About Unauthorized Use of Wrightstown Municipal Utilities Authority to Dump Septic Waste from Private Firm
TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a criminal charge was filed today against Thomas E. Harper, who is mayor of Wrightstown, N.J., and chairman of the Wrightstown Municipal Utilities Authority (WMUA), for allegedly lying to investigators who were conducting an investigation into the unauthorized use of the WMUA to dump waste from a private septic disposal firm.
Harper, 69, of Wrightstown, N.J., was charged today by complaint-summons with fourth-degree false swearing. He was charged in an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).The investigation began with a referral from the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, which initially investigated the matter.
On Aug. 12, 2020, former WMUA operator Rodman Lucas pleaded guilty in this investigation to a third-degree charge of conspiracy to tamper with public records for using the municipal authority to dispose of waste from his private septic disposal firm, Aqua Clean Toilet Systems LLC, without proper authorization and failing to report that waste disposal to the state as required. He is awaiting sentencing.
When the dumping of waste from Aqua Clean at the WMUA came to light, Harper claimed he had entered into a private verbal “barter” agreement with Lucas, in which Lucas was permitted to dump his company’s waste at the WMUA in exchange for allowing the WMUA to use his personally owned backhoe, tools and other equipment. Harper is charged with false swearing because, during a formal sworn interview with attorneys and investigators for the Office of the State Comptroller, he allegedly made repeated statements that he knew were false, namely that he periodically reviewed records maintained by Lucas documenting the waste deposits and equipment usage under the barter agreement.In reality, Lucas never maintained such records.
“We formed OPIA to root out the type of misconduct and abuse of trust that undermines faith in government,” said Attorney General Grewal.“ This case was referred to OPIA after an initial investigation by the Office of the State Comptroller, which began when local residents complained about what they saw happening at the Wrightstown Municipal Utilities Authority. We urge members of the public to contact our corruption tipline – 844-OPIA-TIPS – if they have reason to suspect that a public official is abusing his or her position and authority.”
Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Uzdavinis is prosecuting the case for the Corruption Bureau within the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. Attorney General Grewal thanked the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller for its investigation and referral.
Attorney General Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions.In December 2019, the Attorney General issued a directive codifying OPIA and making it a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office. That directive established the OPIA Corruption Bureau as the lead office within the Department of Law & Public Safety for the investigation and prosecution of state criminal violations involving corruption and abuse of public trust.
OPIA has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption. The AG’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted at: nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.