Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a New York attorney was convicted at trial of conspiring with a former engineer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation to solicit a railroad company to fraudulently inflate the cost of a state-funded railroad repair project and pay them $325,000 in bribes. The DOT engineer previously pleaded guilty.
Ernest J. Dubose, 34, of Jersey City, N.J., (formerly of Boston, Mass.), was found guilty late yesterday (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. The verdict followed a month-long trial before Superior Court Judge James M. DeMarzo. The charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison.
Deputy Attorneys General Veronica Allende and Jane Khodarkovsky tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Detective Richard Lane served as the trial detective and Analyst Nathalie Kurzawa provided administrative and technical support. Dubose was taken into custody immediately after the verdict. He is scheduled for sentencing on May 22.
The state presented testimony and evidence that Dubose and his co-defendant, Gaudner Metellus, 36, of Jamison, Pa., a former DOT senior engineer, 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. They solicited $325,000 in bribes from the company as their share of the extra state grant funds that were to be spent on the project.
Metellus pleaded guilty on Jan. 5 to a second-degree charge of official misconduct before Judge Robert J. Gilson. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Metellus be sentenced to three years in state prison, including a two-year period of parole ineligibility. He forfeited his job and his pension, and he is permanently barred from public employment. Sentencing for Metellus is scheduled for May 1.
“By posing as an outside consultant, Dubose tried to provide cover for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes that he and a DOT engineer solicited from a railroad company,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Fortunately, their corrupt scheme was derailed, and now both Dubose and his co-defendant are headed straight to prison.”
“This verdict sends a powerful warning to those who corruptly view the large sums spent on publicly funded projects as an invitation to inflate costs and steal,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend our attorneys, detectives and entire trial team for skillfully handling this case and ensuring that Dubose will spend a long time behind bars.”
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 allegedly proposed that the company submit false invoices for rehabilitation work that would never be performed and demanded that it 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 cooperated in the state’s investigation, recording 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.