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 unanimously approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.
“New Jersey’s taxpayers have paid the price for rampant corruption and fraud in government,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer, a leading watchdog for ethics reform in the State Legislature. “Millions of taxpayers’ dollars have been wasted enriching corrupt and unscrupulous individuals who abuse the public trust. These measures, and much more, are needed to restore New Jerseyans’ faith in their elected representatives and protect State and local finances from corruption and abuse.”
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.
“New Jersey government has a legitimate interest in funding private projects that serve the greater good,” said Senator Karcher. “However, while we’ve increased penalties for official public corruption, we do not have a mechanism in place to ensure that public money paid to private contractors will reach its intended purpose. This bill applies criminal penalties whenever the public trust is violated.”
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 PENALTIES UNDER S-1318).
“Public corruption has a very real price tag, and the cost to New Jersey’s residents for abuse and fraud usually translates to suburban sprawl, the decimation of open space, and an added burden on public utilities,” said Senator Karcher. “Rather than ask innocent taxpayers to foot the bill for the bad decisions made by unscrupulous public officials, we’re giving those taxpayers a tool to reclaim lost funds. This bill allows the residents of a community to collect civil damages whenever an elected leader trades in his or her office, and the good of those he or she represents, for a quick buck.”
“As a resident of Marlboro Township, I know firsthand how greed and corruption can taint a community,” added Senator Karcher. “I put my life and safety on the line to be able to uncover corruption in Marlboro, and the shocking abuse of power that has occurred has been frightening. For me, and for the other residents of Marlboro who have to live with added traffic congestion, increased taxes and less open space, public corruption has a very real, tangible impact on our daily lives.”
Both bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.