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 today by the Senate by a vote of 37-0.
“New Jersey taxpayers have suffered for too long from the inflated costs of corrupt government,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer, a leading watchdog for ethics reform in the State Legislature. “Public officials have taken advantage of their position for personal enrichment, and bilked taxpayers out of needed public resources. It’s high time we cracked down on those corrupt officials who have defrauded the public and wasted valuable public resources for the sake of a quick buck.”
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 has a legitimate interest in funding private groups which benefit the greater public good, but we need to be careful that we’re not rewarding corrupt individuals with public dollars,” said Senator Karcher. “This bill would establish a mechanism to punish private individuals who misuse public grants and loans to further corrupt agendas. We cannot stand for corruption of public resources, wherever and whenever it may occur.”
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.
“Public corruption has real consequences for those who’ve been defrauded by their leaders, in terms of higher taxes, less open space, greater roadway congestion and higher utility bills,” said Senator Karcher. “The public needs a tool to reclaim lost funds, and prosecutors need to be able to sue corrupt officials for civil damages inflicted on the communities they’ve betrayed. This bill would ensure that corrupt public officials would have to reimburse their constituents for fraud and abuse of office.”
“I’ve seen the price of corruption firsthand as a long-time resident of Marlboro, and I know the damage that can be done by public leaders who abuse the public trust,” added Senator Karcher. “My experiences fighting corruption in Marlboro and across the State have shown me that, no matter what the penalty, there will always be unscrupulous individuals who will attempt to cash in on their office. However, with stronger penalties in place, we can dissuade some from turning down the road to corruption, and we can insulate the taxpayers from the higher costs associated with running a corrupt government.”
Both bills now head to the Assembly for consideration.