Harish Bhanderi, 53, of Newtown, Pa., who previously was suspended without pay from his position as manager of the DOT Roadway Maintenance, Engineering and Operations Section, pleaded guilty to an accusation charging him with third-degree theft by deception before Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Lydon in Mercer County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of a term of probation. He must pay restitution of $19,905. He must forfeit his employment with the DOT and will be permanently barred from public employment. Bhanderi is scheduled to be sentenced on March 20.
Deputy Attorney General Mallory Shanahan prosecuted Bhanderi for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The case was referred to the Division of Criminal Justice by the DOT Office of the Inspector General. Bhanderi and a second DOT employee, Alkesh Desai, were charged by complaint on Oct. 7, 2014 with third-degree theft by deception. Desai is suspended from his DOT job as supervisor of the Drainage Bureau. The charge against Desai is pending.
In pleading guilty, Bhanderi admitted that he and Desai submitted timesheets indicating that they were entitled to emergency overtime pay for responding after hours to emergency roadway incidents. In reality, they were not responding to emergencies after hours, but were simply driving their state vehicles past sites where emergencies had occurred days or even weeks earlier. The state’s investigation revealed that Bhanderi submitted more than 100 false overtime claims totaling $19,905 between June 2013 and June 2014. Desai allegedly submitted more than 70 overtime claims totaling more than $15,000. The charge against Desai is merely an accusation and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“This type of deception and abuse of overtime pay drains public resources and is an affront to the taxpayers of New Jersey,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “The fact that Bhanderi is a manager makes his conduct all the more egregious.”
“This case reflects our commitment to work with the DOT to prosecute aggressively offenders who steal taxpayer money,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We are sending a message that overtime abuse by government employees will not be tolerated.”
“The Department of Transportation expects our employees to operate with integrity and this type of conduct is unacceptable,” NJDOT Inspector General Johanna Barba Jones said. “Through the excellent work of the NJDOT Internal Investigations Unit, the Department uncovered this abuse and referred the case to the Division of Criminal Justice. I am particularly grateful for the hard work of Investigator Robert Crusen and Chief of Investigations Tom Flanagan, and pleased we have an ongoing partnership with the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice to fight waste, fraud, and abuse of public funds.”
Detective Kiersten Pentony was the lead detective for the Division of Criminal Justice, assisted by Lt. Robert Stemmer, and Detectives Lee Bailey, Garrett Brown, Matthew Burd, Janine Buchalski and Thomas Page. Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the DOT Office of the Inspector General for their investigation and referral. The DOT OIG investigation was conducted by Chief of Investigations Thomas Flanagan and Investigator Robert Crusen, under the supervision of Inspector General Johanna Barba Jones.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free tip line 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities confidentially. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing.