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Embattled DPW chief back at work

Wednesday, September 27, 2000





Staff Writer

LODI -- Three weeks after being arrested in connection with an alleged mob construction scheme, Department of Public Works director Gerald Woods returned to work Monday.

Borough officials lifted an unpaid suspension they had levied against Woods shortly after his arrest, saying he has not been convicted and that the charges against him are unrelated to his borough duties.

"The charges have absolutely nothing to do with any activity in the borough of Lodi -- not even the state of New Jersey, actually," said Borough Manager Stephen Lo Iacono. "And, not to sound corny, but there is an assumption of innocence until proven guilty. Why take the man's livelihood away from him?"

But some in town say the lifting of Woods' suspension only worsens an already tarnished image of the borough.

"Lodi has for a long time had this image as maybe a corrupt town," former Deputy Mayor Walter Curioni Jr. said. "And this just adds to the image."

Woods, 56, was one of 38 people indicted in a probe that Manhattan prosecutors say uncovered a network of mobsters, contractors, and union leaders who conspired to add millions of dollars to public and private construction jobs in New York.

Prosecutors say contractors saved money by using non-union workers and then billing customers for higher union wages. Contractors allegedly used a part of their savings to bribe union leaders into looking the other way and falsifying records.

All of this was done with help from members of the Luchese crime family, who imposed a "mob tax" on the contractors, prosecutors say.

Woods, who did not return a phone call to his office Tuesday, is charged with accepting bribes while serving as executive secretary-treasurer of the Northern New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters -- a job he lost in June after being voted out by union members.

Lodi officials appointed him Aug. 1 to head the Public Works Department, demoting the former director to an assistant position. Woods' annual salary is $69,000.

After Woods' arrest, Lo Iacono suspended him without pay, a move he said was only temporary until Borough Attorney John Baldino could determine what Lodi was obligated to do under state law.

Baldino said he told the borough leaders that if they determined Woods' absence could hurt borough operations, then they could bring him back. Also, he said, if Woods is found not guilty, he could seek back pay.

With that in mind, Lo Iacono said he and other borough leaders decided to lift Woods' suspension.

"He was doing an exceptional job," Lo Iacono said.

But Curioni said Lodi already has an image problem from past scandals, including an ongoing corruption investigation in the Police Department -- a probe that has led to charges against three officers.

Curioni had criticized Woods' appointment to the DPW position in August, accusing the Borough Council of handing out political favors.

Woods managed the 1999 election campaign of Mayor Gary Paparozzi and the four other council members. Curioni said the lifting of Woods' suspension smells of political favoritism.

Paparozzi disagreed.

"People are making a lot out of nothing," said Paparozzi, who added that Woods was the only person to apply for the DPW director job, even after the position was advertised in newspapers.

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