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Old 04-08-2009, 12:44 PM
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Boro Clerk "Six Counts of Theft"

Cliffside Park deputy clerk's election-pay trial under wayWednesday, April 8, 2009

Suspended Cliffside Park Deputy Clerk Carol Lynn Palma turned less than $200 in yearly overtime into a $10,000-a-year payday, an assistant Bergen County prosecutor argued as Palma's trial on theft charges began Tuesday.

Palma's lawyer, Paul Faugno, countered that his client had no control over payments she received for running the annual school board elections and is being blamed for the Board of Education's faulty accounting.

Faugno added that Palma is taking the fall for deals between her boss at the time, former borough Clerk Brian McGuirt, and former Superintendent/Business Administrator Robert Paladino, who will testify against her during the Superior Court trial in Hackensack.

Prosecutors "ended up with a case where [they] had very little evidence that Ms. Palma did anything wrong," Faugno said.

Palma is charged with six counts of theft, official misconduct and failing to pay taxes on the income. Prosecutors allege that she schemed to receive $56,000 between 2000 and 2006 to help run the April elections but did not fill out the necessary paperwork for the payments.

Lawyers gave their opening statements Monday morning and testimony is under way in what is expected to be a nine-day trial before Judge Patrick J. Roma.

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Daniel Keitel told the jury that Palma, who made an average of about $25 an hour over several years, should have gotten about five hours of overtime for assisting the Board of Education with the elections every April.

Starting in the late 1990s, McGuirt pushed Paladino, who at the time served only as business administrator, for progressively more money to work the election, Keitel said. Paladino went around the normal process the school board used to approve checks because he knew trustees would not have approved the payments, the prosecutor said.

"They always got paid prior to the election," Keitel said.

Only when Palma was caught in 2006 did she amend her New Jersey tax returns to include the $10,000 income from 2005, Keitel told the jury. In October 2008, she amended returns prior to 2005 to include the income.

Faugno told jurors Palma accepted what she believed were legitimate payments from the school district for her work.

He noted that Paladino pleaded guilty to abusing his expense account and agreed to testify against the clerks in exchange for three years of probation and 400 hours of community service. Prosecutors have Paladino "up against a wall," Faugno said, and his testimony should be suspect.

"Look at her and look at Mr. Paladino and decide which one of them is telling the truth," Faugno urged the jurors while Palma sat behind him.

McGuirt is in a Pretrial Intervention program, a form of probation for first-time offenders.

Palma has been on unpaid leave from her $66,100 a year job since she was indicted last June, borough spokesman Bill Maer said. If she is convicted, the borough will seek repayment of the salary she earned after she was charged with a crime in February 2007, he added.

The trial resumes today.

E-mail: vandusen@northjersey.com

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