VINELAND — A city-sponsored investigation into how tax money was spent on the Four Corners downtown development project is, at least for now, finished.
Attorneys for the municipality and project developer Hans Lampart on Monday signed an agreement stating that the City Council committee investigating the project’s finances ceased to have any “lawful authority” at 12 p.m. Jan. 1.
Both sides also agreed that all subpoenas issued by the committee are quashed. No persons or entities served with a committee subpoena are now required to appear before City Council, the agreement reads.
The agreement, submitted to Superior Court Judge Anne McDonnell for final approval, allows city officials to form another investigative committee if they feel one is necessary.
Richard Tonetta, attorney for the municipal government administration that took office earlier this month, said city officials will not act rashly in making that determination.
“I think it is something they have to look into,” Tonetta said. “No one has been privy to any of the information. I think they need to do their due diligence to determine if this is a fishing expedition or if there is something that would lead someone to believe it’s worth the fight to go forward with.
“I’m not sure what the ultimate goal was,” he said. “We’re all trying to figure this out.”
Lampart said in a statement that he is “glad to get this behind us and move forward with positive enthusiasm in proceeding with the rest of the project.”
“Too many people have worked to get where we are, only to have our efforts sidetracked by a personal political agenda,” he said.
The $40 million Four Corners project was to turn the intersection of Landis and East avenues into a sort of economic gateway into the downtown business district. The only part of the project to be completed involves the $10 million renovation of the Landis Theater Performing Arts Center and a restaurant called Mori’s. That work was done with about $4 million in Urban Enterprise Zone funds, which come from state sales tax revenue.
Members of the previous City Council, whose terms are now expired, formed an investigative committee and hired an auditing company to determine how the funds were spent. City Council members never said publicly that they knew of any wrongdoing. They said the investigation and audit was meant to quell rumors about project financing.
Lampart and his Eastern Pacific Development LLC won the Four Corners contract from the administration led by then-Mayor Perry Barse. Barse lost his mayoral re-election bid in 2008 to Robert Romano, whose entire slate of City Council candidates was also successful in the balloting.
The City Council investigative committee was made up of Peter Coccaro and Mayra Arroyo.
The new city government administration led by Mayor Ruben Bermudez took office earlier this month. Three of the five City Council members elected in November ran with Barse, who unsuccessfully tried to recapture the Mayor’s Office.
As part of the investigation, the previous City Council signed a $32,000 contract with the Holman & Frenia auditing firm. The panel eventually voted to spend $25,000 to extend the contract with the Burlington County firm.
Tonetta said the new city government considers the contract with Holman & Frenia to be complete with the signing of Monday’s order. The firm will be paid for any work it performed through Dec. 31, he said.
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