Updated on June 23, 2021: This lawsuit settled for $35,000.
A suit filed by Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark, a Democrat, claims repeated ethical violations and retaliations by elected Democrats in Elmwood Park.
In a suit filed with the Bergen County Superior Court, Kazmark he resigned from his position as Elmwood Park administrator over harassment and retaliation stemming from his reporting of alleged improper electoral activities during Elmwood Park’s 2017 election.
Kazmark, who served as Elmwood Park’s business administrator and municipal clerk for close to 12 years before resigning last August, claims now-former Elmwood Park Mayor Francesco Caramagna threatened Kazmark’s employment with the borough because Kazmark advised the Bergen County Superintendent of Elections that Caramagna’s campaign may commit violate state law related to the collection of vote-by-ballots.
Caramagna ousted Mayor Robert Colletti in 2017, then resigned in April 2018 after being charged with filling in voters’ mail-in-ballots.
Kazmark’s suit alleges members of Elmwood Park’s council contacted Democratic State Chairman John Currie, then-Bergen County Democratic Chairman Louis Stellato and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) in order to defame Kazmark in retaliation to his raising concerns over illegal actions the Woodland Park mayor alleges council members undertook.
Kazmark’s suit further claims that Caramagna repeatedly threatened borough employees, some of whom hold public office in other Bergen county municipalities, with campaign opposition.
The suit claims Caramagna told Elmwood Park Recreation Director Donna Puglisi, a Republican councilwoman in North Haledon, that he could make her lose her seat the next time it came up for a vote.
It also alleges the former mayor threatened Elmwood Park Councilwoman Maggie Giandomenico’s employment as the borough clerk and business administrator of Park Ridge after the councilwoman said she would abstain from a vote on the appointment of the mayor’s secretary because the prospective employee previously worked for Park Ridge.
“She’d better remember who runs Park Ridge,” Caramagna is alleged to have said.
Democrats hold a majority in Park Ridge. Giandomenico is a Republican.
Kazmark’s suit further claims that the mayor sought to interfere in an internal police investigation into Michael Ingrasselino, the son of former borough police chief Don Ingrasselino, who is a friend of Caramagna, according to the suit.
The younger Ingrasselino was fired and later sued the borough, claiming current Police Chief Michael Foligno retaliated against him for the actions of his father. The elder Ingrasselino suspended and demoted Foligno during his tenure.
The suit claims Councilwoman Sandra Balistrieri, Councilman Joseph Dombrowski and former Council President Daniel Golabek, who became Elmwood Park mayor following Caramagna’s resignation, constantly urged Kazmark and others to “cooperate.”
In one such alleged instance, Golabek is said to have ordered Kazmark to tell union representatives that he would pull a resolution making clarifications to the union contract if the representatives were not prepared to discuss separate contract changes before a council meeting the following day.
Kazmark contacted the borough attorney, who advised him that doing so would constitute a quid pro quo.
Golabek later tabled the resolution in question.
Kazmark also claims the borough hired a police officer who failed a psychological examination because her mother was a candidate for City Council backed by Caramagna and the borough’s Democratic Councilmembers and her father was a borough police captain.
The Woodland Park mayor alleges Caramagna threatened him after Kazmark excused himself form an executive session on the hiring of the police officer due to discomfort over what he deemed improper behavior.
“You need to back off. You are a mayor too. You know how it works. You need to calm down. We need to help our people. Be a good Democrat,” Caramagna said, according to the suit.
Kazmark further alleges that Golabek, while serving as council president, sent him harassing emails after Kazmark told the borough attorney that a borough firefighter may contact an attorney over comments the firefighter construed to be discriminatory based on the firefighter’s age.
The borough claims all emails transmitted during Kazmark’s tenure were lost following an electronic attack.
A cyber attack targeted Elmwood park and outlying Bergen County Boroughs in January.
Kazmark also claims the borough hired Balisteri’s son to a higher position in the borough’s police department in violation of a local nepotism ordinance.
The former borough clerk claims Dombrowski continued to make disparaging and false comments to borough employees and county Democrats following Kazmark’s resignation.
Golabek issued a statement slamming the lawsuit.
“Keith Kazmark is a calculated political strategist who has specifically chosen this specific moment in time to file this outrageous and fictitious lawsuit to influence the 2019 General Election,” Golabek said. ” It’s clear by the numerous references to Passaic County at the end of the lawsuit that this was a rushed copy and paste job to inflict maximum political damage as the withdrawal deadline approaches and the former Mayor’s court case is adjudicated. When he did not get his way last year, he voluntarily resigned and has held an unhealthy grudge since.”
According to Golabek, Kazmark became closely allied with Elmwood Park Republicans.
“He has conveniently chosen to file a lawsuit weeks before the 2019 General Election, 13 months after his resignation. His short term goal is to impugn my integrity and impact my chances in the 2019 General Election and long-term, to take advantage of risk averse insurance carriers who often settle these types of cases for cash rather than spend years of resources to refute every fictional point alleged in the complaint,” Golabek said. “This lawsuit is not worth the paper it is written on and is nothing more than an attempt at a payday. I categorically deny his claims as they pertain to me and reserve the right to counter sue him for defamation. The legal system is not a toy for unsuccessful political operatives to defame public servants after their preferred candidates and local party lose at the ballot box.”
This story was updated at 2:55 PM to include comment from Golabek.