FOR Reducing Bills in Return for Bribes
TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a former meter reader and a former senior account clerk for the New Brunswick Water Department were sentenced to prison today in connection with schemes to reduce the water and sewer bills of numerous customers in return for bribes.
The following men were sentenced today by Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch in Union County. Both men pleaded guilty on April 20, 2018 to second-degree official misconduct.
Both men forfeited their public positions and pensions, and they are permanently barred from public employment. They are jointly and severally liable for any restitution owed to the city for the stolen water and sewer services, and they must forfeit their illegal proceeds from the schemes.
Deputy Attorneys General Anthony Robinson and Samantha McCluskey prosecuted the defendants and handled the sentencing hearings for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. The men were charged in an investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. Both men were suspended by the New Brunswick Water Department after they were initially charged on Nov. 30, 2016.
“By taking bribes and allowing customers to steal up to half a million dollars in city utility services, DeBonis and Ortiz profited at the expense of city residents,” said Attorney General Grewal. “These prison sentences demonstrate that we have zero tolerance for public employees who unlawfully use their positions of trust for personal gain.”
“These defendants engaged in a sustained pattern of corrupt conduct in which they took bribes from dozens of customers over a period of several years,” said Director Thomas Eicher of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “There is no telling how long their criminal conduct might have continued or how much it might have cost the city if they had not been exposed by our investigation.”
Ortiz and DeBonis illegally reduced water and sewer bills for roughly 50 different properties over a period of several years in return for bribes totaling approximately $20,000. In one scheme involving both Ortiz and DeBonis, Ortiz served as the middleman and recruiter for DeBonis. Ortiz would solicit bribes from customers and then arrange for bill reductions through DeBonis, who had access as a senior account clerk to the city’s water and sewer database. After Ortiz received the bribe, he provided DeBonis with information about the customer’s properties, and DeBonis modified the customer’s water and sewer bills to dramatically reduce the charges. Fees were reduced at times by as much as 90 percent. DeBonis took a share of the bribe payments in return for falsifying the bills.
Ortiz also engaged in a second type of scheme. In this scheme, Ortiz would solicit bribes from customers in exchange for which he offered to switch out the customer’s water meter and install a faulty, antiquated brass meter – which he nicknamed the “thief” – that would keep the customer’s bill down by failing to record water usage. Ortiz would leave the properly working electronic meter on the premises and connected to power, and he would tell the customer to swap back the electronic meter near the end of the month, so the bill would not be suspiciously low.
It is estimated that the total loss to the City of New Brunswick as a result of the schemes perpetrated by Ortiz, Debonis and others was roughly $500,000.
Attorney General Grewal and Director Eicher noted that the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption, financial crimes and other illegal activities confidentially.
The Attorney General’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips from the public leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted on the Attorney General’s website at: www.nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.