TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that the former licensed operator of the New Brunswick and Milltown public drinking water systems was sentenced to prison today for submitting false water purity testing data to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Edward O’Rourke, 60, of Brick, N.J., was sentenced today to three years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Alberto Rivas in Middlesex County. O’Rourke pleaded guilty on Dec. 17 to an accusation charging him with second-degree corruption of public resources and third-degree violations of the Safe Water Drinking Act. O’Rourke was sentenced to three years in prison on each of the charges, with the sentences to run concurrently. He was required to surrender any DEP licenses and is permanently barred from public employment.
Deputy Attorney General Michael King prosecuted the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. The investigation was conducted for the Environmental Crimes Unit of the Specialized Crimes Bureau by Sgt. Steven J. Ogulin. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) referred the case to the Division of Criminal Justice after auditing by the DEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed discrepancies in testing data.
In pleading guilty, O’Rourke admitted that between April 2010 and December 2012, he repeatedly and intentionally submitted false water purity testing data to the DEP in order to hide the fact that he had failed to properly oversee the testing of drinking water samples on behalf of New Brunswick and Milltown. While the investigation did not reveal any evidence that water distributed to the public ever contained coliform bacteria, O’Rourke’s failure to correctly test and accurately report water purity information to the DEP undermined regulators’ ability to oversee the monitoring of drinking water pumped to the public during the relevant 33-month period.
“Tens of thousands of residents relied on O’Rourke as the man responsible for ensuring that their drinking water was safe, and he not only failed to properly test the water, he lied again and again to cover up his failures,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “O’Rourke exhibited a remarkable lack of concern for the health of the people of these two communities.”
“Because of O’Rourke’s dishonesty, there was no opportunity for anyone to remedy his lapses and make sure that the residents in New Brunswick and Milltown were getting pure, safe water,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Whether he committed his crimes for convenience or to protect his job, O’Rourke clearly gave little thought to the welfare of the people he served.”
“New Jersey sets a high bar when it comes to monitoring the safety of drinking water,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin. “Anyone who deviates from these standards will be held fully accountable. It is critical that water providers maintain and provide accurate records of water system operations and water quality data. Anything less is an unacceptable violation of the public trust. Maintaining the integrity of our potable water supply system is vital in New Jersey.’’
Coliform bacteria analysis for both the New Brunswick and Milltown drinking water systems was handled through New Brunswick’s certified environmental laboratory. In addition to being licensed operator for the two systems, O’Rourke was the manager of the New Brunswick laboratory. The investigation revealed that O’Rourke and his staff were not consistently following proper testing protocols and therefore they frequently did not have samples and data that were compliant with federal and state testing requirements. Rather than disclosing that the testing data was not compliant, O’Rourke falsified data and information in order to appear to be compliant.
The state’s investigation revealed that during the relevant period, O’Rourke submitted reports on well over 200 samples that contained one or more types of falsified data capable of invalidating the entire result. Examples of false information and data that were submitted by O’Rourke included: (1) false testing dates designed to cover up the fact that water samples were not tested within the approved 30-hour timeframe for a valid test; (2) false information that a sample was taken at an approved sampling location within the water system when it actually was taken at an unapproved location; (3) false data that was fabricated because a particular sample was never tested at all; and (4) data that was obtained using a testing method for which the lab was not certified but that was falsely reported as having been obtained using a certified method.