- NJ attorney general: "The conduct ,,, wasn't just despicable, it was criminal"
- "We are bringing them to justice," he adds
- The two allegedly sold T-shirts and raised donations but no money went to 9/11 families
- It could not be determined if the two had retained attorneys
Two New Jersey men are facing charges of running a 9/11 memorial scam allegedly by collecting donations and selling memorial T-shirts from the back of a pickup truck painted with the World Trade Center towers, according to the state attorney general's office.
Mark Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls, and Thomas Scalgione, 41, of Manahawkin, allegedly sold T-shirts and collected donations out of their truck at 9/11 events from June 2010 until July 2012. according to a statement from the New Jersey attorney general.
They displayed a sign that read "All donations for the T-shirts go to families of 9/11," but none of the more than $50,000 raised was sent to the victims' families or 9/11 charities.
Both men were indicted Monday on third-degree charges of conspiracy and two counts of theft by deception, according to the statement. Niemczyk was also charged with failure to file a personal state income tax return in 2011, and for failing to report thousands of dollars in proceeds from the 9/11 T-shirt sales and donations and other money he had won at a casino.
One count of theft by deception refers to the sale of T-shirts and collection of donations, and the second refers to the purchase of the T-shirts at a discounted rate by posing as a charity.
The indictment did not specify a court date, and it could not be determined whether the men had retained attorneys.
New Jersey in July 2011 filed suit against Niemczyk and Scalgione, alleging they defrauded donors. They were ordered to pay back $121,116 in donations and to pay civil penalties. They were also permanently barred from working for any charitable organization in New Jersey.
The pair allegedly claimed they were father-and-son firefighters who were working at a firehouse near the World Trade Center on 9/11, Director Elie Honig of the state Division of Criminal Justice said in the statement.
"Their conduct was outrageous, and we urge any victims who donated money or bought T-shirts from these con artists to contact us," Honig said in the statement.
According to the state attorney general's statement, the truck used by the men was painted with the names of police and firefighters who died on September 11, 2001.
Rosemary Cain, mother of firefighter George McCain, who was killed, felt betrayed when she learned her son's name was being used as a part of the scam.
"I feel that he's dishonored the 343 firefighters, he's dishonored by putting their names on a truck and using it to scam people of their money," she told CNN affiliate WCBS, referring to the defendants. "Absolutely it's a betrayal, it's disgusting."
The two men purchased hundreds of T-shirts with 9/11 themes printed on them from two vendors. The vendors charged between $3 and $6.90 per shirt, which Niemczyk and Scaglione then sold for $20 apiece, according to the state attorney general's office.
"The conduct of these two men wasn't just despicable," Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said. "It was criminal, and we are bringing them to justice."
Scalgione was the alleged "public relations" part of the team, making arrangements to set up their truck at different 9/11 events, authorities said. The men were not registered with the state of New Jersey as a charitable organization as required by law.
If convicted, Niemczyk and Scalgione could each face three to five years in prison.