John Doe is off the school payroll, effective today. He's the "mystery" custodian the school board unearthed last week, who's been getting bi-weekly paychecks since 2004, even though he was never supposed to get a taxpayer's dime -- ever.
Mr. Doe -- who was identified as Sebastiano DiBona to Patch -- cleans 290 Dodge Ave., a rental building the Board of Education leases for its Adult Ed and Pathways special education program. Maintenance and grounds upkeep are included in those rental agreements signed by landlord Giuseppe Piscitelli and then-School Superintendent Martin DeFelice, who is deceased. But to date, DiBona's been paid more than $200,000 in salary and benefits from the school piggy bank -- a fact that was seemingly hidden until just recently when the school board reviewed the Dodge Avenue leases.
That buck stopped at Thursday's special Board of Ed meeting, most of which was behind closed doors with attorney Mike Luzzi. When they emerged, the board voted to take DiBona off the school payroll on Friday, and for Luzzi to keep investigating the matter.
The board is also considering a forensic audit.
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Piscitelli confirmed Sebastiano DiBona is John Doe and has been cleaning the Dodge Avenue facility since 2000.
"He work for the schools. I pay him, too," said Piscitelli, who said he was vacationing in Florida. Asked how much he pays DiBona, Piscitelli said his daughter-in-law takes care of payroll. The school board paid DiBona $300 a week for the last six years.
During its executive session Thursday evening, board members could be heard from the hallway outside talk about "turning the case over to the Attorney General's Office." No word about that was spoken in public session, and neither Luzzi nor the board would comment when asked.
While most on the board agreed there's much more digging to do to understand how DiBona was on the school payroll for more than six years without their knowledge -- and why he was paid by the school when, according to the leases, Piscitelli is to take care of all maintenance -- some, such as Chair Nick Palladino, felt Thursday night's meeting was premature. Others, such as Tia DePalma and Christine Maisano, said it was a necessity.
"It may be a little premature, but it's good for the board to get together collectively" to discuss the issue, said DePalma. "I think that needed to happen as quickly as possible."
Maisano said the meeting was "step one of moving toward achieving the actual facts regarding the (Dodge Avenue) leases. I think there's much more to this. I wouldn't even want to speculate."
Premature or not, the meeting did result in the immediate cessation of DiBona's paychecks.
Maisano said she hoped to see an item for a forensic audit on the board's April 12 agenda.
DiBona reportedly began cleaning Dodge Avenue in 2000, when Piscitelli contracted with Owens, Renz & Lee for building maintenance (it's unclear if DiBona worked for ORL).
In 2004, Piscitelli reportedly stopped using ORL and DiBona became a school employee. DiBona was paid out of the teacher's aide account, Maisano told Patch last week, but received full benefits while aides get none. According to meeting minutes from 2004, DiBona's name never came before the board for job approval, as all new hires are supposed to, said Maisano. It has been surmised that then-superintendent DeFelice hired DiBona.
Despite the controversy, DePalma said she felt bad for DiBona.
"I feel badly that we're terminating someone's pay, on a personal level," she said. "But on the other hand, we never should have been in this situation."
Maisano said her bottom line is being honest to the taxpayer.
"I believe in just being transparent," she said. "I want the taxpayer to know" what's going on at the Board of Education.