West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque and his son Joseph, 22, could each face up to 11 years in prison and $600,000 in fines on computer hacking charges, according to West New York Attorney Gilberto Garcia.
After being arrested early Thursday morning and arraigned in Newark later that afternoon, Federal District Judge Mark S. Falk determined that for the first two counts of alleged unauthorized computer access and conspiracy to gain unauthorized computer access, the Roques face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
They face an additional year in prison and a $100,000 fine for the misdemeanor of allegedly causing damage to computers that were protected.
The two were released on a $100,000 bail bond, they had to surrender their passports, and their travel has been restricted to New Jersey and New York. Their internet and computer use has also been severely restricted.
Richard Rivera, a former West New York police officer, attended the arraignment and told The Reporter that Roque’s ex-wife, Joseph’s mother, passed out and fell to the floor in the courthouse row in front of Rivera during the proceedings.
“The political machine is trying to take me out because I’m not their team player.” – Felix Roque, March 23
The criminal complaint, released by Deputy Public Affairs Officer Matthew Reilly from the U.S. Attorney’s Office the same morning and drawn up by F.B.I. Special Agent Ignace Ertilus, lists a series of complaints related to the alleged hacking of the website www.recallroque.com.
Count one of the complaint states that Joseph Roque allegedly accessed, caused damage to, and obtained information from protected computers without authorization, and allegedly did the same with the Recall Roque website.
It goes on to state that on Feb. 8, 2012, Joseph allegedly accessed a Go Daddy account and shut down the website without authorization. It also claims the mayor allegedly called the Go Daddy account holder on February 9 and said he “had www.recallroque.com taken down by highly placed government officials and that everyone would pay for getting involved against Mayor Roque.”
The complaint lists as part of the background leading up to the arrests that “Mayor Roque and Public Official 1 [listed as an unnamed co-conspirator] thereafter harassed and attempted to intimidate others whom Mayor Roque had learned from defendant Joseph Roque were associated with the Recall Website.”
“All I can tell you is that I know he’s a proud guy, and in addition to him being my mayor, I consider him a friend,” West New York Police Director Michael Indri said Thursday when he returned a call to confirm Roque’s arrest. “He’s got my full support through this.”
Roque will continue to serve as mayor of West New York throughout this procedure, according to Garcia.
Leading up to the arrests
On March 23, after a slew of media reports alleged that the F.B.I. had come to West New York and served Roque with a subpoena, Roque denied he was guilty of allegations of fraud. Various media sources reported that federal authorities had visited Town Hall, Roque’s medical office at 211 60th St., and his home, and had confiscated documents and a computer.
Roque said that none of these allegations were true.
He confirmed that he had met with agents earlier that week, and while he said he was not allowed to discuss the specifics of the case, it had nothing to do with his medical practice or insurance fraud.
Roque told the Reporter in an interview that he believed the false allegations were motivated by a Hudson County political machine that is out to ruin him for being a political maverick. He also said he had terminated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of preexisting construction and legal contracts, which may also have been underlying incentive for the investigation.
“I have the ultimate respect for law enforcement,” Roque said that day. “They will not need a subpoena, because I believe in transparency and integrity, and I am here for one purpose: to serve the people of West New York.”
Flip flop endorsement
Earlier in March, sources close to the 2009 mayoral campaign of former mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega, whom Roque defeated after a bitter contest, confirmed they turned over information to federal authorities which Vega’s campaign had gathered in an effort to discredit Roque.
Other sources claimed the alleged release of the information to the feds was in retaliation for Roque’s initial endorsement of Republican State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-13th) who is the challenger for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Robert Menendez, a Democrat. The U.S. Senator had backed Vega in the mayoral race.
“The political machine is trying to take me out because I’m not their team player,” Roque said in March. “The fact that I endorsed a good friend with good morals and ethics [Kyrillos] rocked the political vote.”
Then, during an impromptu and surprising two-minute press conference held at his new headquarters on 53rd Street and Palisade Avenue on March 30, Roque announced his endorsement of Menendez.
Sources close to the mayor claimed Menendez had allegedly met with Roque the evening before the press conference, which a campaign representative of Menendez’s then denied shortly after this claim was published by the Reporter.
During the press conference, Roque said that he had been receiving emails, texts, and phone calls from West New York residents urging him to support Menendez.
“I will follow the desires of my community and endorse the great senator Menendez for office,” he announced. “He has my support.”
When Menendez kicked off his senatorial campaign at Union City High School on May 21, Roque was not in attendance.
The preliminary hearing for both Roques is scheduled for June 4.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org