TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senator Ellen Karcher which would protect public resources from corruption by increasing penalties for misuse of public resources and providing a mechanism to reclaim lost funds due to corruption was unanimously approved today by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
“Public corruption carries a very real cost for the taxpayers of New Jersey,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer, a leading watchdog for ethics reform in the State Legislature. “The greed of unscrupulous politicians and others who abuse the public trust has inflated the cost of living in the Garden State on the many honest, hard-working families the call our State home. We need to crack down on those bad actors who have disgraced public service with their corruption, and we need to give the people of this State a mechanism to reclaim lost funds.”
Senator Karcher’s first bill, S-1192, sponsored with Senate Judiciary Chair, Senator John Adler, D-Cherry Hill, would create the crime of corruption of public resources, and would impose criminal penalties for misrepresentation of facts for the purpose of obtaining public resources. The bill would make it a crime to knowingly misuse public grants, loans, assets or property for purposes other than the intended governmental purpose, and would establish a graduated penalty setup, depending on the value of the resource, and the intended purpose.
“Many of the non-profit programs funded by public dollars are valuable in meeting the needs of New Jersey’s residents,” said Senator Karcher. “However, we must be ever-vigilant against public corruption, whether the official in question is a duly-elected representative of the people or the president of a non-profit association. We need penalties on the books that show we’re serious about pursuing corruption cases and putting corrupt individuals behind bars.”
The second bill, S-1318, sponsored with Senator Fred Madden, D-Gloucester and Camden, would allow the Attorney General to seek monetary penalties against certain persons convicted of public corruption crimes. The bill would allow the Attorney General or county prosecutor to seek a “public corruption profiteering penalty,” for any public official found guilty of a host of corruption crimes, including, but not limited to: fraud, false contract payment claims, improper influence of public office, retaliation or receipt of bribe or other unlawful benefit. The penalty, which would be reimbursed to the public entity that had been defrauded due to public corruption, would be in addition to any other penalties the person may face because of public corruption (CLICK HERE TO SEE PENALTIES UNDER S-1318).
“Public corruption has a tangible effect on the public, costing millions for illicit land deals and other corrupt practices,” said Senator Karcher. “We need to give the taxpayers of this State the power to seek civil damages when corruption alters the face of a municipality and public funds are misspent. This bill will give the prosecutor in public corruption cases the ability to make New Jersey’s taxpayers whole when their tax dollars have been lost to corrupt public officials.”
“I know the effect that corruption has on local government,” added Senator Karcher. “I’ve seen it firsthand in my own hometown of Marlboro, where we now live with overdevelopment, sprawl and lost open space as a result of a developer buying favors with bribes from the mayor. Unless we can protect our public resources from the corrupt and greedy, and give New Jerseyans a chance to reclaim funds lost to bribery and official misconduct, any reforms on the local level of government will be for naught.”
Both bills now head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee before going to the full Assembly for consideration.