Law & Justice

Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. contractor gets two years in jail for role in bribery scheme

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Echo Lake in West Milford, the source of drinking water for Newark, was once overseen by the now defunct Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corp.
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A former contractor of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for his role in a bribery and kickback scheme involving an employee and consultant of the NWCDC.

James Porter, 80, of East Orange, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares to an information charging him with one count of conspiring with Donald Bernard Sr., a former employee and consultant of the NWCDC, and others, to defraud the NWCDC and one count of tax evasion.

Judge Linares imposed the sentence today in federal court in Newark.

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The NWCDC filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in January 2015 and no longer manages Newark's watershed. The city currently oversees the watershed.

Linda Watkins-Brashear, the former director of the NWCDC, pleaded guilty in December 2015 to soliciting nearly $1 million in bribes from businesses in return for overinflated and no-work contracts. She is awaiting sentencing.

A state comptroller's report issued in February 2014 was critical of the administration of former Mayor Cory Booker, now a U.S. senator, for failing to properly monitor the the agency.

Between October 2008 and April 2013, Porter conspired with Bernard to provide Bernard and others with a stream of concealed, undisclosed kickbacks in exchange for Bernard’s assistance in securing business opportunities and payments to two companies operated by Porter: Jim P. Enterprises LLC (JPE) and New Beginnings Environmental Services (NBES), a company in which Bernard was also a partner.

Both JPE and NBES purported to perform landscaping, snow removal, clean-up and sign posting services to the NWCDC from 2008 through 2013. JPE received payments from the NWCDC totaling more than $500,000 and NBES received approximately $290,000 from the NWCDC.

Both companies submitted invoices to the NWCDC that were fraudulently inflated to cover kickback payments to Bernard and billed for some services, such as landscaping and snow removal, which were never performed.

Porter passed a stream of kickback payments to Bernard totaling more than $500,000, which was funded by the proceeds JPE and NBES obtained from the NWCDC, including cash withdrawn from the bank accounts of JPE and NBES totaling $378,867; Bernard’s use of an ATM card issued in his name to withdraw at least $74,681 directly from the NBES bank account; Bernard’s use of the NBES ATM card issued in Bernard’s name to pay personal expenses of nearly $5,000; and checks written from the accounts of JPE and NBES totaling $41,650, which were made payable to Bernard, or to companies he controlled, including a consulting company, Bernard & Associates, and the African American Heritage Parade Committee (AAHPC).

In August 2012, Porter also accepted a $5,000 check payable to JPE from Essex Home Improvements, another contractor of the NWCDC for work that  was never performed, and delivered the proceeds to Bernard. The payment from Essex Home Improvements was provided to JPE, rather than to Bernard directly, as a means of concealing a kickback from Essex Home Improvements to Bernard.

From 2009 to 2012, Porter failed to report income of $767,750 from the proceeds that JPE and NBES received from the NWCDC. Porter also pleaded guilty to intentionally underreporting income for the 2012 tax year on his personal tax return by $151,603, resulting in tax due and owing of $48,971.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Linares sentenced Porter to two years of supervised release. Porter must also pay restitution of $711,083, which includes  $539,583 towards the NWCDC and $171,500 to the IRS.

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