|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that former New Jersey Assemblyman Albert Coutinho was sentenced today for stealing funds from his family’s charitable foundation and filing false financial disclosure forms with the Legislature.
Coutinho, 44, of Newark, was sentenced to three years of probation by Superior Court Judge Gerald J. Council in Mercer County. He was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and to make full restitution of $32,500 to the charitable foundation. Coutinho pleaded guilty on Sept. 12 to a third-degree charge of theft by unlawful taking and a fourth-degree charge of falsifying or tampering with records. The day before his plea, Coutinho resigned from his 29th Legislative District Assembly seat. As a result of his guilty plea, he is permanently barred from holding public office or public employment in New Jersey. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey J. Manis prosecuted the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
In pleading guilty, Coutinho admitted to misappropriating, between 2008 and 2012, donations and contributions to his family’s charitable foundation, the Bernardino Coutinho Foundation. As part of its investigation, the state reviewed Coutinho’s conduct as a trustee and officer of the Bernardino Coutinho Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization run by Coutinho’s family which is devoted to community development and cultural education in the Portuguese community of Newark’s Ironbound district. The Foundation previously ran the annual Portuguese Day Festival, but ceased to be involved in organizing the event after 2009. The investigation revealed that between January 2008 and December 2012, Coutinho personally cashed numerous checks, representing approximately $32,500 in donations and contributions to the family’s foundation, at a check cashing business. In pleading guilty, Coutinho admitted to taking and using those donations for his own personal benefit and for purposes unrelated to any legitimate, Foundation-related business. In connection with the second charge, Coutinho separately admitted that he also failed to disclose in his legislative Financial Disclosure Statements for calendar years 2008 through 2012 the income he received as a consequence of his theft and misappropriation of Foundation funds.
“Citizens rightly demand a high standard of integrity from their elected representatives and other government officials who are entrusted with managing public funds and resources,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Mr. Coutinho fell short of that standard by misappropriating funds from a charity and failing to meet his financial disclosure obligations as a legislator. He will pay the just consequences.”
“When a public official engages in criminal conduct involving dishonesty, as Mr. Coutinho did, the law rightly demands that he forfeit his public office,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Any official who commits such a crime does so at the peril of the criminal law and of his career in public office.”
The charges resulted from a joint investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau and the Division of Taxation’s Office of Criminal Investigations. The investigation was conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice by lead detectives Sgt. Harry Maronpot and Sgt. James Scott, assisted by Analyst Kathleen Ratliff and under the supervision of Lt. Daniel O’Brien. The investigation was conducted for the Division of Taxation’s Office of Criminal Investigations by Special Agents Bruce Stuck, William Makar and Paul Honan, under the supervision of Assistant Chief Robert Conger. Division of Criminal Justice Detectives Janine Buchalski, Scott Donlan, Timothy Heron and Sgt. David Salzmann also assisted in the investigation.
Coutinho first served in the New Jersey General Assembly from May 1997 to January 1998, after being appointed to fill the unexpired term of Jackie R. Mattison. He was first elected to the Assembly in November 2007, and, until his resignation last month, served continuously as an assemblyman since January 2008, winning re-election in 2009 and 2011. He served as a commissioner on the Newark Central Planning Board from 1996 to 2005, and as a Zoning Board of Adjustment commissioner from 1993 to 1996. He served as an Essex County Utilities Authority Commissioner from 1992 to 1998.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau has established a confidential toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. The public also can log on to the Division’s Web site www.njdcj.org to confidentially report suspected wrongdoing.