January 22, 2015

Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. Contractor Admits Role in Bribery Scheme

NEWARK, NJ—A former contractor of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) today admitted his role in a bribery and kickback scheme involving an employee and consultant of the NWCDC, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

James Porter, 78, of East Orange, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares to an information charging him with one count of conspiring with Donald Bernard Sr., a former employee and consultant of the NWCDC, and others, to defraud the NWCDC and one count of tax evasion.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Between October 2008 and April 2013, Porter conspired with Bernard to provide Bernard and others with a stream of concealed, undisclosed kickbacks in exchange for Bernard’s assistance in securing business opportunities and payments to two companies operated by Porter: Jim P. Enterprises LLC (JPE) and New Beginnings Environmental Services (NBES), a company in which Bernard was also a partner. Both JPE and NBES purported to perform landscaping, snow removal, clean-up and sign posting services to the NWCDC from 2008 through 2013. JPE received payments from the NWCDC totaling more than $500,000 and NBES received approximately $290,000 from the NWCDC. Both companies submitted invoices to the NWCDC that were fraudulently inflated to cover kickback payments to Bernard and billed for some services, such as landscaping and snow removal, which were never performed.

Porter passed a stream of kickback payments to Bernard totaling more than $500,000, which was funded by the proceeds JPE and NBES obtained from the NWCDC, including cash withdrawn from the bank accounts of JPE and NBES totaling $378,867; Bernard’s use of an ATM card issued in his name to withdraw at least $74,681 directly from the NBES bank account; Bernard’s use of the NBES ATM card issued in Bernard’s name to pay personal expenses of nearly $5,000; and checks written from the accounts of JPE and NBES totaling $41,650, which were made payable to Bernard, or to companies he controlled, including a consulting company, Bernard & Associates, and the African American Heritage Parade Committee (AAHPC).

In August 2012, Porter also accepted a $5,000 check payable to JPE from Essex Home Improvements, another contractor of the NWCDC for work that was never performed, and delivered the proceeds to Bernard. The payment from Essex Home Improvements was provided to JPE, rather than to Bernard directly, as a means of concealing a kickback from Essex Home Improvements to Bernard. Bernard and Giacomo DeRosa, 58, a Clinton Township, New Jersey contractor, have been charged in separate indictments and are awaiting trial.

From 2009 to 2012, Porter failed to report income of $767,750 from the proceeds that JPE and NBES received from the NWCDC. Porter also pleaded guilty today to intentionally underreporting income for the 2012 tax year on his personal tax return by $151,603, resulting in tax due and owing of $48,971.

The conspiracy to defraud count and the tax evasion count to which Porter pleaded guilty each carry a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a fine of either $250,000 or twice the gain or loss from the offenses. The government is also seeking forfeiture of $573,333. Sentencing is scheduled for May 12, 2015.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI’s Newark Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford; special agents of IRS—Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen; and the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi, as well as criminal investigators of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, for the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacques S. Pierre and Mala Ahuja Harker of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division.

The charges and allegations in the indictment against Bernard and DeRosa are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.