FOX 29 Investigates is taking a hard look at a local councilman who likes to motor around his town in an SUV.
But there's one big problem: records show his license is suspended. When our Jeff Cole tried to ask a few questions, the councilman locked himself in the clerk's office.
Nestled along the Delaware, Penns Grove, N.J., is a tiny Salem County borough of just over 5,000 people. It's small-town scenic, but the borough looks to be struggling, as well. Sitting in the middle of it all, is the former firehouse now known as Borough Hall.
It's here, from the door marked police, where we found Borough Councilman Carl J. Washington Jr. sauntering over to a blue SUV and driving off.
So, what's wrong with that? Plenty.
According to New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission records, obtained by FOX 29 Investigates, Carl Washington's driver's license is suspended. He's not supposed to be driving.
But over several days last month, that's exactly what we saw him do, over and over again.
And even before we were able to get out a question about it, Washington didn't want to talk.
"How are you? Hey, councilman. Hey, I'm Jeff Cole from FOX. Can I to talk to you a minute?" Cole asked.
"I really don't have time right now," Washington said.
"Don't go in yet," Cole told him. "Don't go in yet."
According to a certified motor vehicle record, Washington's driving history is long and troubled. His recent problems start in April of 2014, when he bounced a check for his driver's license.
One month later, the record shows he "failed to comply with a court order," and his license was suspended.
Another citation for a "dishonored," or bad, check appears on the same date.
A couple days later he's cited for "nonpayment of insurance surcharge."
His license remains suspended.
But that didn't stop him on the afternoon of Friday, April 10, when we saw him drive from his Penns Grove neighborhood to Borough Hall and go in. An hour later, he leaves, climbs behind the wheel and motors off.
Four days later, there's the blue Ford parked alongside Borough Hall at about 2:30 p.m. An hour ticks by, and here's the councilman, keys in hand, sliding in the SUV and driving.
Remember, records show his license is suspended.
On April 15, just after 2 p.m., again Washington is hitting the road from Borough Hall.
Fast-forward to Tuesday the April 21 at 3:30 p.m., and there's the councilman again motoring off.
When we pressed for answers, it was off to the races.
"Hey, listen: I've got to ask you something. I've got your driver's transcript here, man. Hey, you're suspended," Cole says, as the councilman walked inside Borough Hall.
"Councilman, councilman, come on, don't go, don't go yet, let me show you this before you go, before you go," Cole said.
"Councilman, where are you going? Come on, let me come down and talk to you? Can I come down and talk to you?" Cole asked.
"I'm busy right now," Washington said.
"But let me just say, listen … before you do it, let me show you this," Cole said.
"No, you don't have to show me," Washington said, as he shuts the door to the borough clerk's office.
"Councilman? Councilman, seriously, man, come on, this is a serious issue, right?" Cole asked, as he knocked for Washington. "Councilman? I've got you suspended as of last year," Cole said.
"And your point?" Washington said.
"Why would you drive a car if you're suspended?" Cole asked.
"Have you seen me driving?" Washington asked.
"Yes, sir, four or five times," Cole answered.
"Oh, OK," Washington said.
Washington has been on Borough Council since 2011. He sits on the Public Safety Committee which oversees the police.
A community activist makes the explosive claim that Penns Grove authorities know of Washington driving while suspended, but they've looked the other way.
"I'm a civil rights activist," said Walter Hudson, who is also an elected member of the local school board.
Hudson says when he learned that Washington had gotten a ticket in nearby Logan Township for driving while suspended, he alerted the borough's top officials this fall, when records show Washington's license had been pulled.
"I brought it to the attention of Mayor (John A.) Washington, and also I brought it to the attention of Police Chief Gary Doubledee," Hudson said.
We went to the home of Mayor Washington. He was inside, but refused come out.
By phone, he said he did not know Councilman Washington was suspended, and Hudson never told him.
"That conversation with Walter, your belief is that did not happen?" Cole asked the mayor while talking on the phone.
And the borough's chief of police also says Hudson never mentioned the suspension to him.
Councilman Washington's ticket for driving while suspended in Logan was amended to failure to exhibit documents, and he pleaded guilty.
Hudson, meanwhile, has trouble of his own. He says he's innocent of criminal charges he's facing after brawling with police at a school.
Hudson says the borough councilman is getting a break reserved for the powerful.
"It seems that when it comes to Councilman Carl Washington, because he's on the … Public Safety Committee, that they're looking the other way," Hudson said.
As for the councilman? Last we saw him, he was holed up in the clerk's office.
"Well, does that mean that you are suspended and you do drive?" Cole asked.
"No, no it doesn't," he answered.
"OK, well, can I show you the transcript then?"
"No, sir," said the councilman.
"Oh, sure, well, listen, 5/25/14, non-payment insurance surcharge, suspended – right?" Cole asked. "Councilman? Did you lock the door?"
A day after the councilman locked himself in the clerk's office, Cole returned to Borough Hall and left his card asking Washington to call him. He didn't.
Court records show in 2011 he was caught at Borough Hall driving without a license by two county officers. He claimed his wife was driving. But he was found guilty.