santa entered the $7,500 as a ‘Maintenance and Repair’ expenditure both in the JCETP’s accounting ledger and on a financial report the JCETP was required to prepare for and submit to the State each month,” Santa admitted. “When pressed by Nuria as to why he did this, Santa explained that Thomas had told him to classify the $7,500 that way.”
Santa confirmed that Sierra requested receipts and invoices from whatever Thomas had purchased with the $7,500, asked why Thomas had ignored accounts payable procedures, and demanded an explanation for why checks were made out to Cash at all.
Santa admitted that to all of Sierra’s questions, he merely replied: “[Thomas] would not tell me.”
But Santa acknowledged that he ordered Sierra not to speak with Thomas directly about accounting issues.
And Santa admitted that when Sierra attempted to speak with auditors from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development when they were at the JCETP offices for a routine audit, he told the auditors not to speak to Sierra.
Santa also admitted that Nuria explained to him that no JCETP employees were
allowed to write out checks from the JCETP or draw from JCETP accounts on his or her own initiative, and that all checks had to be processed in accordance with accounting procedures.
“In no event could checks be written to Cash the way Thomas had done,” Sierra claimed and Santa acknowledged.
Sierra claimed in her lawsuit that she called Santa and asked him why “he was on her computer.”
“At a minimum, Nuria had to ensure the sanctity of the JCETP’s financial records – and could not allow Santa to alter or otherwise tamper with them,” the lawsuit alleged. “Santa told Nuria’s that Thomas had ordered him to “get onto” her computer.”
Santa admitted the validity of Sierra’s claim.
Sierra was placed on administrative leave in July and her credentials had been deactivated. Soon after, she received a letter terminating her.