TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that Kevin Bannon, former executive director of the Mercer County Park Commission, was indicted today on charges that he used his official position to divert thousands of dollars that should have been paid to the county to a nonprofit he controlled, Friends of Mercer County Parks, and also arranged unauthorized benefits for himself, his family and others at county expense, including VIP concert tickets and free golf at county golf courses.
The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau obtained a state grand jury indictment charging Bannon, 60, of Lawrenceville, N.J., with six counts of official misconduct (2nd degree), one count of pattern of official misconduct (2nd degree), one count of misapplication of entrusted property and property of government (2nd degree), one count of theft by unlawful taking (3rd degree), and one count of theft of services (3rd degree). The official misconduct and pattern of official misconduct charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, with a mandatory term of five years of parole ineligibility.
The indictment stems from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, which began when the division learned that Bannon allegedly was running a nonprofit, Friends of Mercer County Parks (“Friends”), on county time with county employees, and allegedly was diverting funds to the nonprofit that should have been paid to the county. Bannon ran the nonprofit with his brother, whom he allegedly hired as a project manager for the park commission so that the brother could run the nonprofit. The brother is not charged in the investigation. Bannon was terminated from his position as executive director of the Park Commission after the investigation became public.
The investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice revealed six different schemes through which Bannon allegedly diverted money illegally from the Mercer County Park Commission to the Friends nonprofit, or through which Bannon allegedly arranged for unauthorized benefits at county expense for himself, his family, and others close to him involving Park Commission facilities and events. The Park Commission is a semi-autonomous public agency funded by the county. Bannon led the Park Commission as executive director, but he was subject to supervision by its Board of Commissioners. The Friends nonprofit was formed for the stated purpose of supporting and promoting the Park Commission. However, by allegedly diverting funds unlawfully to the Friends nonprofit, which was run solely by Bannon and his brother, Bannon controlled those funds without needing anyone’s approval.
“We allege that Bannon corruptly used the Friends organization to divert county funds and expand his power over park facilities and events, while also conferring unauthorized benefits like free golf and VIP concert tickets on himself, his family and his inner circle,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Local taxpayers ultimately foot the bill when officials engage in the type of illegal power grab and abuse of public resources alleged here. We won’t tolerate it.”
“Bannon fooled many into thinking that the Friends nonprofit and the Parks Commission were, in essence, the same organization, so they didn’t suspect when asked to pay the nonprofit money that should have gone to the county,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “But we allege that Bannon illegally used the nonprofit as a slush fund to increase his power and influence.”
Deputy Attorneys General Mallory Shanahan and Charles Wright presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Attorney General Porrino commended all of the detectives and attorneys who handled the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau Central Squad, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Anthony Picione.
Bannon is charged with six separate counts of official misconduct related to the following six alleged schemes:
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The second-degree charges of official misconduct and pattern of official misconduct also carry a mandatory minimum term of parole ineligibility of five years. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Mercer County, where Bannon will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.
Attorney General Porrino and Division Director Elie Honig urged anyone with information about public corruption to contact the Division of Criminal Justice at its toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ to report the information confidentially. The public can also log on to the Division webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.
Follow the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office online at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube. The social media links provided are for reference only. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office does not endorse any non-governmental websites, companies or applications.