NJ AG: Egg Harbor Township Charter School Leaders Indicted By Grand Jury
Attorney General Matthew Platkin says the founder of a charter school in Egg Harbor Township along with its business administrator have been indicted after, "allegedly structuring an over $100,000 contract so it would be awarded to the school founder’s outdoor furniture-making company, which did not fulfill the terms of the deal."
59-year-old Peter Caporilli of Absecon and 48-year-old Michael Falkowski of Point Pleasant have been indicted by a grand jury.
- The founder and former Board of Trustees president of Principle Academy Charter School in EHT, Caporilli, is facing an eight-count indictment
- Falkowski, the school’s business administrator, is facing five counts
- Caporilli’s furniture company, Modern Boat Works, based in Pleasantville, which also did business as Tidewater Workshop, was brought up on six counts, according to Platkin's office
According to Platkin, an investigation determined the alleged crimes occurred between August 2018 and January 2019. A press release detailed the state's case as follows:
- The case was referred to the Attorney General’s Office in July 2019 by the State Department of Education, which suspected Caporilli, who was simultaneously president of the school board and CEO of Modern Boat Works, steered contracts for outdoor furniture and an outdoor learning center to his business.
- That company received contracts from Principle Academy totaling $115,000 to build an outdoor learning center at the back of the school.
- Prosecutors say that the alleged co-conspirators broke up the project into smaller contracts valued at $40,000.00 and $75,000.00 respectively, to evade public bidding requirements and prevent competing contractors from bidding on the first phase of the job.
- The second, $75,000 phase was put out to bid in a newspaper public notice published on November 5, 2018. Nine businesses reached out and expressed an interest in submitting proposals. But investigators say Falkowski did not send them the necessary paperwork to submit bids until November 13, 2018. The proposals were due November 16, 2018, leaving competing bidders less than three days to complete and physically deliver their bids. Ultimately, only one company submitted a bid: Modern Boat Works.
- Investigators said the school also made payments to the furniture company before the school board approved spending the money.
- [An investigation] found Modern Boat Works never completed the project as originally contracted.
State Police executed a search warrant at the charter school on October 6th of last year and instead of an “outdoor learning center,” they allegedly found, "a rather haphazard collection of wooden furniture in poor condition."
The defendants were originally charged just over a year ago as part of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
Five second-degree counts were filed against all three defendants,
- Theft by unlawful taking
- Official misconduct
- False representation for a government contract
- Misapplication of entrusted property.
Caporilli and Tidewater are additionally accused of fourth-degree unlawful official business transaction where interest is involved.
Caporilli is also accused of second-degree misconduct by a corporate official.
"False and without merit."
Robert DiLella, a representative for Caporilli, told The Press of Atlantic City the state's allegations were "false and without merit."
Dr. Caporilli has always adhered to strict guidelines for transparency between his role as chairman and the operation and impact of Modern Boat Works on the school, [a]nd there has never been any claim of impropriety or any indication of doing anything improper or that might be construed by any party as wrong, in intent or action.
DiLella continued, "the weight of evidence will prove that these claims are unwarranted, and do not support the charges brought."
Falkowski is being represented by Attorney Williams Hughes, who says his client intends to plead not guilty.
He commented to The Press, "I am really just dumbfounded. This is a guy that’s just doing his job."
Platkin said in a press release,
These defendants used their positions of power over the spending of this charter school to fix the contract-awarding process to enrich the school board president and his business. The misuse of taxpayer dollars for personal gain should not – and will not – be tolerated.
The public is reminded that charges are accusations and all persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.