TRENTON – A former administrator at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has pleaded guilty to accepting an expensive gift from a contractor to whom he steered numerous university contracts, Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced. The contractor pleaded guilty in October.
According to Taylor, Frank X. Watts, 59, of Oxford, the former director of the physical plant at UMDNJ, pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree official misconduct before Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan in Morris County. The charge was contained in a March 31, 2009 state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
In pleading guilty, Watts admitted that he accepted a gift from the contractor of a sun room, worth approximately $15,000, that was built around a large wooden deck at his home in 2002. The state’s investigation revealed that the contractor also paid for the $2,000 deck. Watts further admitted that he hired the contractor for numerous UMDNJ contracts.
Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Watts be sentenced to four years in state prison. He must pay a penalty of $17,000, representing the value of the gifts, and he will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
The case was investigated by the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, which referred it to the Division of Criminal Justice in May 2007. Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan prosecuted the case and took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice.
“By accepting an expensive gift from this contractor, Mr. Watts put his personal interest ahead of the public interest and undermined the integrity of the government contracting process he administered,” said Dow. “We will not tolerate public officials who unlawfully use their positions for personal gain.”
“This case should serve as a wakeup call for government officials who think favoritism and gifts have a place in public contracting,” said Taylor.
The contractor, Daniel Cesario, 51, of East Hanover, pleaded guilty on Oct. 21 before Judge Manahan to third-degree misconduct by a corporate official. His company, Cesario Construction Inc., also pleaded guilty to third-degree misconduct by a corporate official.
Cesario admitted that he paid for the sun room at Watts’ house in exchange for Watts helping him to secure contracts at the university. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Cesario be sentenced to a term of probation conditioned on him serving up to 364 days in the county jail. He and his company must pay $15,980 in restitution to the state, representing alleged overbilling on UMDNJ contracts, and they will be excluded from state government contracts in New Jersey for five years. Cesario did not admit the overbilling in pleading guilty. The state will also recommend that the company be ordered to pay a $45,000 fine.
Watts is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 21. Cesario and Cesario Construction are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 14, 2011.
State investigators determined that Cesario received nearly $2.9 million from UMDNJ for work that was steered to Cesario Construction by Watts during the last seven years that he was director. Cesario Construction did a variety of work for the university, including construction, plumbing, snow removal and HVAC maintenance.
As director of the physical plant, Watts had oversight over the hiring of contractors. Investigators found that Watts frequently did not follow proper procedures for public contracts. Cesario Construction was repeatedly hired for jobs on an emergency basis, without engaging in a bidding process, even when there was no emergency.
Watts retired from UMDNJ in June 2006 while this matter was under investigation.
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