TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced today that a Penns Grove councilman had been charged with stealing approximately $8,200 from the state-funded Clean Communities Program, which provides funds for local groups and organizations to clean parks and other public areas.
According to officials Councilman Carl Washington Jr., 46, of Penns Grove, and his nephew, Lavar H. Ledbetter, 31, of Mullica Hill, who allegedly assisted him in the thefts, were each charged by complaint-summons with:
Official misconduct (second-degree), Conspiracy (second-degree), and Misapplication of Entrusted Property and Property of Government (third-degree).
The two men are scheduled for a first appearance on the charges in Superior Court in Mercer County on January 7, 2020.
Officials say it is alleged that Washington, in his role as a local coordinator for the Clean Communities Program, misappropriated approximately $8,200.
From the program by doctoring the paperwork to create fraudulent checks made payable to different organizations in the care of various associates, including Ledbetter.
Washington and Ledbetter allegedly had associates cash the checks and return all or some of the proceeds to them. Ledbetter also allegedly cashed checks himself.
Washington and Ledbetter were charged in an ongoing investigation by detectives and attorneys in the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA). Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Gilmore is prosecuting the defendants for the OPIA Corruption Bureau.
“As a local council member, Washington was entrusted with state funding that was intended to benefit local groups in their efforts to keep parks and other public spaces in Penns Grove clean and beautiful,” said Attorney General Grewal.
“He took an oath to uphold the law and honestly serve borough residents, but we allege that he shamelessly betrayed that oath for his own enrichment.”
“With each of the cases we filed this week charging public officials and political candidates, we sent a message that we will not tolerate those who abuse the public trust for personal gain,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “One of our core missions in OPIA is to enforce a culture of integrity and accountability at all levels of government in New Jersey.”
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The official misconduct charge against Washington carries a mandatory minimum term of parole ineligibility of five years under New Jersey’s enhanced penalties for official corruption.
Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
On Monday, December 16, the OPIA Corruption Bureau obtained an indictment charging Middlesex Borough Mayor Ronald DiMura with theft and official misconduct for allegedly stealing approximately $190,000 from various local political campaigns and using a local charity he runs to launder the money.
He also is charged with stealing over $75,000 from numerous individual investors and using his position as mayor to solicit and steal charitable donations from a developer doing business with Middlesex Borough.
On Thursday, December 19, the OPIA Corruption Bureau filed charges against five current and former public officials and political candidates in New Jersey who are alleged to have taken thousands of dollars in bribes from a cooperating witness in the form of campaign contributions.
Second-degree bribery charges were filed against Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas, former State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro, former Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish, and former Morris County freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty.
The charges against all of the defendants are merely accusations, and they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Attorney General Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions.
Earlier this month, the Attorney General issued a directive codifying OPIA and making it a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office.
That directive established the OPIA Corruption Bureau as the lead office within the Department of Law & Public Safety for the investigation and prosecution of state criminal violations involving corruption and abuse of public trust.