Gaudner B. Metellus, 35, of Philadelphia, Pa., a suspended senior engineer for the DOT, pleaded guilty today to a second-degree charge of official misconduct before Superior Court Judge Robert J. Gilson in Morris County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Metellus be sentenced to three years in state prison, including a two-year period of parole ineligibility. He must forfeit his job and will be permanently barred from public employment. He also will forfeit all of his state pension and retirement benefits. Metellus was suspended without pay following his arrest in September 2010.
Deputy Attorneys General Veronica Allende and Jane Khodarkovsky took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Sentencing for Metellus is scheduled for March 20.
In pleading guilty, Metellus admitted that he and an alleged accomplice, Ernest J. Dubose, 34, of Boston, Mass., solicited representatives of a company that operates a shortline freight railroad in New Jersey to engage in a scheme to fraudulently inflate the cost of a project to rehabilitate a railroad bridge in Roseland by more than $700,000. He further admitted that they solicited $325,000 in bribes from the company. Dubose, who was indicted with Metellus on June 29, 2011, continues to face charges of conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery, attempted theft by deception and false contract payment claims. He is scheduled to go on trial in March.
“Metellus treated his authority over public grants like a license to steal, soliciting huge bribes from a railway company and falsely inflating the cost of a publicly financed project by nearly three-quarters of a million dollars,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Fortunately, the company reported him and Metellus will be spending multiple years in prison, instead of spending his corrupt windfall.”
“Corruption involving publicly funded projects can be very costly to the state, as evidenced by the large sums involved in this bribery scheme,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’re working hard to guard public funds by rooting out this type of official misconduct. We urge anyone with information about public corruption to contact us confidentially.”
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.
Metellus solicited representatives of the railroad company, the Morristown and Erie Railway, Inc. (M&E), to engage in a scheme to fraudulently inflate the cost of a project to rehabilitate the Eagle Rock Railroad Bridge in Roseland from about $693,000 to $1,421,510 in connection with an application under the State Rail Freight Assistance Grant Program. Metellus allegedly proposed that the company submit false invoices for rehabilitation work that would never be performed and demanded that it split the state grant funds with them. Metellus was responsible for confirming the need for repair work and inspecting completed work in connection with the grant program. Officials of the railroad company alerted the Division of Criminal Justice about the alleged plot and cooperated in the state’s investigation. The two men were originally arrested and charged in the scheme on Sept. 23, 2010.
On Aug. 12, 2010, company officials secretly audiotaped a meeting that the CEO of the railroad company and another employee held with Metellus at the company’s offices in Morristown, in which Metellus 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 Metellus, and allegedly Dubose, discussed the scheme.
On Aug. 23, 2010, 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 enabled him to act in that capacity. Rather, he allegedly acted as the middle man to accept the bribes from M&E, disburse them between himself and Metellus, and insulate Metellus from detection.
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, at the direction of Metellus, who indicated that the company would receive state grant funds by that time.
The charges against Dubose are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Former Detective Sgt. David Salzmann, Detective Michael Behar, Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan and former Deputy Attorney General Perry Primavera conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Detective Richard Lane and Deputy Attorney General Heather Taylor assisted in the prosecution.