Veteran New Jersey State Police Trooper Staff Sgt. Steven M. Jones Stole Thousands Of Dollars Worth Of Gasoline From State Fuel Pumps – Gets Sweet Retirement Deal With Pension That Doesn’t Include Prison Time

June 26, 2012

TRENTON, NEW JERSEY — For more than three years, a veteran State Police trooper stole thousands of dollars worth of gasoline from state fuel pumps for his personal vehicles without being detected — and when authorities did catch on, he was not charged criminally and was allowed to retire with pension.

Disciplinary records obtained by The Star-Ledger show Staff Sgt. Steven M. Jones admitted in April that he stole 3,128 gallons of gas valued at $7,038 from October 2007 to March 2011. The 25-year trooper then retired under a negotiated plea agreement with internal affairs.

At the same time that Jones was fueling up on the taxpayers’ dime, a government watchdog warned the State Police it was not doing enough to track gas use by troopers.

“There are documented cases where abuses have been discovered,” the Office of the State Auditor said in a 2008 report. “However, systematic monitoring is not performed.”

The findings echoed the auditor’s concerns raised a year earlier about weaknesses in how the state monitors fuel fill-ups for its entire fleet — a system overseen by the state Treasury Department, which at the time vowed to make improvements.

Five years later, the state has yet to award a contract that would enact safeguards to curtail state troopers and other employees from stealing gas.

“Until all safeguards are in place, there remains a risk of abuse,” said Peter McAleer, spokesman for the state Comptroller’s Office, which documented weak oversight over vehicles used by the Department of Children and Families in 2009.

The Treasury Department said it is now reviewing contract proposals for a new system to monitor fill-ups through real-time reporting of details such as who requested the gas and how much was pumped. Officials would not say if there is a timetable for awarding a contract.

“These types of things, particularly high-tech systems like this, tend to take awhile to actually get the contract in place,” a spokesman for Treasury, Bill Quinn, said.

In the case of trooper Jones, a spokesman for the State Police, Acting Sgt. 1st Class Brian Polite, said the incident focused on the “inappropriate actions of one individual.”

“A thorough internal investigation was conducted and appropriate disciplinary actions were taken,” Polite said.

He did not respond to questions about how the theft went on for years without being detected, how Jones was caught or what is done to monitor gas use.

Jones was suspended without pay in March for about two weeks before retiring under the plea agreement with internal affairs. Records show he forfeited his accrued personal, holiday and vacation time, which was worth roughly the same amount that he stole in gas. He is also barred from holding another law enforcement job in New Jersey and from obtaining a gun permit for retired officers, records show.

The State Police Retirement Board last month reduced Jones’ pension from 65 percent of his final salary to 50 percent because of the theft and also revoked his medical benefits. Last year, Jones earned a regular salary of about $105,000, not including overtime and other pay, according to state payroll records.

During the board’s hearing, Jones, 47, said he was a recovering alcoholic but did not always follow his treatment routine during the time he stole the gas. He also said he worked a large amount of overtime but could not overcome his debt, which led to his actions.

“Sometimes I do things I don’t normally do,” Jones said. He did not return a phone call seeking further comment.
nj.com-phone-app-pic3.jpg
STAY CONNECTED 24/7 Download our free NJ.com mobile and tablet apps to keep up with the latest New Jersey news, sports and entertainment.

Jones was not charged criminally, and case law prevents a police officer’s admission during an administrative review to be the basis for subsequent criminal charges. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Paul Loriquet, declined to comment specifically about the case.

“If we have sufficient proof that a law enforcement officer has committed a crime, we’ll prosecute that officer, as we would any other individual that committed a crime,” Loriquet said.

A source familiar with the case said it was reviewed by prosecutors at the Attorney General’s Office and there was not enough evidence to bring charges. The source was not allowed to discuss criminal investigations and requested anonymity.

The state Auditor’s report in 2008 noted the weak protections of the State Police’s fueling system. Most gas cards are assigned to individual patrol cars, though some are “transient” cards that can be used by any trooper at a particular barracks.

Three sources with knowledge of the State Police’s fueling system said it relies largely on the honor system and not every fueling yard has cameras to deter abuse. The sources requested anonymity because they were not allowed to speak with the media.

In addition, though fuel pumps ask for a badge number after a card is swiped, a trooper can enter anyone’s badge number and get gas. The auditor’s report said that makes tracking individual usage difficult.

“Having a more secure identification number associated with each transaction would make monitoring more effective,” the report said.

In its review of the state’s entire fuel monitoring system in 2007, the auditor noted there were multiple fill-ups on the same day, fill-ups exceeding fuel tank capacities and inconsistent mileage tracking.

The state has in the past charged public employees for stealing gas.

In 2008, the Attorney General’s Office charged a dozen public employees, including six with ties to the Department of Children and Families, in connection with stealing about 1,400 gallons of gas for their personal vehicles from government-run pumps.

In response to the arrests, the Comptroller’s Office reviewed the department and found hundreds of questionable fuel transactions and weak oversight. McAleer, the spokesman for the office, said the department has since made substantial improvements.

Appeared Here


New Jersey Shuts Down Red Light Cameras In 21 Cities After Finding They Don’t Meet Legal Requirements For Yellow Light Timing

June 21, 2012

NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) yesterday ordered a halt to red light camera ticketing in 21 cities. The agency became concerned drivers are being shortchanged and the law violated after learning that 63 of 85 photo ticketing intersections failed to meet legal requirements for yellow signal timing. The agency prohibited ticketing at these locations pending certification of each individual intersection’s timing.

“It has come to the attention of the department that the pilot program legislation specifies a formula to determine the proper duration of the yellow light in a traffic signal that differs from the legally required, nationally accepted formula that NJDOT or municipalities use when installing traffic signals,” NJDOT explained in a statement yesterday.

NJDOT said any camera operating with an overly short yellow will be removed from the camera program. In 2008, lawmakers skeptical of the motives behind photo ticketing inserted a provision into the camera program authorization that put in place one of the most stringent yellow timing provisions in the country. Their goal was to reduce the likelihood that municipalities and private vendors would exploit timing deficiencies to generate ticketing revenue. The National Motorists Association, which helped push for the signal timing law, believes the claims of photo enforcement proponents have been undermined by municipalities in New Jersey.

“Even with the law, the program was not implemented properly,” NMA’s New Jersey chapter coordinator Steve Carrellas said. “It goes to show that camera enforcement should never be allowed since it’s almost never fair to motorists.”

According to NJDOT, only 22 out of 85 intersections were certified with an appropriate yellow signal timing. The law specifies a typical 35 MPH intersection must have at least 3.5 seconds of yellow time, and a 45 MPH intersection would be 4.5 seconds, and so on. Most cities achieve shortened yellow times by posting speed limits far below the actual travel speed of traffic. The law prevents this with a provision specifying that the yellow time can only be set according to the speed at which 85 percent of traffic moves. The net result is that the law mandates significantly longer yellows.

“This requirement aims to ensure that the traffic signal is timed properly to provide motorists with sufficient time to avoid a violation and fine by entering an intersection when the light is red,” NJDOT explained.

The Texas Transportation Institute concluded in 2004 that yellows shorter by a second than the ITE recommended amount generated a 110 percent jump in citations (view report). The vast majority of those extra violations happened within the first 0.25 seconds after the light turned red (see chart).

Ohio and Georgia have similarly tough statues, requiring one second be added to the yellow time of any intersection that has a red light camera. In Georgia, implementation of the law produced an immediate 80 percent reduction in violations, so much that the state’s primary photo ticketing vendor, Lasercraft, was forced to sell its business.

New Jersey’s automated ticketing ban applies to Newark, Linden, Wayne, Palisades Park, Union Township, Springfield (Union County), Roselle Park, Rahway, Englewood Cliffs, Pohatcong, Piscataway, Edison, East Windsor, Lawrence, Cherry Hill, Stratford, Monroe, Brick and Glassboro.

Appeared Here


84 GSA Employees Got $1.1 Million In Taxpayer Funded Bonuses While Already Under Investigation For Wrongdoing Or Misconduct

June 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – An ongoing congressional investigation reveals $1.1 million in bonuses were awarded to 84 employees of the General Services Administration since 2008 — while the inspector general was probing these individuals for wrongdoing or misconduct.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is heading the investigation, said the overall number of employees receiving bonuses while under investigation is likely to be “far higher” since not all information for current investigations is now available, according to a release from the senator.

Of the 84 GSA employees, each received an average of eight bonuses, totaling $13,000.

One program officer received more than $38,000 in bonuses since 2008, despite being reassigned for abuse of authority. Another employee, a GS-14 level supervisor, received more than $20,000 in bonuses, even after being reprimanded for interfering with an IG investigation, according to the release.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test to be awarding huge bonuses in taxpayer dollars to officials who are being investigated, or have already been found responsible, for fraud and waste of those very taxpayer dollars. That’s why I’m not letting up on our fight for accountability in government,” McCaskill said in the release. McCaskill is the chairman of the subcommittee on contracting oversight in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The GSA has no policies to freeze bonuses to employees under investigation by the IG, according to the release.

The scrutiny of GSA came most heavily starting in April after an investigation by the IG revealed the agency spent more than $823,000 on a Las Vegas conference in 2010. Among the employees investigated was Public Buildings Service Region 9 Commission Jeff Neely, who received a $9,000 bonus despite being under investigation.

In a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, McCaskill asked for information from 2008 to 2011 on bonuses awarded to all federal agencies, “including what actions OPM could take to ensure that bonuses that would otherwise be awarded to federal employees under investigation by the Inspector General are withheld pending the resolution of the investigation.”

McCaskill gave OPM a deadline of June 20 for the federal employee bonus information.

Appeared Here


Yemassee South Carolina Police Officer Capt. Gregory Alexander Arrested, Suspended, And Charged After $11,000 Goes Missing

May 26, 2012

YEMASSEE, SOUTH CAROLINA — A police captain from the Lowcountry community of Yemassee has been suspended without pay after being charged with talking almost $11,000 seized in police traffic stops.

The Beaufort Gazette reports town officials were notified this week that Capt. Gregory Alexander had been charged with one count of misconduct in office and two counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent.

He says he has full faith and confidence in the officer and that the matter will be resolved.

Police Chief Jack Hagy said the charges follow a State Law Enforcement Division investigation. Investigators say the money came from traffic stops in 2009 and 2010.

Hagy says the department is standing by Alexander. He says he has full faith and confidence in the officer and that the matter will be resolved. A phone number for Alexander could not be located.

Appeared Here


Second Buffalo New York Police Officer, Patrick S. O’Mara, Arrested And Charged With Fraud – Claimed Injury For Picking Up 2 Reams Of Copier Paper

May 18, 2012

BUFFALO, NEW YORK – U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced Thursday that Patrick S. O’Mara, 50, of Buffalo, N.Y., was arrested and charged by Criminal Complaint with mail fraud and health care fraud. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Rogowski, who is handling the case, stated that on February 16, 2004, the defendant, a Buffalo Police Officer, was placed on Injured on Duty Status (IOD) by the City of Buffalo. According to the Complaint, O’Mara was placed on IOD status for exacerbation of cervical and lumbar strains previously suffered while on duty. The defendant remained on IOD status until October 18, 2004 when he was ordered to return to light duty. O’Mara again claimed to have injured his right arm on March 21, 2005 while lifting two reams of copy paper. While the defendant did not report the injury to his superiors until 23 days later, the defendant was placed on IOD status once again on September 6, 2005 where he remained until he retired on March 31, 2012.

The Complaint states that while the defendant’s primary care physician did not recommend that O’Mara return to work, several independent medical exams concluded that the defendant was not permanently disabled. One doctor noted that the defendant walked into his office using a cane, but later witnessed O’Mara walking in the parking lot without any limp. In addition, the investigation determined that the defendant worked as a paid musical director and church organist during most, if not all, of the time that he has been on IOD status. Such work would have involved the use of his right arm.

The defendant retired from the Buffalo Police Department effective March 31, 2012, following an independent medical exam and administrative hearing. The Complaint alleges that during an interview with Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on May 9, 2012, the defendant stated (among other things) that he was capable of performing light duty and had been playing the organ for a church. Nevertheless, the defendant stated there was no incentive to return to work on light duty status, “it is demeaning to sit at a desk and answer phones and I consider it to be punishment,” and “the pay on IOD status which is without taxes is actually an incentive to stay off duty in IOD status.”

“By prosecuting those who defraud the Injured on Duty System, we protect and support the hard working police officers who may someday need this program for bona fide injuries suffered in the line of fire,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “Abuse of the program not only compromises the integrity of the entire system, it also deprives City residents of one additional police officer who would otherwise be available for patrol and safety. This arrest, the second involving a Buffalo Police Officer in a week, sends a strong and clear message that this type of fraudulent behavior will not be tolerated.”

“As we stated after last week’s arrest of Buffalo Police Officer Robert Quintana, the charging of retired Police Officer Patrick O’Mara today reinforces the FBI and Buffalo Police Department’s commitment to remove abusers of the Injured-On-Duty program from the ranks of the police department,” said Christopher M. Piehota, FBI Special Agent in Charge. “Members of law enforcement must discharge their duties with the utmost respect for ethics and the law. Continued abuse of this worthwhile program drains city resources and undermines the public’s trust and confidence in its public servants.”

O’Mara’s arrest is the second in a week involving a Buffalo Police Officer. On May 9, 2012, Robert Quintana, who has been on IOD status since March of 2005, was arrested and also charged with mail and health care fraud.

The Criminal Complaint is the culmination of an investigation by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christopher M. Piehota and the Buffalo Police Department, under the direction of Commissioner Daniel Derenda.

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty

Appeared Here


Former Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri Pissed Away $75 Million In Taxpayer Funds On Video Game Venture That Included Baseball Pitcher Who Liked Video Games But Had Never Made One

May 18, 2012

RHODE ISLAND – In the final months of two mostly unmemorable terms in office, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri boasted about his little state’s big splash – stealing former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and his nascent video game company from Massachusetts.

“This is a risk worth taking,’’ said Carcieri, a Republican, announcing the 2010 deal that lured Schilling’s company, 38 Studios, to Providence, and put Rhode Island taxpayers on the hook for up to $75 million in guaranteed loans to an athlete who liked video games but had never developed one.

“I think the governor had stars in his eyes, the whole idea of playing ball with a baseball player intrigued him and others,’’ said Republican state Representative Robert Watson, former Rhode Island House minority leader. “And I think they got blinded by that celebrity.’’

What Carcieri and supporters saw as the seed of a glittering new business sector for Providence, which has struggled for decades to replace jobs lost with the decline of its jewelry industry, now seems to be crashing down.

After missing a $1.1 million payment May 1 and a personal plea from Schilling for more public assistance this week, 38 Studios has said it does not not have enough money to pay its employees. On Wednesday, the state economic development official who oversaw the loan guarantees resigned abruptly. In a bizarre twist, at one point Thursday, company representatives hand-delivered a check to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, apparently to cover the late $1.1 million payment, but then later said the company had insufficient funds to cover it.

The precise cause of 38 Studios’ current trouble is unclear; its latest negotiations with the economic development agency are confidential. But what is clear is that Schilling steered the company through a feverish hiring spree and into a high pay-off – but high-risk – realm of the gaming industry that requires enormous start-up money.

“It’s a vibrant market, but it’s a fairly risky market,’’ said Barry Gilbert, vice president of Strategy Analytics, a Newton consulting firm that advised the Rhode Island agency during its negotiations with 38 Studios. “To be successful in the space requires superb timing, superb management, superb talent, and a good dose of luck.’’

The economic development agency’s board is scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss any action the state could take to protect its investment.

In the beginning, Schilling’s company was aimed at Massachusetts, and his star power fueled it. He founded it on Aug. 28, 2006, as Green Monster Games LLC, a reference to the landmark left-field wall in Fenway Park, where Schilling became a legend after the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. He later changed the name to 38 Studios LLC, a reference to his Red Sox jersey number. The company’s original office was in Maynard.

Schilling was not chief executive of the company. His title was founder, chairman, and executive visionary.

He had massive ambitions. The company promised each of its original 37 employees a bonus of $1 million if 38 Studios reached $1 billion in value, a huge stretch for a start-up. By comparison, Warner Bros. agreed to pay as much as $160 million for Turbine Inc., one of the Boston area’s largest established video game companies.

Schilling has long been interested in gaming. As a baseball player, he collaborated on “massively multiplayer online’’ games – called MMOs – with Sony Online Entertainment. His office in Maynard was filled with decorative swords, a sign of the fantasy world his new company planned to create. From its infancy, 38 Studios imagined it would elbow into a multibillion-dollar market filled with games such as Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, which boasts millions of fans.

MMOs are hugely elaborate and expensive, with the potential to become either blockbusters or giant busts, analysts say.

Because the games are so expensive to produce, strong funding is critical. “It does take hugely deep pockets,’’ said Gilbert, the consultant. Schilling claimed he personally invested as much as $30 million in the venture. Schilling also personally guaranteed a $2.5 million line of credit that 38 Studios took out in 2010, which the company repaid with a portion of the proceeds it received from Rhode Island.

Schilling had originally hoped to launch the game’s first product in 2010. But he immediately hit trouble raising money. He shocked venture capitalists with an audacious pitch for $48 million – far more than gaming companies typically receive in an initial round of funding. In addition, Schilling was reportedly reluctant to give up much stock in exchange for funding. Flybridge Capital Partners and several other Boston area firms passed on 38 Studios.

“More than one VC who has met Schilling has come away with the impression that an investment would require quite a bit of ‘babysitting,’ ’’ noted a trade publication, Private Equity Week, at the time.

Schilling estimated he might need more than $100 million to complete the multiplayer game, code-named Copernicus.

In March 2010, Schilling finally found his cash cow. After Schilling met Carcieri at a fund-raiser, state officials began quietly talking to Schilling about relocating 38 Studios to Rhode Island.

In April, Democratic leadership in the Rhode Island House brought forth a supplemental budget that included $125 million in loan guarantees for job creation, Watson said.

“I had heard rumors that both the governor and House leadership were desperate to cut a deal with Schilling,’’ Watson said. “Nobody was admitting to anything at the time. Frankly, Keith Stokes [director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.] and Governor Carcieri’s office were full of obfuscation, camouflage, and possibly outright lies.’’ Watson said he opposed the program as “a scandal waiting to happen.’’

When the proposal came back for more debate in May, Representative Laurence Ehrhardt, a North Kingstown Republican, was ready with an amendment that would cap at $10 million the loan guarantee available to any one company. Loan guarantees would mean the state would be obligated to pay if the company defaults.

As debate began on the House floor, Ehrhardt got a note that someone wanted to see him in the hall, he said. It was Stokes, the economic development director.

“He had learned of my amendment and made a personal request that I not submit it,’’ said Ehrhardt. Stokes never mentioned Schilling, suggesting only to Ehrhardt that the cap would “cause some difficulties with some negotiations they were having. But nothing more specific then that.’’

Under the terms of the loan, 38 Studios must pay $5.3 million in interest this year, and $12.7 million in interest and principal every year from 2013 to 2020.

Schilling’s company released its first effort earlier this year, a role-playing video game called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It was well-reviewed and has sold about 1 million copies at about $60 each, according to market research company VGChartz.

Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, criticized the deal with 38 Studios as a candidate in 2010. He has been cool to Schilling’s request for more public assistance, though Chafee has said it is in the state’s interest to find a way to save the company.

Other opponents blasted the deal on Thursday, and warned against any more taxpayer dollars for Schilling’s company.

“We got hoodwinked; we got played,’’ Watson said. “How many millions of dollars does Curt Schilling have? He can’t write a check? It’s Rhode Island that is supposed to provide the money? I think not.’’

Stokes, who resigned late Wednesday, had little to say about the unraveling deal with Schilling, insisting the economic development agency’s negotiations with the company remain confidential. He would not directly address whether the agency gave proper oversight to the state’s investment in 38 Studios.

“I really can’t comment on the nature of the transaction,’’ he said. “I can give you my favorite William Faulkner quote, which is: ‘All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection.’’’

Appeared Here


States Using Hundreds Of Million Of Dollars Meant To Help Homeowners To Other Uses

May 16, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Hundreds of millions of dollars meant to provide a little relief to the nation’s struggling homeowners is being diverted to plug state budget gaps.

In a budget proposed this week, California joined more than a dozen states that want to help close gaping shortfalls using money paid by the nation’s biggest banks and earmarked for foreclosure prevention, investigations of financial fraud and blunting the ill effects of the housing crisis. California was awarded more than $400 million from the banks, and Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed using the bulk of that sum to pay the state’s debts.

The money was part of a national settlement valued at $25 billion and negotiated with five big banks over abuses in their mortgage and foreclosure processes.

The settlement, reached in February after a year of talks and intervention by the Obama administration, was the second-largest in history involving the states, trailing the tobacco industry settlement, and represented the first large-scale commitment by banks to provide direct aid to borrowers.

As part of the settlement, the banks agreed to pay the states $2.5 billion, money intended to help homeowners and mitigate the effects of the foreclosure surge. But critics complained that this was the only cash the banks were required to pay — the rest comes in the form of “credits” for reducing mortgage debt and other activities. Even that relatively small amount has proved too great a temptation for lawmakers.

Only 27 states have devoted all their funds from the banks to housing programs, according to a report by Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing group. So far about 15 states have said they will use all or most of the money for other purposes.

In Texas, $125 million went straight to the general fund. Missouri will use its $40 million to soften cuts to higher education. Indiana is spending more than half its allotment to pay energy bills for low-income families, while Virginia will use most of its $67 million to help revenue-starved local governments.

Like California, some other states with outsize problems from the housing bust are spending the money for something other than homeowner relief. Georgia, where home prices are still falling, will use its $99 million to lure companies to the state.

“The governor has decided to use the discretionary money for economic development,” said a spokesman for Nathan Deal, Georgia’s governor, a Republican. “He believes that the best way to prevent foreclosures amongst honest homeowners who have experienced hard times is to create jobs here in our state.”

Andy Schneggenburger, the executive director of the Atlanta Housing Association of Neighborhood-Based Developers, said the decision showed “a real lack of comprehension of the depths of the foreclosure problem.”

The $2.5 billion was intended to be under the control of the state attorneys general, who negotiated the settlement with the five banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally. But there is enough wiggle room in the agreement, as well as in separate terms agreed to by each state, to give legislatures and governors wide latitude. The money can, for example, be counted as a “civil penalty” won by the state, and some leaders have argued that states are entitled to the money because the housing crash decimated tax collections.

Shaun Donovan, the federal housing secretary, has been privately urging state officials to spend the money as intended. “Other uses fail to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the settlement to bring real, concerted relief to homeowners and the communities in which they live,” he said Tuesday.

Some attorneys general have complied quietly with requests to repurpose the money, while others have protested. Lisa Madigan, the Democratic attorney general of Illinois, said she would oppose any effort to divert the funds. Tom Horne, the Republican attorney general of Arizona, said he disagreed with the state’s move to take about half its $97 million, which officials initially said was needed for prisons.

But Mr. Horne said he would not oppose the shift because the governor and the Legislature had authority over budgetary matters. The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest has said it will sue to stop Mr. Horne from transferring the money.

Appeared Here