In Cinnaminson corruption saga, a couple of guilty pleas

Posted: July 07, 2013

It started with a missing backhoe and a whistle-blower.

The ensuing investigation at the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority led to seven employees' being charged, along with three others, in a sprawling corruption saga.

Two of the former employees entered plea deals this week, the first two cases to be resolved in the corruption probe that led to the arrests in February 2012.

Carmelo Colon, 28, of the 700 block of Dartmouth Avenue in Cinnaminson, pleaded guilty to a count of official misconduct in the second degree, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.

He will be sentenced to five years in state prison, according to the terms of the agreement, and will serve two years before being eligible for parole.

Mike Colon, 24, of the 1400 block of Morgan Avenue in Cinnaminson, accepted the same agreement.

According to some media reports, the Colons are brothers. Their sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 15.

Six of the remaining eight await trial. Two others have died since charges were filed.

Joseph B. Lehman, 27, who was a mechanical subcontractor for the authority, was charged with theft and conspiracy to commit theft. He died in a motorcycle accident in October in Cherry Hill.

Paul Phillips, 54, of Cinnaminson, died Feb. 15. No cause of death was given. He was charged with official misconduct, corruption of public resources, falsifying or tampering with records, and related charges.

Phillips, the authority's superintendent, was accused of running a private environmental company alongside assistant superintendent William Yannarella, 53, and Carmelo Colon. Carmelo Colon is Phillips' son-in-law.

The private company, J&B Environmental Services, provided sewer maintenance for the Wyndham Hotel in Mount Laurel, authorities said.

Phillips would order employees of the sewerage authority to work at the hotel during the agency's regular work hours, the prosecutor's office said in a statement. He also ordered supplies for that work, the office said, paying with authority funds.

In one case, a 55-gallon drum of chemicals worth more than $1,800 was taken from the CSA stock in November 2011 for the hotel, the prosecutor's office said.

Officials say the series of scams came to light when an audit revealed that a backhoe was missing and a whistle-blower contacted one of the authority's commissioners.

David B. Stahl Jr. said an employee of the authority came to him with allegations of misconduct. Stahl then took those allegations to the rest of the board, he said Friday.

Phillips maintained that the backhoe was in need of extensive repairs, the prosecutor's office said, but it was found "in proper working order" on the 2400 block of Nassau Road in Cinnaminson.

It was on the property of Joseph J. Lehman Jr., 62, who has been charged with theft and conspiracy to commit theft.

Lehman and his son Jeffrey, 22, took the backhoe for personal and work-for-hire use, authorities alleged. Joseph B. Lehman, the 27-year-old killed in a motorcycle accident, was Joseph J. Lehman's son and Jeffrey's brother.

Jeffrey Lehman was a sewerage authority employee. Another Lehman brother, Shawn, 24, has been charged with receiving stolen property in the form of motorcycle parts, including two new tires.

That scam, authorities said, was yet another aspect of the corruption and misconduct linked to sewerage authority employees.

Phillips used authority funds to order items for employees' personal use, the prosecutor's office said, using a Camden business, Contractor Services. A Contractor Services sales manager aided the scam, the office said, but "no charges have been filed yet against that person."

The items ordered through Contractor Services were worth about $44,000 total, the prosecutor's office said, and included GPS units, backup cameras for cars, television sets, vacuum cleaners, George Foreman grills, and all-terrain vehicle tires and chains.

Those items were passed on to employees including Yannarella, Jeffrey Lehman, Joseph B. Lehman, and the Colons, the prosecutor's office said.

Authorities also have alleged that Phillips' brother-in-law, Scott Mayes, who was an electrician for the authority, had the agency cover the rental costs of a mini-excavator used for his personal purposes.

Mayes, 53, of the unit block of Dartmouth Drive in Delran, had the agency pay the $480 rental cost, authorities said. He has been charged with theft of services.

Mayes' 21-year-old son, Scott Mayes Jr., who was a part-time worker at the authority, also has been charged, including with corruption of public resources, the prosecutor's office said.

Since the wide-ranging misconduct came to light, Stahl said, the township has created a telephone hotline to enable employees to report issues.

For now, the case that brought down the sewerage authority's superintendent, assistant superintendent, and a network of friends and family still hangs over the agency to some degree, he said.

"I can't speak for other people in the township, but I know the board is still aware of it," Stahl said. "We'd like to see the case get resolved, certainly."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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