NEWARK, NJ - The city is currently conducting an internal investigation to determine if three Newark employees, accused of storing drugs at a recreation center where they worked, underwent the required criminal background checks prior to being hired.
Edward Williams, 51, Rahim Jackson, 43, and Arthur Hardy, 41, face federal drug charges in connection to a drug trafficking ring that allegedly operated out of the Rotunda Recreation and Wellness Center. Williams was allegedly a member of the G-Shine set of the Bloods, prosecutors say.
Mayor Ras Baraka incorrectly told reporters Wednesday the three city employees accused of storing drugs at a recreation center they worked at didn’t have to undergo background checks because they were part-time employees.
“All of our part-time employees, none of them get record checks,” Baraka said last week at a city press conference following the U.S. Attorney's announcement of charges against the three city employees and nine others. “We don't go through that with part-time employees. We just had a discussion maybe 20 minutes before I came down here about expanding that."
However, Deputy Business Administrator Kecia Daniels told TAPinto Newark that Jackson, Hardy and Williams should have been required to take background checks. She said the city is investigating if that happened.
"Typically, if the part-time employees are going to be around through children, they should go through background checks," Daniels said.
NJ Advance Media on Friday was first to report on the city's requirement for background checks.
All three of the workers have prior convictions, according to a U.S. Attorney spokesman. At least two of the workers pleaded guilty to federal drug charges, which "more than likely" would have disallowed them from working at a city recreation center, Daniels said.
The city conducts background checks through a third-party company known as Identogo Center in Newark that is operated by MorphoTrust, Daniels added. Hardy, Williams and Jackson would not have been required to take drug tests though, she said.
Interviews for part-timers are usually conducted either by the city's Department of Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Senior Services director or the recreation manager, Daniels explained.
However, Daniels said she was the personnel director from 2008 up until a few months ago, so it would've been her responsibility to approve their employment.
"I take these things very seriously, so I'm one step away from crying," Daniels said in a phone interview on Monday. "But since I’ve been crying all weekend, I’ve got to put on my big girl pants and face the music."
City spokesman Frank Baraff said he was unsure who told the mayor that part-time employees do not undergo background checks. Daniels did not know either.
“I would have to find out,” Baraff said Monday morning. “I have no idea who told him that. I’m sure somebody told him that.”
Background checks should have picked up previous convictions for the accused recreation center employees.
Court records show that in 2009, Hardy was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and possess heroin. The judge also ordered him to five years of probation.
A district attorney spokesman said Williams had prior state convictions, but no prior federal cases.
In 2008, Jackson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute and possess heroin. A federal judge ordered him to serve 10 years in prison and four years of probation, court records show.
Jackson's probation officer wrote as recently as May that he "maintained full-time, stable employment with the City of Newark's Recreation Department."
The mayor, however, said the three employees were part-time aides for the recreation department. TAPinto Newark has been asking the city spokesman and other officials since Wednesday for personnel records showing the contracts for Hardy, Williams and Jackson. None have been provided yet.
TAPinto Newark filed a public records request for that information Monday morning. Requests filed under the state Open Public Records Act are generally supposed to be responded to within seven business days.
Daniels said the three were hired in 2017 and would have most likely been making $12 an hour as part-time employees.
The mayor last week was also upset that the city’s website incorrectly showed Hardy was the Rotunda Recreation and Wellness Center’s director. That information about Hardy’s title was used by federal prosecutors in its criminal complaint.
Baraff, the city spokesman, said he was unsure who put the information about Hardy onto the city’s website.
“Ultimately, it’s our IT department that handles it,” Baraff said of the website. “The erroneous information originated in the parks and rec department. It was a mistake. It could’ve been a clerical error in the parks department. I don’t know.”