|TRENTON – First Assistant Attorney General Thomas R. Calcagni announced that Birdsall Services Group was ordered to pay $1 million in criminal penalties to the state as the firm was sentenced today for engaging in a criminal scheme in which hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate political contributions were illegally made through employees to evade New Jersey’s pay-to-play law.
Birdsall Services Group, an engineering firm based in Monmouth County, pleaded guilty on June 13 to charges of first-degree money laundering and second-degree making false representations for government contracts filed by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The charges were contained in a March 26, 2013 indictment, which also charged seven executives of the firm. The charges against the individual defendants are pending.
Today, the company, through its defense counsel, Joseph A. Hayden Jr., appeared for sentencing before Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels in Ocean County. The company was ordered to pay two major criminal penalties within 10 days: (1) a $500,000 public corruption profiteering penalty, and (2) a $500,000 anti-money laundering profiteering penalty. In each instance, the penalty was the maximum amount authorized by law. Birdsall previously had paid the state $2.6 million to settle a civil forfeiture action filed by the Attorney General’s Office in connection with the criminal case.
Under the plea agreement, the firm is required to cooperate fully in the state’s prosecution of the individual defendants. In addition, it is prohibited from working on government contracts in New Jersey for 10 years. As a practical matter, the firm is no longer in business. It filed for bankruptcy earlier this year as a result of the indictment and civil forfeiture action, and its assets were subsequently sold to a California-based engineering company.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony A. Picione, who is Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Victor R. Salgado are prosecuting the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice.
“The maximum penalties that must be paid by Birdsall Services Group are in keeping with the scope of the criminal scheme that led to its ruin,” said First Assistant Attorney General Calcagni. “Birdsall made more than half a million dollars in illegal political contributions, while securing millions of dollars a year in public contracts for which it should have been disqualified. This case is about upholding our pay-to-play law and safeguarding the integrity of public contracting in New Jersey to ensure that taxpayers don’t foot the bill for political favors.”
Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman is recused from this matter.
“These penalties help us send a loud and clear message that companies that engage in criminal conduct to evade our pay-to-play law will pay dearly,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Given the profits reaped in the past through these types of political contributions, we must show that the price to be paid for these schemes is prohibitive, and not just another cost of doing business.”
The indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice charged Birdsall Services Group, its largest shareholder and former CEO Howard C. Birdsall, and six other executives and shareholders with conspiring in a scheme to avoid the restrictions of New Jersey’s Pay-to-Play Act by disguising illegal corporate political contributions as personal contributions of employees of the firm.
Under the alleged scheme, instead of Birdsall Services Group making corporate political contributions to campaigns and political organizations that would disqualify it from public contracts awarded by certain government agencies, shareholders and employees of the firm made personal political contributions of $300 or less, which are deemed unreportable. Multiple personal checks were bundled together at BSG and sent to the appropriate campaign or political organization. The shareholders and employees were then illegally reimbursed by Birdsall, directly or indirectly, through added bonus payments, and the firm falsely omitted the illegally reimbursed contributions in documents filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) and with government agencies that awarded the firm engineering services contracts. The scheme continued for more than six years and involved hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions.
All of the individual defendants face first-degree counts of conspiracy and money laundering, as well as other charges. The first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, and the money laundering counts also carry fines and penalties of up to $1 million. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Two former employees of the marketing department of Birdsall, Philip Angarone, 41, of Hamilton, the former marketing director, and Eileen Kufahl, 49, of Bradley Beach, previously pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme and are awaiting sentencing.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Picione and Deputy Attorney General Salgado presented the case to the state grand jury. Detectives Kiersten Pentony, Edward Augustyn, Janine Buchalski and Melissa Calkin are the lead detectives.