The lawyer representing a New Jersey Department of Transportation buyer who pleaded guilty to cutting corners to award public contracts to a friend says that his client is a scapegoat for a broken system.
Ricardo Noce faces three years in prison for splitting identical items into smaller orders to bypass competitive bidding requirements on orders over $1,000, a practice that is prohibited by the state.
The DOT vendor, Charles Sacchetti, was not charged and was not named in any court records. He could continue to do business with state entities, officials said.
“I’m looking at my client as a scapegoat. They could have charged him with official misconduct. They had him over a barrel,” said Noce’s attorney, Andrew Butchko. “My client has been taken advantage of in certain instances.”
Butchko claims that DOT buyers are not properly trained and that there was little oversight over procurement.
“They’ve got lots of systematic problems that’s causing the DOT to lose money,” Butchko said. “The state isn’t interested.”
Commissioner of Transportation Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti disagrees.
“This was picked up by the inspector general, an indication that we do have good oversight,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti told the New Jersey Globe.
The state attorney general’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability alleges that Sacchetti charged more than other vendors would have for the same product – a total of $93,059 — on more than 30 occasions between December 2013 and November 2017.
Sacchetti’s attorney, Gil Scutti, said that he has not heard from prosecutors since last summer and that his client did not testify in any grand jury proceeding.
“Mr. Sacchetti did nothing wrong in his relationship with Mr. Noce,” Scutti said. “The fact that he wasn’t charged shows that.”
Butchko said that no money changed hands between Noce and Sacchetti.
“They were friends. They would have breakfast,” Butchko explained. “There were no bribes.”
Scutti said he did not know who picked up the tab for the breakfast.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said there is no formal process to ban Sacchetti from doing future business with government agencies, but noted that he was not on any approved vendor list with the Department of Transportation.
Sacchetti is on an approved list of vendors for the Delaware River Port Authority.
Scutti said he thinks it would be unfair to punish Sacchetti.
“He did nothing other that provide a very prompt service,” Scutti said. “He was an extremely responsible vendor.”
Like Butchko, Scutti said the real problem is with the state’s purchasing protocols.
“Who’s problem is that?” Scutti asked.
Sacchetti sold various supplies to the DOT, including gloves, tarps and snow and ice melting pellets, according to Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
Butchko said that Noce admitted that he made mistakes.
In addition to a possible prison sentence, the 62-year-old Noce will lose the $77,395-a-year state job he has held since 2001 and his pension.
The state is also asking that Noce reimburse them for the $93,059 difference between what Sacchetti charged and what the state could have purchased the same products for under their contract.