Suspended Westfield School Official Pleads Guilty To Accepting Gifts From Vendor

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(Image courtesy of the NJ Attorney General's Office)

TRENTON – A suspended business administrator for the Westfield School District pleaded guilty today to accepting $13,000 in windows and doors from a contractor that he recommended be hired by the school district, Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced.

According to Taylor, Robert A. Berman, 55, of South Plainfield, pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donohue in Union County to an accusation charging him with third-degree conspiracy to make false representations for a government contract. Berman was suspended from his positions as business administrator and board secretary for the Westfield School District after he was charged in this case in March. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Berman be sentenced to a term of probation. He must pay a $13,000 penalty – representing the value of the materials and labor he received from the contractor – into the state’s Anti-Trust Revolving Fund for anti-trust enforcement efforts.

Berman must forfeit his positions with the school district and will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. He must cooperate fully in the state’s ongoing investigation and prosecution.

In pleading guilty, Berman admitted that he accepted roughly $13,000 worth of window glass and doors installed at his home by Metropolitan Metal Window Company from 2004 to 2008. He further admitted that, as business administrator, he issued written recommendations that the Westfield Board of Education appoint Metropolitan as the district’s “contractor of record.”

Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice. Donohue scheduled sentencing for Jan. 27, 2012.

Berman was charged in March as a result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, which also led to charges against a school district engineer and three contractors. The engineer, Kenneth Disko, 48, of Mountainside, pleaded guilty on Oct. 12 to taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks from 2001 to 2010 on contracts he recommended that involved rigged bids and fraudulently inflated costs. The state will recommend that Disko be sentenced to three to five years in prison, pay a penalty of at least $50,000, and be barred from public contracts in New Jersey for 10 years.

Disko was the contracted engineer or engineer/architect on record for the Westfield, Tinton Falls and Scotch Plains-Fanwood school districts. He admitted that he knowingly prepared fraudulent quotes and estimates in connection with school district contracts, and directed contractors to inflate quotes and estimates. He admitted that he submitted those quotes and estimates to the three school districts and recommended approval of the fraudulently bid contracts in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks from contractors.

The charges against the three contractors for making false contract payment claims are pending. They will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.

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