Suspended Meter Reader, Clerk for New Brunswick Water Department Admit Reducing Water, Sewer Bills in Return for Bribes
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a suspended meter reader and a suspended senior account clerk for the New Brunswick Water Department pleaded guilty today in connection with schemes to reduce the water and sewer bills of numerous customers in return for bribes.
The following men each pleaded guilty today to a second-degree charge of official misconduct before Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch in Union County:
- Joseph “Gordo” DeBonis, 55, of Toms River, N.J., the senior account clerk, will face a recommended sentence of five years in state prison, including two years of parole ineligibility; and.
- William “Billi” Ortiz, 56, of North Brunswick, N.J., the meter reader, will face a recommended sentence of five years in state prison, including one year of parole ineligibility.
Officials said both men must forfeit their public positions and pensions, and they will be permanently barred from public employment. They are jointly and severally liable for any restitution owed to the city for the stolen water and sewer services, and they must forfeit any illegal proceeds of the schemes. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on June 15.
The men were charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Both men were suspended by the New Brunswick Water Department after they were initially charged on Nov. 30, 2016.
“By taking bribes to falsify meter readings and water and sewer bills, Ortiz and DeBonis corruptly profited at the expense of city residents, who ultimately pay higher rates when services are stolen in this manner,” said Attorney General Grewal. “These guilty pleas demonstrate the serious consequences that public employees face if they enrich themselves by breaking the law and betraying the public’s trust.”
“We urge members of the public who have information about suspected corruption to call our tip line: 866-TIPS-4CJ,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will diligently pursue all leads and prosecute any public employees who illegally use their jobs for personal gain.”
According to authorities, Ortiz and DeBonis illegally reduced water and sewer bills for roughly 50 different properties over a period of several years in return for bribes totaling approximately $20,000. In one scheme involving both Ortiz and DeBonis, Ortiz served as the middleman and recruiter for DeBonis. Ortiz would solicit bribes from customers and then arrange for bill reductions through DeBonis, who had access as a senior account clerk to the city’s water and sewer database. After Ortiz received the bribe, he provided DeBonis with information about the customer’s properties, and DeBonis modified the customer’s water and sewer bills to dramatically reduce the charges. Fees were reduced at times by as much as 90 percent. DeBonis took a share of the bribe payments in return for falsifying the bills.
In addition, Ortiz engaged in a second type of scheme. In this scheme, Ortiz would solicit bribes from customers in exchange for which he offered to switch out the customer’s water meter and install a faulty, antiquated brass meter – which he nicknamed the “thief” – that would keep the customer’s bill down by failing to record water usage. Ortiz would leave the properly working electronic meter on the premises and connected to power, and he would tell the customer to swap back the electronic meter near the end of the month, so the bill would not be suspiciously low.
Authorities estimated that the total loss to the City of New Brunswick as a result of the schemes perpetrated by Ortiz and Debonis was roughly $500,000.
Attorney General Grewal and Director Honig noted that individuals who report public corruption may be able to receive up to a $25,000 reward. The Division of Criminal Justice has a toll-free tip line 866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report public corruption.