NEW BRUNSWICK – Two city Water Department employees have pleaded guilty to charges of falsely reducing water to about 50 different properties in exchange for bribes, costing the city about $500,000, state officials announced.
Joseph “Gordo” DeBonis, 55 of Toms River, a suspended senior account clerk, and William “Billi” Ortiz, 56, of North Brunswick, a meter reader, each face five year prison terms when they are sentenced June 15 in Superior Court, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.
DeBonis must serve at least two years of his sentence before being eligible for parole, and Ortiz must serve at least one year, Grewal said.
The attorney general said both men pleaded guilty last week to charges of second-degree official misconduct before Union County Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch.
Each of the men must forfeit their jobs, and will be barred from holding any public sector jobs, the attorney general said.
Authorities said 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 Ortiz received the bribe, he provided DeBonis with information about the customers' properties. DeBonis then modified the customer’s water and sewer bills to dramatically reduce the charges, according to details of the case that was prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson, along with Deputy Attorney General Samantha McCluskey.
Fees were reduced at times by as much as 90 percent, authorities said, and DeBonis took a share of the bribe payments in return for falsifying the bills. The two men collected about $20,000 in bribes, authorities said. The city suspended both men after they were initially charged in November 2016, Grewal said.
In a separate scheme, Ortiz also solicited bribes from customers in exchange for offering to switch out a customer’s water meter and install a faulty, antiquated brass meter – which he nicknamed the “thief,” state officials said.
They said that faulty meter would keep the customer’s bill down by failing to record water usage. Ortiz would leave the properly-working electronic meter on the premises and connected to power, and he would tell the customer to swap back to the electronic meter near the end of the month, so the bill would not be suspiciously low, authorities said.