TRENTON – A senior engineer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) and an alleged accomplice were arrested on charges that they solicited a railroad company to fraudulently inflate the cost of a state-funded railroad repair project by approximately $700,000 and pay them $325,000 in bribes, Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced today.
The railroad company alerted the Division of Criminal Justice regarding the alleged plot and cooperated in the state’s investigation.
According to Taylor, Gaudner B. Metellus, 31, of Philadelphia, Pa., a senior engineer for DOT, and Ernest J. Dubose, 30, of Boston, Mass., were arrested late yesterday by detectives from the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. They were charged by complaint with official misconduct and attempted theft by deception, both second-degree crimes. The two men are being held in the Morris County jail with bail set for each at $100,000.
“We charge that this senior engineer for DOT brazenly violated the public trust,” said Dow. “He and his co-defendant allegedly solicited a railroad company to conspire in a scheme to bill the state hundreds of thousands of dollars for fictitious rail repairs. This was a case of the fox minding the henhouse, because Metellus was responsible for monitoring rail projects to ensure that grant funds were properly spent.”
“The conduct of this public official was outrageous,” said Taylor. “We charge that he and his accomplice took $325,000 in bribes as their cut in this fraudulent scheme. That is one of the largest bribes alleged in state history. Our investigation is ongoing.”
Metellus and Dubose allegedly solicited representatives of the Morristown & Erie Railway, Inc., a shortline freight railroad operating in Morris and Essex Counties, to engage in a conspiracy to inflate an existing application for state grant funds from approximately $700,000 to $1.4 million in connection with a project to rehabilitate a railroad bridge in Roseland.
Metellus and Dubose allegedly proposed that the company submit false invoices to the state for rehabilitation work that would never be performed. They allegedly demanded that the company split the fraudulently obtained grant funds with them. Metellus was responsible for confirming the need for repair work and inspecting completed work in connection with certain DOT grants.
On Aug. 12, company officials secretly audiotaped a meeting that the CEO of Morristown & Erie and another employee held with Metellus at the company’s offices in Morristown, in which Metellus allegedly described the fraudulent scheme. The company contacted the Division of Criminal Justice the following day. The company cooperated in the state’s investigation, recording additional conversations in which the two defendants allegedly discussed the scheme. The state also obtained emails allegedly sent by Metellus about the scheme.
On Aug. 23, Metellus and Dubose met with representatives of the railroad company in their offices in Morristown and allegedly received two company checks made payable to Dubose in the amounts of $10,000 and $315,000. The defendants allegedly instructed company representatives to make the checks payable to Dubose as a purported “consultant” on the project. In reality, Dubose had no knowledge or skills that would enable him to act as a consultant for the project.
The $10,000 check was subsequently deposited into a bank account in Dubose’s name. The $315,000 check was postdated to Nov. 5, 2010, allegedly at the direction of Metellus, who indicated that the company would receive state grant funds by that time.
Detective Sgt. David Salzmann, Detective Michael Behar, Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan and Deputy Attorney General Perry Primavera conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Detective Nicole Leo of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office provided assistance in filing the charges.
Because the charges are indictable offenses they will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.
Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of $150,000. If convicted of the official misconduct charge, Metellus would face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, including five years without possibility of parole. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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