Meter Reader and Clerk for Water Department Indicted in Alleged Schemes to Reduce Water Bills in Return for Bribes
A meter reader and a senior account clerk for the New Brunswick Water Department were indicted today on charges that they conspired to reduce a customer’s water and sewer bills dramatically in return for a $4,200 bribe. They also are charged with conspiring to solicit a $1,000 bribe from another customer in exchange for replacing the customer’s water meter with a defective meter that would not register water usage.
The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau obtained a state grand jury indictment charging the following men with conspiracy (2nd degree), official misconduct (2nd degree), bribery in official and political matters (2nd degree), and tampering with public records or information (3rd degree):
William “Billi” Ortiz, 55, of North Brunswick, the meter reader, and
Joseph “Gordo” DeBonis, 55, of Toms River, the senior account clerk.
The second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, including a mandatory period of five years of parole ineligibility. Both men were suspended from their jobs with the New Brunswick Water Department after they were initially charged in the case on Nov. 30, 2016. The defendants were charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
With regard to the first alleged scheme, the investigation revealed that in November 2016, Ortiz allegedly accepted a bribe of $4,200 in exchange for arranging the reduction of water and sewer bills for a customer who owned multiple properties. Ortiz allegedly arranged the bill reductions through DeBonis, who had access as a senior account clerk to the city’s water and sewer database. It is alleged that after Ortiz received the bribe, he provided DeBonis with information about the customer’s properties, and DeBonis allegedly modified the customer’s water and sewer bills to dramatically reduce the charges. The bills were falsified to reduce the water and sewer fees approximately 90 percent.
Ortiz and DeBonis allegedly conspired in a previous scheme in 2014, when Ortiz allegedly solicited a $1,000 bribe from a customer, in exchange for which he offered to switch out the customer’s water meter and install a faulty meter – which he nicknamed the “thief” – that would keep the customer’s bill down by failing to record water usage. Ortiz allegedly told the customer that a properly working meter should be swapped back near the end of the month, so the bill would not be suspiciously low.
“Ortiz and DeBonis had a duty to ensure water customers were properly billed based on accurate readings, but we allege they corruptly solicited bribes in return for falsifying bills and meter readings,” said Attorney General Porrino. “When public employees like Ortiz and Debonis allegedly take bribes for special treatment, trust in government is undermined and the public ends up footing the bill.”
“We allege that Ortiz and DeBonis took bribes to manipulate water bills at both ends of the billing process: at the meter and in the database used to generate bills,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute any public employees who corruptly use their positions for personal gain.”
Anyone with specific knowledge of the alleged schemes, or similar schemes, perpetrated by Ortiz and DeBonis, or with involvement in such schemes, is urged to contact the Division of Criminal Justice confidentially at 866-TIPS-4CJ.
Deputy Attorneys General Anthony Robinson and Samantha McCluskey presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Attorney General Porrino commended all of the attorneys and detectives who conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
Each of the second-degree charges in the indictment carries a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, including a mandatory five-year period of parole ineligibility, and a fine of up to $150,000. The third-degree charge carries a sentence of three to five years in state prison, including a mandatory two-year period of parole ineligibility, and a fine of up to $15,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Union County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date.