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Brick BOE Member May Face Ethics Complaint Over Mortgage Deals

Brick BOE member Michael Conti. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick BOE member Michael Conti. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A Brick Board of Education member says numerous mortgage deals he struck with district employees – including Interim Superintendent Dr. Richard Caldes – were “above board,” but a resident said he will file an ethics complaint in the matter.

Board member Michael Conti, who is also a Republican candidate for township council, sold at least 16 mortgages to school district employees, said resident George Scott, who confronted Conti on the matter during the public comment portion of a board meeting Thursday night. Scott said Conti should have abstained from a vote to appoint Caldes superintendent.

Conti’s employer, Assured Mortgage Bankers Corp., wrote Caldes a $529,255 mortgage on a home in Point Pleasant Borough on Feb. 20, 2015, according to records obtained from the Ocean County Clerk’s Office. In May, Conti was part of a vote to appoint Caldes as interim superintendent following the arrest of former superintendent Walter Uszenski on theft charges.

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“As a taxpayer, I am concerned because I see it as, minimally, an ethics problem,” Scott said.

“Everything I do is, in my opinion, very much above-board,” said Conti, who explained he is a salaried employee at Assured Mortgage and did not directly benefit financially from any of the mortgages he arranged for district employees. Conti also said he has abstained from certain votes involving his clients.

“In any time that I have been involved in a transaction, because sometimes we have stipend positions that come up for a vote, I have recused myself from those stipend transactions when they’ve come up for a vote,” he said.

Conti also said he was not paid commissions on any of the loans.

“My compensation is separated from the people I’m doing business with so I can try to obtain them the best mortgage rates I possibly can in the marketplace,” he said.

The explanation did not satisfy Scott, who said a board member should not be engaging in business with district employees.

“You get paid from Assured,” said Scott. “Assured makes their money by giving out mortgages. So you did gain financially. That’s how your company gets to pay you – by staying in business and doing mortgages.”

The state School Ethics Act, which governs the actions of school board members across New Jersey, states that a member of a board of education should not “act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment.”

The law also states that a board member should not use his office “for the purpose of securing financial gain for himself, any member of his immediate family, or any business organization with which he is associated.”

Conti said 99 percent of his business is obtained through referrals.

Board attorney Jack Sahradnik said Thursday night was the first time he’d heard about the issue and did not have a comment.

“I would not render an opinion of an ethical nature raised by a member of the public without doing the proper research,” Sahradnik said.

Scott ended his public comment by saying he would likely file a complaint on the matter with the School Ethics Commission, which has the power to censure, suspend or remove members of school boards.

“I think I will pursue this as an ethics violation,” Scott said.