Brick superintendent arrested on misconduct charges
The following story appeared on the Asbury Park Press website.
BRICK – Superintendent of Schools Walter Uszenski schemed with his daughter and a former school official to provide his grandson with full-time daycare and transportation at taxpayer's expense, according to charges filed against them Thursday.
Uszenski, his daughter, Jacqueline Halsey, and Andrew Morgan, who was appointed interim director of special services in 2013 at Uszenski's request, were charged with official misconduct and theft by deception, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said in a news release.
Uszenski, 63, of Brick was arrested shortly after 9 a.m. at the Brick Board of Education's administrative office. Morgan, 67, a Middlesex County resident, surrendered at the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office around noon, accompanied by his attorney. Both were booked into the Ocean County Jail but released later Thursday after they each posted $100,000 bail, set by Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson.
Halsey, 37, of Brick was not arrested but instead served with a summons at her home.
Prosecutors allege that the trio falsely claimed that Halsey's 3-1/2-year-old son was in need of special services. Halsey initiated a request for the the services, and Uszenski and Morgan executed the necessary approvals for them.
As a result, the three illegally used nearly $40,000 in public funds to send Uszenski's grandson to a daycare center on the guise that he needed and was getting special services, prosecutors said.
The scheme, according to prosecutors, began less than year after Uszenski was appointed superintendent in July 2012. Authorities believe Uszenski convinced the Board of Education to bring in Morgan for an audit of the district's special services section, according to the press release.
Prosecutors say Uszenski in 2013 recommended Morgan be hired as interim director of special services, a position in which he oversaw placement of special needs students in in-district and out-of district programs.
"One of (Morgan's) first official acts was to engineer a fraudulent plan for Ms. Halsey's child, who is also Uszenski's grandchild, to receive unnecessary services and transportation at taxpayer's expense,'' the news release from the prosecutor said.
"It's New Jersey. What would you expect?" said Marcella Cascone of Whiting, who walked with her 4-year-old grandson by Veterans Memorial Middle School. Her grandson, Cullen, attends Brick's preschool program.
"It's a disgrace but I think everyone in New Jersey is used to it," she said.
Joseph Benedict, Uszenski's attorney, said he and his client were aware of an investigation, but they were surprised that Uszenski was arrested and taken to the county jail.
"I'm mystified why the prosecutor would seek a complaint (arrest) warrant for someone with my client's pedigree,'' said Benedict, of the New Brunswick law firm Benedict and Altman.
"I strongly doubt there's any credible evidence,'' Benedict said. "I'm ready to fight this one in court.''
When asked about Uszenski's employment status, Benedict said, "I told him to go back to work. He may take tomorrow off and go back on Monday. There's no reason for him not to go back to work.''
Morgan's attorney, William Strazza of the Chatham law firm Strazza and Roughneen, issued the following statement on Thursday:
"Andrew Morgan's entire professional life has been dedicated to helping children with special education needs. His expertise was sought out by Brick to root out waste and to audit the special education budget, and his work was stellar. Yet, today he stands falsely accused of official misconduct. My client has been horribly mistreated today by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, and we look forward to our day in court.''
According to a news release, Morgan was hired to conduct a $17,499 report, about seven pages long. Morgan made more than $83 an hour for the 209 hours he put in to prepare and write the full audit. In it, he criticized the performance of the then-director of special services and suggested offering services to special needs students within the district rather than sending them out-of-district and paying private tuition.
Uszenski used the report, which was critical of the special services director, to recommend Morgan as a replacement, prosecutors say.
After Morgan was hired as interim director of special services on July 2013, he orchestrated a fraudulent plan to get full-time daycare and transportation services for Halsey's son, falsely claiming that the program and services were educationally necessary for the child, prosecutors said their investigation revealed.
The investigation also determined Morgan padded his employment application with false details, prosecutors said. Morgan resigned from Brick schools on Dec. 31, 2013, after earning more than $60,000 from the district since March of that year.
Brick Mayor John Ducey said he had only recently learned about the incident, and didn't know the facts of the case.
"My thought is that anyone who abuses the public trust should be held accountable for their actions," he said. "Schools are strictly for the children. To hear that someone took advantage of that system for personal gain is disappointing."
Uszenski became superintendent of Brick Township Public Schools after serving as superintendent of Spotswood schools for three years. He was appointed to serve through June 30, 2016, with an annual salary of $177,500. In Spotswood, he was paid $142,000 the year before he left the district.
In 2014, he received a total salary of $177,500 from the Brick Township Board of Education, according to public employee records on DataUniverse.
News of Uszenski's arrest came as a shock to Sue Purcell, president of the Osbornville Elementary School Parent Teachers Organization.
"I would have never thought that of him," Purcell said. "I don't know him on a personal level, but I could call him if we needed something at the school, and he responded."
Purcell said last summer Uszenski helped with the children's playground at the Osbornville Elementary School. It had become a dirt lot or, as some called it, "dust pit." Over the summer Uszenski had grass planted and a sprinkler system installed, she said.
"This is just very shocking," said Purcell.
Prosecutor's spokesman Al Della Fave said Thursday that investigators went to the Brick Board of
Education to execute search and arrest warrants.
A man who answered the phone at a number listed for Uszenski declined to comment.
When asked if Walter Uszenski was available, the man said, "He's not here, and there will be no comment," then hung up.
A message left at a number listed for Jacqueline Halsey was not immediately returned. It was not known if she had hired an attorney yet.
Steph Solis: 732-643-4043; firstname.lastname@example.org. Kathleen Hopkins: 732-643-4202; Khopkins@gannettnj.com. Dan Radel and Amanda Oglesby contributed to this report.
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