Friday, August 7, 2009

Forde Associate Indicted

The Record

Finbar O’Neill, a developer connected with the Soldier Hill tract in Paramus, has been indicted in New York on charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and unlawful acceptance of a payment.

O’Neill pleaded guilty to felonies in two New York cases in 2004, including one in which he admitted falsifying business records in a scheme that resulted in a guilty plea by New York state Sen. Guy Velella, R-Bronx, on one count of bribery.

The latest indictment, which was unsealed Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York’s Southern District, also names nine carpenters union officials and a contractor’s representative. O’Neill is a contractor and developer based in Hackensack and the South Bronx. He is named in four of the indictment’s 29 counts, including conspiracy, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and unlawful acceptance of payment by a labor representative.

If found guilty on all counts, O’Neill, who remained at large Friday afternoon, could face up to 50 years in prison.

O’Neill did not return a request for comment. Louis Kaufman, a spokesman for O’Neill and the Soldier Hill project manager, declined to comment.

The fate of the Soldier Hill tract has been a source of controversy and legal dispute since developers first proposed building on it six years ago. The 35-acre tract is easily the largest undeveloped piece of land in Paramus.

The Paramus Borough Council opposes the plan, and council members say that O’Neill's past is also a concern. Councilwoman Maureen O’Brien described the most recent indictment as “frightening.”

“This is someone who is not trustworthy, so you have to wonder how trustworthy the development is,” she said.

O’Neill also may be connected with the Northern Park development in Rochelle Park. The development company, Northern Park LLC, is based at the same Hackensack address as several of O’Neill’s business interests, including Shamrock Creek LLC, the O’Neill Group, the Gabriel Group and Dutchess Landing LLC. Shamrock Creek is the company involved in developing the Soldier Hill property in Paramus. According to Kaufman, the O’Neill Group is an umbrella organization for the other businesses at that address.

Rochelle Park Administrator Michael Mariniello said the township has sued Northern Park LLC to halt development in an area prone to flooding and that building permits for the project are pending Zoning Board approval.

One concerned resident, Heather Lum, questioned how permits were obtained from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“We always felt these permits should never have been issued,” she said.

The indictment unsealed on Thursday charges that O’Neill was involved in a scheme in which carpenters union officials accepted bribes in exchange for allowing contractors to pay lower-than-scale wages and benefits at various job sites in New York City.

O’Neill is accused of delivering bribes to Michael Forde, the head of the Carpenters Union District Council in New York City.

Forde is charged with accepting payments from contractors that defrauded the union by employing non-union labor and paying union members below-union rates.

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