Paterson construction official testifies against town in Art Factory case
Construction manager Gennaro “Jerry” Lobozzo found himself in a strange situation Tuesday afternoon. He was forced to testify against his employer as a witness for the Art Factory.
Lobozzo’s testimony is needed by lawyers Michael Ruben and Joe Afflitto, who represent the Art Factory and its tenants, to establish the large number of offenses given to their clients, were issued irregularly.
“Invalid,” Lobozzo said of the tickets issued to the Art Factory and its tenants. Each offense was issued for lack of a certificate of occupancy. When questioned by Afflitto, Lobozzo said housing inspector Adalberto Soto, who issued the tickets, was not qualified to issue the violations.
“Why is that?” Afflitto asked.
“Because the occupancy certificate falls under the Uniform Construction Code (UCC),” Lobozzo replied.
“So he’s not qualified to issue subpoenas under the Uniform Construction Code?” Afflitto remarked.
“Okay,” Lobozzo replied. He said Soto did not have the necessary UCC training and licenses.
In this case, the summons do not cite the UCC, but rather a municipal ordinance.
Prosecutor Vincent Stampone asked Lobozzo if the Construction Bureau had the power to issue summons.
“No,” Lobozzo replied. His office has the power to issue stop work orders, he said.
By stating that the CO issue is a matter for UCC, Lobozzo contradicted his testimony before the Construction Appeal Board. In a hearing before this council, quoted by Stampone, Lobozzo said the CO issue was “strictly a zoning issue.”
Ruben objected to the use of the Building Council transcript during the trial. He called it “hearsay”. However, the judge allowed it.
Lobozzo did not deny that he described it as a zoning issue, but said he didn’t remember why the Art Factory was before that council. He said this testimony took place two years ago.
The building board manages all violations having to do with the Uniform Building Code.
“What has changed? You said then it was zoning, now it isn’t,” Stampone noted.
Lobozzo throughout the testimony cited a letter from Robert Hilzer, of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Office of Regulatory Affairs, which states that UCC violations, including CO issues, must be handled by the construction manager and his staff.
This letter changed the way the city issued violations for lack of CO, Lobozzo said. Indeed, a directive of the legal director of the city, issued on October 6, 2017, orders that questions of certificate of occupancy and maintenance of the certificate of occupancy be dealt with by construction officials and other professionals of the city. ‘UCC and not by inspectors from the Community Improvement Division.
“A municipal inspector cannot issue a violation of a municipal ordinance?” Stampone asked.
“A municipal inspector can issue this under this ordinance,” Lobozzo replied.
Stampone attempted to impeach Lobozzo as a witness by pointing out his contradictory testimony.
“When you were director of community improvement, you oversaw the issuance of those same summons, right? Stampone.
“Yes, but when I was director of community improvement, I didn’t know about this ordinance. There are hundreds of prescriptions, ”Lobozzo replied.
“Wait wait. You told me the director of community improvement didn’t know about this order?”
“It was two years ago,” Lobozzo said. He was pushed into the role of director of community improvement by retired former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres from former director Kathy Easton.
In his testimony, Lobozzo appeared to state that all buildings which are currently occupied, by virtue of having occupants, have a certificate of occupancy.
“Certificates of occupancy sometimes exist and sometimes they don’t. If you have been in your house for 30 years you don’t have this document, the fact that you are there, no one can tell you to come out, unless there is something that forces you to come out like a fire , or a flood, or an explosion, something like that, ”Lobozzo said. He described this as an “unwritten rule”.
This appears to be a new interpretation of the municipal ordinance which states: “It is illegal to use or occupy” a building without CO. In some cases, the city has issued temporary COs to allow occupancy of a building.
Lobozzo often deviated from the subject, which resulted in a clash between Ruben and Stampone. Ruben sought to end Lobozzo’s testimony because it was taking too long before Stampone could complete his cross-examination.
At one point, Lobozzo described his colleagues in the Community Improvement Division as “those kids” with more power than sworn police officers.
Lobozzo is the first witness in the case. The city has several witnesses, including inspectors and director of community improvement David Gilmore.
The trial ended abruptly when Stampone told Judge James Sieradzki of Clifton that he was not feeling well. It is scheduled to resume on December 19, 2017 and January 9, 2018 at 1:30 p.m. The court set two dates.
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