Legal Lode: Parkin's Lot

Mercer County official asks court to save him from himself.

When we left Mercer County, N.J., official Harry Parkin last month ("Jersey Boys" of the June Waste Age), he was trying to wrest ownership of Central Jersey Waste & Recycling (CJW&R) from Frank Fiumefreddo and his son.

Parkin figured he could leave them with no option but to sell their stake by forcing Frank to get a New Jersey waste hauler license. The application process would flush out his ties to alleged organized crime figures — relationships that had led to his losing control of carting firms in New York City. Without the license, Frank could not exercise his option to purchase 51 percent of CJW&R. Perhaps mindful of his former associates, he had not sought a New Jersey license.

Parkin told a Mercer County Improvement Authority employee, Jerry Fiabane, to look into Frank's background and turn over what he found. Parkin then told Fiabane to meet with the Fiumefreddos and tell them that he would be obliged to pass along to state officials what he knew about Frank's connection to organized crime.

Parkin also felt he could strong-arm the Fiumefreddos by threatening to withhold the renewal of Mercer County's recycling contract. Losing the contract would sink CJW&R. First, Parkin held up the renewal process. Next, he told Alex Abdalla, who also had an ownership interest in CJW&R, to inform the Fiumefreddos that CJW&R would not get a contract renewal if they stayed with the company. Finally, Parkin personally told Frank that the contract had ended.

In 2004, a federal grand jury handed up a 13-count indictment charging that Parkin had defrauded Mercer County citizens of their right to honest services by using his official position to promote his own financial interests and by concealing material information about his CJW&R interests from government officials and the public.

At the trial, the judge denied Parkin's request to act as co-counsel with his attorney. Later on, early in the prosecution's case, Parkin asked to take over his own defense. With the jury temporarily out of the courtroom, the judge posed detailed questions to Parkin about discharging his lawyer and defending himself. Parkin explained his reasons, unequivocally waiving his constitutional right to legal counsel. Finding that Parkin's decision was knowing and voluntary, the judge granted his request.

Parkin represented himself for the remainder of the trial. The government's evidence included testimony from James Lambert Sr., Abdalla and Fiabane, plus recorded conversations with Parkin implicating himself.

After both sides rested, Parkin moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the prosecution failed to establish the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The district judge denied his motion, and the case was submitted to the jury, which returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Parkin was sentenced to 90 months of imprisonment and fined $26,000.

Describing himself not as a perp but as a victim, Parkin appealed his conviction. His strategy seemed to be based on the premise that the trial judge was dead wrong in believing Parkin was honest and forthright when he asked to defend himself.

Upholding the verdict and sentence, the appeals court found that the judge conducted “a careful and exhaustive inquiry” into Parkin's request to proceed on his own. In addition, the appellate panel found more than enough evidence against Parkin to send the case to the jury.

Postscript: Before the Parkin trial, Lambert pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to defraud the public of honest services, money and property, and conspiring to bribe a local government official. Under a plea agreement, Lambert eventually served five months at Fort Dix Federal Prison and spent another five months in house arrest. Today, he is the executive director of the Monroe County Municipal Waste Management Authority in eastern Pennsylvania.

[United States v. Parkin, No. 05-4085, 3d Circ., Apr. 1, 2009]

Barry Shanoff is a Rockville, Md., attorney and general counsel of the Solid Waste Association of North America.

The legal editor welcomes comments from readers. Contact Barry Shanoff via e-mail: [email protected].

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