Former Brick Township Assistant Business Administrator Juan Bellu lied on his resume when he claimed to have a degree from Montclair State University, a legal motion filed by the township earlier this month asserts.
Bellu, who was appointed to his position by former mayor Stephen C. Acropolis and fired after Mayor John G. Ducey took office, has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the township for more than a year. A sea of legal motions before the state Civil Service Commission and an administrative law judge chronicle how Bellu was hired – and fired – by the township, including an allegation that the former administration “forged” leave of absence forms in order to help Bellu retain civil service protection for his position.
In a motion filed March 6 with the the state Office of Administrative Law, which was obtained by Shorebeat, Daniel E. Zwillenberg, an attorney defending the township, requests Bellu’s case for civil service protection be summarily dismissed, pointing to Bellu’s “lack of qualifications” to perform the job he was initially hired to do in Brick, and documents subpoenaed from Montclair State University that indicate Bellu never received a degree from that institution, contrary to his resume.
Bellu was hired in January 2008 as a Data Processing Systems Programmer for Brick Township, a title that granted him protection under the state’s civil service laws. But the township’s attorneys now say the civil service title was a temporary way for the township to hire Bellu pending an ordinance change that eventually allowed Acropolis to appoint him as a deputy municipal department head.
Bellu’s hiring ultimately became controversial when Acropolis was hired as executive director of the Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority, for which Bellu serves as a commissioner, leading to allegations of a “quid pro quo” agreement between the two Republicans. Bellu earned a salary of $156,824, not including benefits, during his last year of employment with Brick, records show.
Bellu was suspended, then terminated, after Ducey, a Democrat, took office. That suspension and termination led to the legal wrangling that has played out over the past year, with Bellu claiming his initial civil service job with the township should have been protected.
The township, in its response to Bellu’s legal action, has focused its defense around allegations that Bellu barely ever worked in the civil service position for which he was hired, lied about the college degree, backdated leave of absence forms to take the appointed position, and did not follow township policies for attendance and clocking into work.
Zwillenberg wrote in the March 6 brief that Bellu did not take a leave of absence from his civil service position in 2008 to take the appointed position. Instead, documents obtained during the discovery process showed a leave of absence form was entered for Bellu three years later to retroactively cover the period of March 5, 2008 to March 5, 2009. Then, after a one-day return to the civil service position, multiple leaves of absence were entered for Bellu in February and March 2012, to cover him for the period of March 6, 2009 through March 5, 2013. Since Bellu did not request the leave of absence from his civil service title when he took the appointed job in Brick government in 2008 – instead later “forging” leave of absence requests – he abandoned claims to civil service protection, the township argued in its latest motion.
The motion also points to an allegation that Bellu lied on a job application for the civil service title, saying he held a degree from Montclair State University when he, in fact, did not. In documents subpoenaed from Montclair State, which were also obtained by Shorebeat, Mark J. Fleming, an attorney for the university, states in a letter that “there is no record of any degree having been awarded to Mr. Bellu.”
Documents provided by the university do show that Bellu attended classes there from the Fall 1973 through Spring 1980 semesters. Bellu’s initial application he filled out for the township shows he listed a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting under the education portion.
A call seeking comment from Bellu’s attorney, Robert C. Shea, on the township’s recent assertions was not returned. In past briefs, Shea has argued that Bellu received “glowing” evaluations in the civil service position and was arbitrarily targeted for termination by Democrats, who made his employment a campaign issue.
Ducey said he could not comment on the matter due to pending litigation.
The motion to dismiss Bellu’s appeal of his termination is now before an administrative law judge.