TRENTON – Senator Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer, a champion for ethics reform in the State Senate who sought out the FBI to uncover corruption in her hometown of Marlboro when she served as a councilwoman there, issued the following statement today regarding Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous approval of a bill she sponsored to impose mandatory minimum criminal sentences and loss of pensions for corrupt public officials:
“Today, the Judiciary Committee had a long and thoughtful discussion on a bill which would, rightfully, impose mandatory imprisonment and loss of pension benefits on corrupt officials who abuse the public trust.
“The Committee sought to balance fairness with a tough stance on public corruption, so that we have an effective tool to purge government in New Jersey of corruption, above-reproach from legal challenge and without imposing undue penalties on relatively minor infractions.
“That said, the status quo will not do, when it comes to pushing for tougher penalties for corrupt acts.
“For too long, unscrupulous officials in New Jersey have made a mockery of the public trust by using their office to get rich quick, most times at the cost to the taxpayer. We need to lay down the law – if you use your public office to commit a crime, you will do the time.
“The bill was amended to focus on crimes of official misconduct, such as taking bribes. While I understand that we needed to narrow the scope of the bill to avoid confusion by the Judiciary, I still maintain that corruption goes beyond those crimes that are designated ‘official misconduct’ in the law.
“In Marlboro, we saw the entire gamut of criminal activity, all linked to corrupt land deals within the township. Township officials were plied with offers of money and favors, and developers sought to intimidate and threaten to get approval on contracts that misused and wasted public dollars. Taxpayers in the township are still paying the cost of these corrupt deals that have marred the face of Marlboro and had a serious impact on the quality of life there.
“My experiences in Marlboro have helped shape my legislative priorities here in the Senate, and I will continue to fight against corruption whenever given the opportunity. As this bill moves closer to law, we will have a powerful tool to penalize corrupt officials, denying them their pensions and imposing mandatory prison sentences, while dissuading others from going down the path towards corruption and abuse.
“We had to give some to get some, but when the scales balance out, we struck a strong blow on behalf of taxpayers fed up with corruption in New Jersey. However, we must always be vigilant to future attacks on the public trust, and if necessary, be willing to revisit this law to craft meaningful ethics reform that will benefit New Jersey’s citizens over the culture of corruption that has pervaded government in the Garden State for far too long.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.