Two South Jersey Transportation Authority Board Members Charged After Allegedly Withholding Payment from Contractor as Political Retribution

Ongoing corruption investigation leads to official misconduct charges against Board Vice Chairman Christopher Milam and Commissioner Bryan Bush

For Immediate Release: June 14, 2024

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
Office of Public Integrity and Accountability
– Drew Skinner, Executive Director

For Further Information:

Media Inquiries-
Dan Prochilo
OAGpress@njoag.gov

TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) today announced criminal charges have been filed against two members of the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) Board of Commissioners, after they allegedly colluded to block payments to an engineering firm as political retaliation in connection with a feud between a South Jersey Democratic Party leader and a Mercer County Commissioner.

The Vice Chairman of the SJTA Board, Christopher Milam, 45, of Sewell, New Jersey, and Board Commissioner Bryan Bush, 52, also of Sewell, have been charged with official misconduct (2nd degree), conspiracy to commit official misconduct (2nd degree), and perjury (3rd degree).

An ongoing criminal investigation by the OPIA Corruption Bureau determined Milam and Bush unlawfully conspired to prevent the payment of invoices submitted to the board by a civil engineering firm for political purposes, effectively halting compensation to the company for work it had already completed for the authority.

It is alleged that, following behind-the-scenes discussions, Milam and Bush cast votes during three SJTA Board meetings in 2023 to prevent the authority from making legitimate payments due to the engineering firm, which the pair was allegedly targeting for political reasons. As alleged, the defendants knew they did not have a legitimate basis to cast votes denying the payments.

“As this investigation continues, today we are sending a clear message: No matter how connected or powerful you are, if there is evidence suggesting that you have used your position and taxpayer dollars for political retribution or gain, we will hold you accountable,” said Attorney General Platkin. “And if you lie to a grand jury, as alleged here, to cover up your conduct, you will answer for that, too. For people to have trust in government, they cannot feel that the well-off and well-connected play by a different set of rules than everyone else. The law cannot treat people differently. My office will continue to hold powerful people and powerful institutions accountable.”

“The evidence revealed that these defendants misused the power they held as members of the SJTA Board to exact revenge on this particular firm and one of its staff members,” said Drew Skinner, Executive Director of OPIA. “Their subsequent attempts to offer seemingly legitimate, but allegedly fictional, reasons for voting against the payments represents a further violation of the public trust. Abusing public office in order to get political payback — and trying to cover it up — will not be tolerated. Anyone who abuses the power entrusted to them by the public for political retaliation should know they will face serious consequences.”

The investigation further found that on each occasion, Milam’s and Bush’s votes opposing approval of that compensation prevented the Board from reaching the five votes needed for approval. As a result, during those three months, the firm’s invoices for services that had been rendered were not approved and remained unpaid, with additional invoices piling up each month.

According to the investigation, the votes on the payments stemmed from a political feud. Prior to their votes, Milam sent a text message to Bush on February 8, 2023 that stated, “They cut South Jersey in Mercer County so now we vote no.” Milam is active in Democratic Party politics and in February 2023 was selected chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee for Washington Township, in Gloucester County. An employee of the engineering firm is a Mercer County Commissioner who had defied instructions from a South Jersey Democratic Party leader to remain neutral in the Democratic primary for Mercer County Executive. Evidence gathered during the investigation indicated that the decision to withhold payment from the firm — agreed upon by Milam and Bush during private conversations — was allegedly retaliatory, to punish the Mercer County Commissioner’s failure to comply with the leader’s neutrality directive.

The ongoing investigation also revealed that Milam and Bush additionally committed perjury, giving false testimony under oath before the state grand jury in Trenton in March 2024. The investigation determined that the defendants falsely claimed they voted against the payments because of various purported issues with the engineering firm — including an error made by the firm, concerns with one of its projects, and possible double billing by the company — that were not raised until after the defendants began voting no. But, as alleged, their text message shows they voted no because “they cut South Jersey in Mercer County.”

This remains an ongoing criminal investigation, and anyone who believes they may have information about the offenses alleged is urged to contact the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability at 1-844-OPIA-TIP (1-844-674-2847) and ask to speak to Detective Ryan Vivarelli. Corruption tips can be reported anonymously at any time using the OPIA Report Corruption Form found here.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Additionally, second-degree official misconduct requires a five-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment without eligibility for parole. Third-degree charges can result a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

The charges and allegations are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Deputy Attorneys General Michael Grillo and Amanda Nini are prosecuting the case for OPIA, under the supervision of OPIA Corruption Bureau Deputy Chief Andrew Wellbrock, Corruption Bureau Chief Jeffrey J. Manis, and OPIA Executive Director Skinner.

Defense counsel

For Bush: Robert Agre of Agre & St. John, Haddonfield, New Jersey
For Milam: Ari Schneider of The Busch Law Group, Metuchen, New Jersey