HOBOKEN -- Testimony continued on Monday in a personnel hearing involving Hoboken City Hall's former assistant to the information technology director.
The hearing is a civil service hearing for Jonathan Cummins, who was terminated by the city last year. Cummins was the assistant to Patrick Ricciardi, the city’s former information technology specialist.
The hearing is significant because it has shed some light on an ongoing FBI investigation that began in 2011.
The city's former IT head, Patrick Ricciardi, was arrested last November after the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged that he allegedly kept a file of City Hall e-mails and leaked them to other officials in town, possibly giving out sensitive information that could affect politics and -- according to a more prevalent rumor -- union negotiations.
On Friday, a local news website reported that former Hoboken Business Administrator Arch Liston testified as part of a civil service hearing that two officials who allegedly received the emails were a high-ranking fire official and a former high-ranking public safety official.
The report appeared to confirm rumors that have spread around the city for almost a year as to who the two unnamed officials were.
According to the 2011 complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Ricciardi admitted to the FBI that he created an archive file containing e-mails that had been sent among the mayor and two high-ranking mayoral aides. He then allegedly slipped some of those e-mails to two other officials.
Ricciardi was charged with accessing a computer without authorization, interception of wire and electronic communication, and disclosure of intercepted wire and electronic communications. In November, he appeared in federal court in Newark to hear his charges. He faces a potential maximum jail sentence of five years for each count if convicted, and did not enter a plea.
The FBI became aware of the situation after Zimmer’s administration became suspicious of information that was apparently leaked to others. City Hall then conducted an internal security audit in early 2011, which revealed the suspicious files in Riccardi’s computer, according to the FBI complaint.
City Hall notified the FBI of the situation, which led to their 2011 investigation and arrest of Ricciardi.
On Monday, a local official confirmed that Liston alleged in court on Friday that the e-mails were given to Fire Chief Richard Blohm and Former Public Safety Director Angel Alicea.
The federal government’s 2011 complaint against Ricciardi had described the two officials who received the e-mails as “a City municipal official” and “a former City municipal official.”
The FBI complaint said, “Defendant Ricciardi [allegedly] created the Archive File, and then directed the Intercepted E-Mails to the Archive File, so that he could [allegedly] ‘spy’ on the Mayor and the Mayor’s Office Employees, and determine whether his job was secure. Defendant Ricciardi [allegedly] forwarded certain Intercepted E-Mails to Individual 1 and Individual 2."
In Friday's story, Chief Blohm denied comment, citing a gag order on city employees that was instituted last year in response to the alleged e-mail thefts. Also in Friday's news story, city spokesman Juan Melli responded that Blohm was "completely free to discuss his role in this matter.”
On Monday morning, when contacted by the Reporter for comment, Blohm said, “It’s interesting that [Melli] says I have a role in this matter. It is under litigation and it’d be inappropriate to comment on something that is still being investigated."
OPRAs and Cummins
Liston said on Friday that he suspected a security breach when he noticed a pattern of Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests coming in immediately after he would receive documents about a situation.
OPRA requests are frequently given to government bodies by journalists or by members of the public who are seeking public documents such as municipal salaries, budgets, and more detailed items. It is unknown for now whether the OPRAs came from a member of the public or a media outlet.
When asked by the Reporter on Monday for information about who made the OPRA requests, Melli said he was not sure, but that the Reporter could...OPRA it.
Meanwhile, last year's FBI complaint against Ricciardi said that Cummins told them he was not guilty of involvement in the e-mail theft.
The FBI complaint alleged that Cummins had confessed to "a Mayor's Employee" about the e-mail theft, but then, Ricciardi told the FBI that Cummins had confessed falsely because the two were friends. According to the document, "Upon further questioning, Cummins confirmed that he had confessed falsely."
According to an NJ.com story, in court on Friday, Cummins said that he had asked for a lawyer during his hearing with the city, and had been denied one. Liston testified Friday that this was untrue.
Watch hudsonreporter.com for further coverage of the hearing.