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 were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee today.
“Today in New Jersey, public corruption and official misconduct continue to increase the cost of government to the taxpayers of the State, even as we seek solutions to our high property tax burden,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer, a leading watchdog for ethics reform in the State Legislature. “Whether it’s inflation of contract costs caused by no-bid or unethical contracts, corrupt land deals paid for with bribes to local officials, or a whole host of other offenses, these costs add up, and make our work to mitigate property tax increases that much harder. We need to put protections in place to ensure that government dollars and resources are not wasted on corruption.”
Senator Karcher’s first bill, S-1992, 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 (click here for table of penalties). The bill was approved by the Committee by a vote of 9-0.
“This bill would apply to grantees and others who may not hold public office, but who must still be responsible stewards of public funds,” said Senator Karcher. “The message we’re sending is that, if you abuse the public trust, and misuse resources, be prepared to face stiff penalties.”
The second bill, S-1318, 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 additional penalties under the bill).
The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 9-0.
“This is an important initiative to reclaim some of the cost of corruption borne on the backs of local taxpayers,” said Senator Karcher. “Through this legislation, the Attorney General and other law enforcement officials have the tools to force corrupt public officials to pay back the cost of their actions to the people they represent.”
“As a resident of Marlboro, I know well that corruption carries a hefty cost on local taxpayers,” added Senator Karcher. “In my hometown, we’ve seen the corrupt actions of a few contribute to an increased property tax burden, as the people were forced to pay for development deals bought and paid for with bribes and kickbacks. We need to give the people the ability to receive ‘damage pay’ from those who would abuse their public office for personal enrichment.”
Both bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.