Former Executive of Engineering Firm Indicted in Pay-to-Play Scheme
Belmar man's indictment comes less than two weeks after another former executive of Birdsall Services Group pleaded guilty
A former executive of Birdsall Services Group, a Monmouth-based engineering firm that Lacey Township used for its feasibility study, was indicted today. The indictment comes less than two weeks after another executive pleaded guilty for his role in a scheme to avoid the state's pay-to-play regulations.
Thomas Rospos, 60, of Belmar was indicted after being accused of disguising illegal corporate political contributions as personal contributions by employees of the firm, according to a release from the Attorney General's Office.
“Mr. Rospos allegedly conspired with others at Birdsall Services Group to circumvent New Jersey’s pay-to-play law through a fraudulent scheme in which extra bonuses were paid to employees to reimburse them for making unreported political contributions,” said Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa. “By engaging in this scheme, we allege that they unlawfully bolstered their political connections while continuing to receive public contracts for which they should have been disqualified.”
Rospos, the former executive vice president of Birdsall, has been charged with second-degree conspiracy, making false representations for government contracts, misconduct by a corporate official and money laundering. Each of the counts carry a potential five- to 10-year prison sentence.
He also was charged with tampering with public records or information, falsifying or tampering with records, prohibited corporation contributions through employees and concealment or misrepresentation of contributions or expenditures.
Joseph Hayden, attorney for Birdsall Services Group, said the firm is fully cooperating with authorities.
"The allegations outlined in these charges all occurred under previous management at Birdsall Services Group," Hayden said in a statement to Patch. "We have been fully cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office throughout the course of this investigation, and once we were made aware of potential discrepancies swift action was taken resulting in a new CEO, significant personnel changes, and the hiring of former New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice James Zazzali, who will oversee the newly established internal processes to ensure complete compliance going forward.”
Former Birdsall marketing director Philip Angarone, 40, of Hamilton pleaded guilty Nov. 30 before Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels in Ocean County to an accusation charging him with third-degree tampering with public records or information and fourth-degree prohibited corporation contributions through employees. He faces up to 364 days in jail and a term of probation.
Under the scheme to which Angarone admitted, instead of Birdsall Services Group making corporate political contributions to campaigns and political organizations that would disqualify it from public contracts awarded by certain government agencies, shareholders and employees of the firm would make personal political contributions of $300 or less, which are deemed unreportable, the attorney general's office said.
Multiple personal checks would be bundled together at Birdsall and sent to the appropriate campaign or political organization. Shareholders and employees would then be illegally reimbursed by Birdsall in the form of added bonus payments, and the firm would falsely omit the illegally reimbursed contributions in documents filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) and with government agencies that awarded the firm engineering services contracts, the attorney general's office said.
State investigators executed a search warrant at the offices of Birdsall Services Group in Wall on Wednesday, May 3, the Star Ledger reported.
Lacey Township awarded a contract for $22,500 to Birdsall on May 17, with a unanimous vote, for its feasibility study for a potential new generation facility. In May, Mayor Mark Dykoff said he was unaware of the state’s investigation until after the contract was awarded.
Dykoff said the investigation did not concern him then.
“Birdsall was selected for their expertise in the area of renewable energy and their familiarity with the power plant properties,” Township Administrator Veronica Laureigh previously said.
The township was served a subpoena pertaining to its business with Birdsall on Aug. 22. The subpoena asked for all records relating Birdsall Engineering. Dykoff said then that the subpoena also did not concern him and that Lacey has always followed a "fair and open process" when awarding a contract.
“Such things as subpoenas are part of the normal course of business so it does not phase me when we get subpoenas to produce documents,” Laureigh previously said.
According to an NJ.com story, Birdsall did more than $28 million in business with towns, counties, the state and other public agencies throughout New Jersey in 2011. The company also donated $129,700 to dozens of Democrats and Republicans last year.
Other municipalities served subpoenas for their work with Birdsall included Seaside Heights, Toms River and Brick. The Ocean County government also received the same order.
“We’re continuing our investigation into illegal corporate political contributions made on behalf of Birdsall Services Group,” said Stephen J. Taylor, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Each of these actions we have taken, including this indictment and the recent guilty plea, serve to move our case forward substantially.”