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Mayor who used racist slurs charged with 2 unrelated crimes

The mayor of a small suburban New Jersey town, who four years ago was recorded making racial slurs and saying he would never hire a policewoman, was charged Monday with two crimes unrelated to his private landscaping business.

Sal Bonaccorso, a Republican who served as mayor of Clark, New Jersey for six terms, gained notoriety after a police lieutenant secretly recorded him using racial slurs to refer to black people. The recordings formed the basis of a $400,000 settlement with the lieutenant, who, under an agreement first disclosed last year by NJ Advance Media, was allowed to remain on the payroll for two years , without working, in exchange for remaining silent.

The criminal charges filed Monday against the mayor follow a state investigation into Mr. Bonaccorso’s racist and sexist remarks, which were confirmed in a 43-page report released by the state attorney general’s office. But the accusations were not directly related to the recorded exchanges, something Mr. Bonaccorso acknowledged and apologized for.

Mr. Bonaccorso was charged with official misconduct and accused of using his city offices and Clark employees to help him run his private landscaping and oil tank removal business. Additionally, he is charged with forging an engineer’s signature on permit applications to remove underground storage tanks.

Mr. Bonaccorso, whose term as mayor extends until December 2024, did not respond to calls for comment.

His lawyer, Robert G. Stahl, said the mayor denied “each and every allegation.”

The accusations, Mr. Stahl said, are “erroneous and incorrect.”

The office of Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin opened an investigation into Mr. Bonaccorso, 63, early last year, amid growing legal and public pressure.

“Allegations of vile language used to degrade crime victims, suspects and potential employees have raised alarms about potentially criminal policing and hiring practices,” the report released Monday said.

“For many members of the community,” the report adds, “the release of this report was long overdue.”

Mr. Platkin called for the firing of the Clark police chief and a department sergeant, who can also be heard on the recordings and who remain on paid leave, but he acknowledged he did not have the authority legal to force them to leave their jobs.

The recordings “clearly showed” that city and police officials “expressed opinions suggesting they encouraged biased policing and hiring practices,” according to the report.

Nonetheless, Mr. Platkin said his investigation showed that the confidential agreement with the lieutenant who recorded the mayor did not warrant criminal charges but justified changes within the department, including better data collection and retention of records. records and strengthened employee attendance policies.

The Union County Prosecutor’s Office took day-to-day control of the Clark Police Department after receiving anonymous letters in 2020 describing allegations surrounding the confidential settlement. At the time, 37 of the department’s 39 police officers were white men, and the department employed no women.

The county attorney’s office continues to control the police department in Clark, which is 25 miles southwest of Midtown Manhattan and has a population of about 15,500.

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