On July 28, 2023, after a four-year investigation, the Local Finance Board (LFB), the primary enforcer of the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL), levied a $100 fine against the current deputy mayor of a Burlington County township but waived the fine because the Board found that she had reasonably relied on the advice of the township attorney. Separately, the LFB dismissed an unrelated ethics charge against the deputy mayor’s husband who serves as the township’s police chief.

In its Notice of Violation, the LFB found that in 2017, Edgewater Park Township Mayor Lauren Kremper (now Deputy Mayor Lauren DiFilippo) was “cohabitating” with Township Police Chief Gene DiFilippo. She had received advice from the municipal attorney, Salvatore Siciliano, clarifying that “if a matter did not involve a direct material or monetary gain to Chief DiFilippo or herself, she could participate in her official capacity on that matter.” However, Siciliano warned that she “must abstain from participating” in matters “specific to Chief DiFilippo.”

At the July 18, 2027 Township Committee meeting, Mayor Kremper voted in favor of a resolution appointing Gene DiFilippo as the Fund Commissioner for the Burlington County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund. After reviewing the situation, the LFB found her vote to be in violation of subsection (d) of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5, as it could compromise her objectivity. While Mayor Kremper faced a potential fine of $100 for this violation, it was waived due to her reliance on legal advice.

In response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the Township produced Siciliano’s February 6, 2017 letter in which he provided the Mayor and Committee with a December 21, 2016 letter from another attorney, William Kearns, that reportedly provided the legal advice noted in the Notice of Violation. The Township redacted the substance of both letters, however, claiming them to be protected by the attorney-client privilege.

Deputy Mayor DiFilippo was represented in the ethics matter by Mark W. Catanzaro of Mount Holly who billed her for 7.80 hours of work at $175 per hour plus a disbursement of $11.76 for a total of $1,376.76. According to the Township’s September 28, 2023 OPRA response, “Mr. Catanzaro’s services were retained privately by Ms. DiFilippo and indemnified by the Township in accordance with Chapter 33 of the Township Code.”

In the same matter, the LFB found that Kremper’s 2015 and 2016 and 2017 votes on other police matters did not violate the LGEL.

In a separate ruling, the LFB dismissed a complaint against Police Chief Gene DiFilippo that accused him of sending threatening Facebook messages to a resident in 2015. The LFB found that it lacked jurisdiction because it “does not have the authority to review potential criminal activity in its enforcement of the LGEL” and suggested that “such claims should be pursued with the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]