Former Brick School Superintendent Sues District

Former School Superintendent Walter Uszenski (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – A nine-count, 40-page lawsuit has been filed by former Brick Township School Superintendent Walter Uszenski, who is suing former members of the Board of Education, Mayor John G. Ducey, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato and others, seeking damages for himself, his daughter Jacqueline Halsey, and her son, “J.H.”

In May 2015, Uszenski was suspended with pay after his arrest for his role in a plan to provide his pre-school grandchild with educational services (i.e., full time daycare) and transportation at public expense for which the child was not legally entitled.

In September 2015, Uszenski was suspended without pay after he and his daughter, Jacqueline Halsey, were indicted on official misconduct and theft.

The indictment also named Andrew Morgan, former interim special services director for the district, and his wife Lorraine Morgan.

Andrew Morgan was recommended for the position at Brick schools by Uszenski, was indicted on charges of False Swearing and Theft by Deception for knowingly concealing his prior criminal conviction for selling cocaine in New York City in 1989.

The indictment said that Morgan and Uszenski executed the necessary approvals required for the Board of Education to fund fraudulent benefits for the child that are believed to be in excess of $50,000.

Lorraine Morgan was charged with Official Misconduct for her role in approving unnecessary counseling services for Uszenski’s grandchild.

Uszenski, now 66, was the superintendent from July 2012 until his termination on September 14, 2017. His contract ran from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2018 when he planned to retire.

The lawsuit, filed on Sept. 11 in Superior Court in Monmouth County by attorney Neil Mullin of Smith Mullin in Montclair, claims that the charges were filed against Uszenski for uncovering what he believed to be a fraudulent and/or corrupt transaction involving the school district’s finances.

In December 2012, the Board Finance Committee asked the superintendent to call Director of Special Services Donna Stump to meet with them to explain an unexplained deficit, which compelled School Business Administrator James Edwards to transfer $750,000 into the Special Education budget to cover the shortfall, it says.

During the meeting, Stump said the deficit had been caused by her failure to submit invoices for out-of-district expenses which had been placed under the desk blotter of her secretary.

Brick Township Board of Education. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

Due to this incident, the Finance Committee requested an audit of the Special Education Department to determine if there were any other financial irregularities in the Special Services Department’s budget.

In the lawsuit, Uszenski’s attorney says “as a result of this highly questionable and/or corrupt transaction, defendant Stump was demoted from her position,” and her husband, James Stump, a former FBI agent, “conspired with the other named defendants to retaliate against the plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit further states that the defendants’ upper management participated in and/or have been willfully indifferent to the retaliatory conduct.

In January 2012, Halsey’s child met with the Special Education Department to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for her son, who had been identified as a special needs child as early as 2011 by the State of NJ, “more than two years before the date of events at issue in this case and determined to be eligible for classification,” reads the lawsuit.

Furthermore, he had been receiving intervention since he was 18 months old after being diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Integration Disorder. He had already been receiving special education services from Brick School District before Uszenski was even hired as superintendent, it says.

In March 2013, Halsey’s son’s IEP was amended and it was determined that he would be mainstreamed for part of the school day. His mother had a biopsychosocial assessment conducted on her son by Meridian Behavioral Health, who referred him into a behavioral support program and deemed him eligible for support services through their organization.

In July, the child was evaluated by a neurological pediatrician and he became legally entitled to out-of-district placement. He attended Ocean Early Childhood Center from July 2013 to June 2014, when he was declassified. For the 2014-2015 school year, J.H. attended school with no special needs help.

“This de-classification had a detrimental impact on J.H. and as a result, he regressed,” the lawsuit says.

It also says the Board of Education did not properly reclassify J.H. during this 2015 time period because of “intimidation and threats” made by defendant Assistant County Prosecutor Michel A. Paulhus toward the evaluating members township child study team and he was “baselessly de-classified and denied special services” in retaliation for Uszenski blowing the whistle on the $750,000 deficit.

What followed was home counseling services for the boy to help him transition into general kindergarten. Lorraine Morgan approved the counseling services. It was agreed that J.H. was doing well, no longer needed at-home counseling, but still required a classified status and an IEP.

In December 2014, Brick Mayor John G. Ducey contacted Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato to report an allegation that Uszenski’s grandson was being driven to a private daycare on a public school bus. In May, 2015, Uszenski, Halsey and Morgan were arrested and charged and the Board of Education voted to suspend Uszenski with pay.

In September 2015, a grand jury returned an indictment against Uszenski and Halsey, and the Board voted to suspend him without pay, based on his criminal prosecution. In September 2017, the Board voted to terminate Uszenski’s employment.

Ocean County Superior Court Judge Patricia B. Roe threw out the charges in February 2017, but Coronato’s office re-indicted Uszenski in June 2017.

Brick Mayor Ducey said he does not understand why he and Township Business Administrator Joanne Bergin are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

“There are no claims made specifically against me or Joanne, so it’s strange we’re in the lawsuit,” he said in a recent phone call.

Mayor John Ducey is also listed in the lawsuit. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

Ducey said a school bus driver came to meet with him and Bergin over some general concerns she had about the town, and it came up that she was told to pick up a student in Beachwood and bring him to Forked River. The student was a relative of Superintendent Uszinski, she added.

“After the meeting I looked at Joanne and said, ‘wow, what was that all about? Why was our Brick bus in Beachwood going to Forked River?’” he said. “Something suspicious is going on with the superintendent and the school transportation department.”

Shortly afterward, Ducey and Bergin went to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office to let them know, he said.

“Morally and ethically, it was the correct thing to do. We met with Coronato and relayed the story, and that’s the last we heard of it. We told him to do whatever investigation he needed to do,” Ducey said.

Bergin agrees. “This suit marks the first time I have ever been sued for doing the right thing,” she wrote in an email.

“I never assigned guilt or innocence, I made no assumptions on the validity of the information, nor did I request to be informed or updated on what the Prosecutor decided to do with that information. Mayor Ducey and I reported it to the appropriate party as is our responsibility as public servants. I believe the taxpayers of Brick expect nothing less,” she wrote.

The defendants named in the lawsuit include former Board of Education members John Barton, Sue Suter, Michael Conti, Karyn Cusanelli, Frank Pannucci, Sharon Cantillo and Vito Gagliardi; Business Administrator James Edwards; former Board Attorney John C. Sahradnik; former bus driver Marcell Butterly, former Director of Special Services Donna Stump, James Stump, Mayor John Ducey, Business Administrator Joanne Bergen, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, former Assistant Prosecutor Michel A. Paulhus, Detective Ryan Mahoney, and other unnamed employees of Brick Township or the Board of Education.

(Photo by Micromedia Publications)

The board’s attorney, Ben Montenegro, said he has read the complaint and has referred it to the district’s insurance carrier, Summit Risk, and his firm would coordinate the defense of the district with the insurance company.

“Any comment on the merits is premature while criminal charges are litigated,” he said. “My only comment is our firm will zealously represent the interests of the school district and the interests of the tax payers in Brick.”