By: Yuritza Arroyo
Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced today that the founder of an Egg Harbor Township charter school and its business administrator were 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.
According to officials, Peter Caporilli, 59, of Absecon, and Michael Falkowski, 48, of Point Pleasant, have been indicted by a grand jury.
Officials say the founder and former Board of Trustees president of Principle Academy Charter School, Caporilli, is facing an eight-count indictment.
Falkowski, the school’s business administrator, is facing five counts. Caporilli’s furniture company,
According to authorities, Pleasantville-based Modern Boat Works, which also did business under the name Tidewater Workshop, was brought up on six counts.
Authorities say the defendants were initially charged on January 11, 2022, as part of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
“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,” said Attorney General Platkin.
“The misuse of taxpayer dollars for personal gain should not – and will not – be tolerated.”
“Other contractors were never given a fair shot at winning this job, as they should have been,” said Thomas Eicher, Executive Director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
“And the company that did win the contract not only had a conflict of interest, but it also never followed through, preventing this school from getting what it paid for. This was a shameless swindle of public funds that also did a disservice to children.”
The OPIA investigation determined the crimes allegedly occurred between August 2018 and late January 2019.
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.
According to authorities, 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.
Officials say 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.
According to investigators, 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.
Investigators say OPIA found Modern Boat Works never completed the project as initially contracted. Caporilli allegedly approved a change order scaling back the project without changing the price.
According to the Police, even after the project scope had been reduced, the contractor allegedly failed to live up to the less-demanding terms of the deal.
The New Jersey State Police executed a search warrant on the premises of the charter school on October 6, 2022.
Police said their search did not find a completed “outdoor learning center” as approved by the board, but rather a haphazard collection of wooden furniture in poor condition.
Five second-degree counts were filed against all three defendants — conspiracy, theft by unlawful taking, official misconduct, false representation for a government contract, and misapplication of entrusted property.
Each carries a sentence of five to 10 years behind bars and a $150,000 fine.
Caporilli and Tidewater are additionally accused of fourth-degree unlawful official business transactions where interest is involved, which carries a penalty of up to 18 months incarceration with a year of parole ineligibility, plus a $150,000 fine.
Caporilli is also accused of second-degree misconduct by a corporate official — punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 penalty — and tampering with physical evidence, which carries up to 18 months of incarceration and a $10,000 fine.