Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a former engineer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation has been sentenced to prison for soliciting a railroad company to fraudulently inflate the cost of a state-funded railroad repair project by over $700,000 and pay him and an accomplice $325,000 in bribes. The accomplice previously was sentenced to six years in prison.
Gaudner B. Metellus, 36, of Philadelphia, Pa., a former senior engineer for the DOT, was sentenced late Friday to three years in state prison, including a two-year period of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge James M. DeMarzo in Morris County. Metellus pleaded guilty on Jan. 5, 2015 to a second-degree charge of official misconduct. He forfeited his job and will be permanently barred from public employment. He also forfeited all of his state pension and retirement benefits. Metellus was suspended without pay following his arrest in September 2010.
Deputy Attorneys General Veronica Allende and Jane Khodarkovsky prosecuted the case and handled the sentencing hearing for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
In pleading guilty, Metellus admitted that he and an accomplice, Ernest J. Dubose, 35, of Jersey City, N.J., a New York attorney, solicited representatives of a company that operates a shortline freight railroad in New Jersey to engage in a scheme to fraudulently inflate the cost of a project to rehabilitate a railroad bridge in Roseland by more than $700,000. He further admitted that they solicited $325,000 in bribes from the company. Dubose, who was indicted with Metellus on June 29, 2011, was found guilty at trial on April 20 by a Morris County jury of second-degree charges of conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery in official and political matters, attempted theft by deception, and false contract payment claims. He was sentenced on May 22 to six years in state prison.
“As a senior DOT engineer, Metellus corruptly exploited his authority over public grants to enrich himself and an attorney to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We’re putting unscrupulous government officials on notice that if they succumb to greed and serve themselves instead of the public like Metellus did, we’re going to send them to prison.”
“When government supervisors take bribes in connection with state-funded projects, the public bears the cost,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Fortunately, we foiled the scheme in this case. We’re determined to root out this type of corruption so that taxpayers are not left paying the bill.”
Metellus solicited representatives of the railroad company, the Morristown and Erie Railway, Inc. (M&E), to engage in a scheme to fraudulently inflate the cost of a project to rehabilitate the Eagle Rock Railroad Bridge in Roseland from about $693,000 to $1,421,510 in connection with an application under the State Rail Freight Assistance Grant Program. Metellus proposed that the company submit false invoices for rehabilitation work that would never be performed and agreed that he would split the state grant funds with them. Metellus was responsible for confirming the need for repair work and inspecting completed work in connection with the grant program. Officials of the railroad company alerted the Division of Criminal Justice about the alleged plot and cooperated in the state’s investigation. The two men were originally arrested and charged in the scheme on Sept. 23, 2010.
On Aug. 12, 2010, a company official secretly audiotaped a meeting that the president of the railroad company and another employee held with Metellus at the company’s offices in Morristown, in which Metellus described the fraudulent scheme. The company contacted the Division of Criminal Justice the following day. The company subsequently recorded additional conversations in which Metellus and Dubose discussed the scheme.
On Aug. 23, 2010, Metellus and Dubose met with representatives of the railroad company in Morristown and received two company checks made payable to Dubose in the amounts of $10,000 and $315,000. The defendants instructed company representatives to make the checks payable to Dubose as a purported “consultant” on the project. In reality, Dubose had no knowledge or skills that enabled him to act in that capacity. Rather, he acted as the middle man to accept the bribes from M&E, disburse them between himself and Metellus, and insulate Metellus from detection.
The $10,000 check was subsequently deposited into a bank account in Dubose’s name. The $315,000 check was postdated to Nov. 5, 2010, at the direction of Metellus, who indicated that the company would receive state grant funds by that time.
Former Detective Sgt. David Salzmann, Detective Michael Behar, Detective Richard Lane, Detective Scott Donlan, Detective Timothy Herron, Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan and former Deputy Attorney General Perry Primavera conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Heather Taylor also assisted in the prosecution.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free tip line 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities confidentially. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing.