This week more than $100,000 in stolen public resources has been uncovered in Cinnaminson, NJ, and five full-time city employees, including the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority’s top two employees, have been arrested on theft and corruption charges.
It all started with a missing, city-owned backhoe.
Cinnaminson officials were told several years ago that the backhoe, purchased for about $8,700, needed more than $6,000 in repairs. The equipment was “deadlined” and taken out of rotation as not repairable.
But in reality, the backhoe was in fine condition. The missing backhoe eventually prompted an audit of the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority, initiated by the authority’s board of commissioners.
Once the board of commissioners got a glimpse of what was going on, they decided to ask law enforcement to launch a full blown investigation.
FBI agents secretly placed GPS tracking devices onto several city-owned pieces of equipment and onto the bottom of the suspects’ city-owned vehicles. Investigators then tracked the location of the equipment and vehicles for the next three months.
What the FBI found going on during work hours was unbelievable – a
three-pronged scheme the county prosecutor called a “brazen and insane attempt” to steal taxpayer resources…
With the help of several GPS tracking devices, investigators caught two city employees transporting and using the missing city-owned backhoe for personal use during work hours. Authorities recovered the backhoe and it was in good working condition.
Authorities also caught employees performing side work with sewerage authority equipment during business hours.
The suspects “ran, for lack of a better term, a side business, dealing with businesses that needed the services of licensed sewerage individuals,” Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi said. “It turns out they were running their business on township time.”
In one scheme, four city employees allegedly used their private J&B Environmental Services firm to provide sewer maintenance work for the Wyndham Hotel in Mt. Laurel.
Employees “showed up in authority vehicles, if you can believe it, and on some occasions wearing Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority uniforms while performing (private) work at the Wyndham,” Bernardi added.
The men ordered parts and supplies for their private firm and charged the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority for the costs.
“For instance, a pump that was needed to do their side job at the Wyndham Hotel would be vouchered and processed through the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority and paid for with taxpayer dollars,” Bernardi said. “Then that pump would be physically taken and installed at the Wyndham.”
The suspects barely bothered to cover their tracks, it seems. Surveillance footage shows one of the suspects moving a Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority 55-gallon drum of chemicals to the hotel, installing the drum and peeling off a Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority label.
Police estimate that the suspects charged more than $50,000 to the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority for this side business.
The charged sewerage authority employees have nearly 60 years combined employment with Cinnaminson, according to an NJ.com database.
Superintendent Paul Phillips, 54, is a 29-year veteran of the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority. His 2011 salary was $89,904, according to state records. Assistant Superintendent William Yannarella, 53, of Delran, has worked for the Cinnaminson Sewerage Authority for 20 years. His annual salary in 2011 was $71,660.
Mayor Anthony Minniti has already proposed legislation that would require all city-owned vehicles to carry GPS tracking devices. “These are immediate steps that we can take to mitigate situations like a backhoe disappearing or people winding up outside of the Cinnaminson border… while on the clock or with city-owned equipment,” Minniti said.