The same truck that transported a tower piece recovered from the wreckage of Ground Zero to Barnegat last year — to serve as a memorial for those who died — is now at the center of an alleged scam.
Thomas J. Scalgione, 40, of Manahawkin and Mark Anthony Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls were accused this week of promoting a bogus 9/11 victims' charity by driving around in a pickup truck painted with the names of first responders who perished.
"it is definitely the same truck that was used to bring the piece of steel," said Bill Cox, transportation coordinator for the Barnegat Township School District. "Being a small community, we know the same cast of characters."
The Attorney General's Office has sued Scalgione — who has had a long history of theft and sex offense convictions — and Niemczyk for allegedly operating an unregistered charity. Their first court appearance is scheduled for the Ocean County Courthouse at 10 a.m. Friday.
Giles told Patch he contacted Scalgione to book the truck to pick up a piece of steel from one of the towers and bring it to Barnegat High School for a memorial held there last year, but declined to elaborate further.
Both Scalgione and Niemczyk drove the red pickup truck, which bore the names of first responders who perished in the attacks, but the state has since impounded it. According to Patch and MSN file photos of the truck, it bore different logos and license plates at different time periods.
Giles said he was "appalled" and shared the outrage expressed by many in the Patch comments section about the apparently bogus collections. He said he is not being investigated with respect to the bogus collections.
"I expected [the lawsuit] was coming, as per the investigation, and my testimony. I have testified with regard to my knowledge of the truck, although I cannot give information as to what I have testified per the inspector," Giles said.
The attorney general's office has requested that the court order the immediate impounding of Niemczyk's pickup truck to stop soliciting donations from the public, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said in a release.
“The alleged actions of the defendants is an affront to everyone who remembers the fallen and to the family members who continue to endure pain from the lives that were lost among the first responders at the World Trade Center,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “It is beyond comprehension that anyone would try to profit themselves under the guise of collecting donations to help the surviving family members of the fallen emergency responders.”
Niemczyk allegedly lied to the people he solicited by telling them he was a former Navy SEAL and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and at one time had a license plate on the pickup truck reading “N-Seal”. Niemczyk pleaded guilty in 1989 to committing welfare fraud.
Scalgione allegedly claims to handle public relations for truck appearances and has several criminal convictions, including theft, forgery, fraudulent use of credit cards and possession of an emergency communications receiver during the commission of a crime, according to the release.
Niemczyk and Scalgione also allegedly have been selling T-shirts with New York City Police and Fire Department and Port Authority Police Department logos at 9/11 memorial events since mid-2011 to raise funds for their charity.
The release states that both were not authorized to use the logos and that they allegedly also had a collection jug for cash donations when they attended events with the truck.
Cox, a former New York City police officer, has raised questions about the operation since seeing Niemczyk’s pickup truck at a World Trade Center memorial service in Barnegat.
"You realize when something is not right," said Cox, of Barnegat. "I met them, and I've been at several of the events they were at. What I saw raised hairs on my neck."