Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen was charged Wednesday with four felonies and one misdemeanor for allegedly falsifying documents related to a paving project in November.
Jorgensen, 63, pleaded not guilty to the charges by the Suffolk County district attorney's office in First District Court in Central Islip.
He was charged with tampering with public records; offering a false instrument for filing; falsifying business records; and grand larceny, all felonies. He faces a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.
Jorgensen, of St. James, was released on his own recognizance. His next court appearance is May 19.
Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said he was "shocked at the degree of the charges and the charges themselves" against Jorgensen, who if convicted faces up to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison on the felony charges and 1 year in jail on the misdemeanor.
When asked whether Jorgensen will remain in the highway department, Vecchio said, "He's an elected official. If he chooses to remain in office pending the charges, he's entitled to do that."
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Melisa Bliss said Jorgensen destroyed Smithtown highway road condition reports that he knew contained false information about temperatures when the paving work was done Nov. 18.
Bliss said Jorgensen then directed Robert Clark, who works in the town highway department, to put false temperatures on the construction reports to conceal the unfavorable temperatures. Clark could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Bliss added that Jorgensen took a file from the town engineering office in December and hid it under his bed at home, where it was found by investigators with the district attorney's office.
Jorgensen was elected highway superintendent in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. He is responsible for managing the department's budget of more than $20 million, which is nearly a quarter of Smithtown's $104.5 million budget for 2015. He was paid $96,176 in 2013, the most recent year town payroll records were available.
Anthony La Pinta, the Hauppauge-based attorney representing Jorgensen, Wednesday defended his client's work history.
"Mr. Jorgensen has been an employee of the Town of Smithtown for over 40 years," La Pinta said after the arraignment. "He has given them a lot of sweat and a lot of blood in terms of his devotion as an employee."
In a news release issued after the arraignment, prosecutors identified the paving contractor as Medford-based Suffolk Asphalt Corp. The release said the company paved at least eight Smithtown streets in freezing temperatures last November.
"State Department of Transportation construction standards dictate asphalt must not be applied to a road surface in freezing temperatures," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a written statement. "The repaving of a residential street doesn't happen that often, and when it does, residents are paying for a job done correctly, not a faulty repaving that will soon need pothole repair work."
Town sources familiar with highway department operations said Jorgensen was under pressure in November to complete the 2014 road program before weather conditions worsened, which is why he directed Suffolk Asphalt to continue paving so late in the year.
Smithtown Highway Department road construction reports obtained by Newsday show work was performed on Nov. 18 on several Smithtown hamlet roads with temperatures ranging from 30 to 40 degrees. State DOT standards indicate temperatures must be at least 45 degrees for paving, Bliss said.
Christopher Vecchia, president of Suffolk Asphalt, did not return calls Wednesday for comment. Smithtown paid the company more than $8 million between June 2013 and January 2015, according to Smithtown Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug.
Suffolk Asphalt filed a notice of claim against the Town of Smithtown on March 23, citing breach of contract for nonpayment of work performed under the contract and seeking $1.8 million plus interest for payment dating from Dec. 11, 2014, plus litigation costs.
On Nov. 19, Smithtown town engineer Mark Riley sent Jorgensen a memo, obtained by Newsday, stating he was made aware that Suffolk Asphalt conducted paving operations in below-freezing temperatures the previous day, and that the pavement could "fall apart."
"Placing asphalt when the ambient, surface and asphalt temperatures are not favorable could cause a poor work product," Riley wrote.
Suffolk Asphalt's attorney, Hauppauge-based Steven G. Pinks, did not return calls for comment Wednesday. Smithtown town attorney Matthew Jakubowski declined to comment.