Harish Bhanderi, 53, of Newtown, Pa., was sentenced today by Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Lydon in Mercer County to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of three years of probation, with the jail sentence to be served at the end of the term of probation. He paid full restitution of $19,905. Bhanderi pleaded guilty on Jan. 9 to an accusation charging him with third-degree theft by unlawful taking, admitting that he and a co-defendant, Alkesh Desai, fraudulently collected emergency overtime pay. As a result of his guilty plea, Bhanderi forfeited his job as manager of the DOT Roadway Maintenance, Engineering and Operations Section and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
Desai, 63, of Bensalem, Pa., was sentenced by Judge Lydon on July 17. Desai also was sentenced to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of three years of probation, with the jail sentence to be served at the end of the term of probation. He was ordered to pay $14,882 in restitution. Desai was indicted in February and pleaded guilty on May 12 to an amended charge of third-degree theft by unlawful taking. As a result of his guilty plea, Desai forfeited his job as a DOT engineer. He had been acting as the supervisor of the Drainage Bureau. He is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
Deputy Attorney General Mallory Shanahan prosecuted the defendants and handled today’s sentencing hearing 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.
The state’s investigation revealed that Desai and Bhanderi submitted timesheets indicating 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 two men typically drove to the sites together. The investigation revealed that Bhanderi submitted more than 100 false overtime claims totaling $19,905 between June 2013 and June 2014. Desai submitted 71 false overtime claims totaling $14,882 between June 2013 and June 2014. In addition, during the same period, Desai used a state vehicle to make 96 trips to Philadelphia, sometimes making round trips to the city twice a day to drive his daughter to and from college. Personal use of a state vehicle is prohibited.
“It’s outrageous that these DOT supervisors were driving around after hours in a state vehicle for the sole purpose of dishonestly racking up overtime hours and pay,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We will aggressively prosecute any state workers who fraudulently enrich themselves at the expense of New Jersey taxpayers.”
“These sentences should serve as a deterrent to any other government workers who would consider stealing public funds by lying about their overtime work,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge anyone with information about this type of abuse to contact us confidentially, so that those responsible can be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.”
“The Department of Transportation does not tolerate waste, fraud or abuse of public dollars,” NJDOT Inspector General Johanna Barba Jones said. “Through the prompt action of our internal investigative team and our effective partnership with the Division of Criminal Justice, we promptly removed this cancerous influence before it could diminish the Department’s culture of integrity.”
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 confidentially.