Licensed Operator of South River Water Department Charged with Falsifying Water Purity Testing

TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that the licensed operator of the South River Water Department, the public drinking water system for South River Borough in Middlesex County, was arrested today and charged with submitting false water samples and records to a lab that tests such samples for coliform bacteria for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

According to officials, Robert Baker, 56, of Mine Hill, N.J., was arrested early this morning and charged with a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, a third-degree crime. He was charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, and the South River Police Department.

The joint investigation began last month after the South River Police Department developed information that Baker allegedly was submitting false water samples for testing.

In accordance with the South River Water Department’s sampling schedule, Baker, as a licensed operator, is required to collect samples of drinking water from eight locations throughout South River to be tested for coliform bacteria.

Samples are taken twice a month, with 15 samples required in total (i.e., seven on one date, and eight on the other).

However, it is alleged that Baker, who is the sole employee who collects such samples, only visited certain locations, while submitting false samples for other locations.

The Division of Criminal Justice and South River Police Department conducted surveillance of Baker on two recent sampling dates.

Officials say on May 21, 2019, Baker allegedly did not go to at least four of the eight designated sample collection sites.

Despite not visiting those locations, Baker allegedly supplied filled sample vials to a courier for the testing lab with labels indicating they had been collected on that date from seven of the eight locations, including the four locations he failed to visit.

The lab tested the samples and reported the results directly to the DEP, as required by state law. Baker also was scheduled to conduct sampling yesterday, June 11, 2019.

Based on surveillance, it is alleged that he failed to go to any of the eight sampling sites. Nonetheless, prior to his arrest, Baker supplied the courier for the lab with eight filled vials purportedly collected yesterday at all eight sampling sites.

“Today’s charges reflect our commitment to protecting New Jersey’s environment and the health of our residents through all the tools at our disposal, whether civil or criminal,” said Attorney General Grewal.

“That means going after big companies who pollute our environment, filing charges against individuals who illegally dump waste and hazardous materials, and now bringing charges for the failure to properly test a town’s safe drinking water.”

“The attorneys and detectives in our Environmental Crimes Unit are trained to investigate and prosecute crimes that threaten our environment and public health,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice.

“We will continue to deploy our expertise and resources to protect the residents of New Jersey, in collaboration with the DEP and our law enforcement partners.”

To ensure the safety of the drinking water in South River, the DEP collected its own water samples last week from various public points in the water system to test for coliform bacteria.

The samples were tested and the results were negative for coliform bacteria, affirming the safety of the drinking water.

The DEP has initiated an independent regulatory action involving Baker and the South River Water Department. Attorney General Grewal thanked the DEP for its valuable assistance.