TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Two New Jersey men accused of running a fake 9/11 charity were in court Friday to answer civil charges filed by the state.
A judge ordered Mark Niemczyk and Thomas Scalgione’s red truck, which bears the names of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, be impounded.
The judge also ordered that the assets of the accused be frozen after the state alleged the two failed to register as a charity, collected money and kept it for themselves. But speaking exclusively to CBS 2 on Friday, Niemczyk said he’s innocent.
“Please believe me that I didn’t do anything wrong, from the bottom of my heart,” Niemczyk told CBS 2′s Christine Sloan.
The two men are accused of using donations for their personal gain.
“We weren’t a charity, that was never a charity. I never said we were a charity,” Niemczyk said.
Niemczyk said the two drove the red truck around to 9/11 events and collected money only for the operation of the vehicle.
“We had a jug on the table and it said on the jug ‘please help keep the 9/11 truck on the road — all donations are greatly appreciated,’” Niemczyk said. “People put money in the jug and that went for our gas and tolls and stuff like that.”
He claimed Scalgione, also an ex-con, was in charge of the money.
“Maybe he’s trying to cover himself up and put the blame — everything on me,” Niemczyk said.
Scalgione has also denied the allegations.
“I’m being accused of stuff I didn’t do,” said Niemczyk. ”They’re probably going to put me in jail.”
Niemczyk even took a picture with Gov. Chris Christie after he said he rescued people from a roadway during a blizzard.
Scalgione has shown CBS 2 checks he claimed he wrote out to different charities. He would not go on camera, but said despite his lengthy criminal past, he did nothing wrong and that the accusations have no merit.
But a group of people, including families of 9/11 victims, were in court Friday and appeared angry.
One woman, Nancy Newsome, said she was the one who blew the whistle on the men.
“The money that these two men have stolen and fraudulently taken away could have saved dozens of lives,” she said. “That’s how angry I am.”
Shortly after their court appearance, Niemczyk was rushed to the hospital. He has a number of health issues, including heart problems and diabetes.
Both Niemczyk and Scalgione have said they can’t afford an attorney.
The judge told Scalgione and Niemczyk that in civil court they can’t have an attorney assigned to them and that they would have to retain their own. The two men could also face criminal charges.
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