NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a former meter reader for the New Brunswick Water Department has been sentenced to state prison for participating in a scheme with two other former water department employees to reduce the water and sewer bills of numerous customers in return for bribes.
Guillermo Quinones, 51, of Somerset, N.J., was sentenced yesterday, Jan. 21, to five years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch in Union County. He pleaded guilty on Feb. 14, 2020 to official misconduct. Quinones forfeited his job with the water department and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
Two other former employees of the New Brunswick Water Department who participated in the scheme with Quinones previously pleaded guilty to official misconduct. Joseph DeBonis, 58, of Toms River, N.J., a former senior account clerk, and William Ortiz, 59, of North Brunswick, N.J., a former meter reader, were each sentenced to five years in prison by Judge Kirsch on Oct. 4, 2019.
Deputy Attorney General Samantha Keleher represented the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability at the sentencing hearing for Quinones. She prosecuted Quinones, DeBonis and Ortiz with former Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson, under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee and Counsel to the Director Anthony Picione. The defendants were charged in an investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).
“The prison sentences we have secured in this case reflect our resolve to investigate and aggressively prosecute public employees who unlawfully use their positions for personal gain,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We now have secured five-year prison sentences for three water department employees who corruptly profited at the expense of the City of New Brunswick and its residents. These prosecutions should deter other government employees who might consider betraying the trust placed in them by the public.”
“One of our primary missions in OPIA is to ensure that government employees who break the law and corruptly exploit their public positions are held accountable,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “Quinones and the other two water department employees we sent to prison took bribes from dozens of customers in return for falsely and dramatically reducing water and sewer bills. Their criminal conduct cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In addition to the three defendants employed by the water department, 11 residents were charged with allegedly paying cash to have their water and sewer bills reduced. One resident pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful benefit to a public servant for official behavior and was sentenced to probation. The other 10 were charged with theft by unlawful taking and admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention program on the condition that they pay full restitution.
Quinones, 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. Quinones and 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 Quinones and Ortiz received bribes, they 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.
Attorney General Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions. In December 2019, 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.
OPIA has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption. The AG’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted at: http://nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.