Law & Justice

Middlesex Borough fire inspector guilty in strong-arm extortion case

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MIDDLESEX BOROUGH, N.J. – A former fire inspector for Middlesex Borough and other New Jersey municipalities admitted to conspiring with a Roxbury man to commit a strongarm extortion, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced today.

Billy Donnerstag, 49, of Hackettstown, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in Newark federal court to an indictment charging him with conspiring to commit extortion using threats of force, violence, and fear.

According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

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From December 2016 through June 2017, Donnerstag conspired with Joseph Martinelli of Kenvil, to extort the owner and operator of a real estate development and construction company – referred to in the indictment as “Individual 1” – using threats of physical harm if Individual 1 did not pay Donnerstag and Martinelli thousands of dollars.

In a series of telephone and in-person conversations with Individual 1, Donnerstag and Martinelli told Individual 1 that, in addition to being a fire inspector for Middlesex Borough, Donnerstag also collected debts. Donnerstag and Martinelli wanted Individual 1 to pay Martinelli, stating that Individual 1 had not paid Martinelli enough money for the sale of a property a decade earlier.

'If I come meet  you now ... It's gonna be a problem'

During the course of the conspiracy, both Donnerstag and Martinelli made a series of threatening statements to Individual 1 that the consequences of failing to pay Donnerstag and Martinelli would involve physical harm to Individual 1.

Donnerstag told Individual 1:

• “if you were in front of me right now, you’d be on the floor. Okay? Cause I don’t talk—I don’t get talked to like that. You don’t know who I am.”
• “You need to iron this out with Joe. Again, if, if I have to come meet you now—again, it, it, it, it’d become, it’s gonna be a problem.”
• “What I do, is I make sure that people don’t take advantage of other people. Do you understand that? Now I also do other things, but this is one of the things that I do. Now, again if you’re not figuring wh, what my business is by now, you’re either, and again I, I say this with as much respect as I can, either an idiot, or you’re just lying because you don’t want to, to, to understand that I come from somewhere that most people don’t wanna see.”

Ultimately, over two separate meetings (both of which were lawfully recorded), Donnerstag and Martinelli obtained $15,000 in cash from Individual 1. The cash had been provided by the FBI.

The count of conspiracy to commit extortion carries a maximum potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss. Martinelli previously pleaded guilty before Arleo on March 2, to conspiring with Donnerstag to commit extortion. Sentencing for Donnerstag is scheduled for Sept. 25. Martinelli’s sentencing is scheduled for June 12.

Carpenito credited special agents with the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory Ehrie in Newark, with the investigation leading to the guilty pleas of Donnerstag and Martinelli.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes Jr., deputy chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

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