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Conflict Pushes Water Utility Bribery Trial to Union County

The corruption cases against two New Brunswick Water Utility employees will be heard in Union County due to a conflict of interest.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The criminal cases against two city water utility employees have been transferred to Union County due to a conflict of interest, according to court officials.

William Ortiz and Joseph DeBonis were charged late last year for allegedly scheming to reduce an unnamed customer’s water and sewer bill in exchange for cash. Ortiz faces charges of bribery and official misconduct, while DeBonis is up against charges of tampering with public records and official misconduct.

Both men had been scheduled to appear before Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Benjamin Bucca on Feb. 27.

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But the criminal assignment office transferred their cases to the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth upon learning that Ortiz is related to a “judiciary employee” of Middlesex, said Laura Schweitzer, the criminal division manager for Middlesex County Superior Court.

Schweitzer said the nature of the relationship between Ortiz and the unnamed court staffer is confidential.

Property records, however, show that Ortiz and a woman named Yolanda Ortiz own a home in North Brunswick. A court directory lists a person by the name of Yolanda Ortiz as secretary to Superior Court Judge Craig Corson.

Bucca’s secretary told TAPinto New Brunswick that the cases were sent to Union on Feb. 10.

Court officials there have yet to set a trial date, said Sandra Thaler-Gerber, the spokesperson for the Union County Courthouse. She said that decision will likely be made within the next two weeks.

Once the allegations against Ortiz and DeBonis came to light, New Brunswick suspended the workers without pay.

The state Division of Criminal Justice’s corruption bureau filed complaints against the men in early December.

Ortiz, a water meter reader, allegedly took $2,000 on Nov. 22 or 23 “to reduce” an unnamed individual’s water tab, according to the complaint against him.

The state alleges that DeBonis, a senior account clerk in the water department, falsely altered the bill of a customer around the same time.

State records show that Ortiz, who was 55 at the time of the alleged incident, has been in the state pension system since 1998 and earns $46,864 per year. DeBonis, a Toms River resident who was 54 when the complaint was filed, has been in the pension system since 1994 and earns $42,108 per year.

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