|TRENTON – A former top executive of Birdsall Services Group (BSG) pleaded guilty today on the eve of trial to corporate misconduct for his role in a criminal scheme in which more than $1 million in corporate political contributions were illegally made through employees of the firm to evade New Jersey’s pay-to-play law.
Thomas Rospos, 64, of Belmar, N.J., formerly the executive vice president of BSG and its second largest shareholder, pleaded guilty today to a charge of third-degree tampering with public records or information before Superior Court Judge James Den Uyl in Ocean County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to three years in state prison. Rospos must waive the presumption against incarceration under state sentencing guidelines for a third-degree offense committed by a defendant with no felony record. Rospos must pay $150,000 to the state, representing forfeiture of the political contributions that he made on behalf BSG that were reimbursed by the firm. He will be debarred for 10 years from personally bidding on any public contracts in New Jersey or holding an interest of 5 percent or greater in any company that bids for such contracts. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 13.
Before the plea agreement was reached with Rospos, the court this week began the process of screening jurors for his trial, with an expectation that a jury would be selected by next week. One week ago, on Feb. 18, Howard Birdsall, 72, of Brielle, N.J., the former CEO and largest shareholder of BSG, pleaded guilty to second-degree misconduct by a corporate official. He faces a recommended sentence of four years in prison and must forfeit $49,808 to the state. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 22.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony A. Picione, Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Mallory Shanahan are prosecuting the case and took the guilty plea today from Rospos.
“Within one week, we have taken guilty pleas from the two top executives of Birdsall Services Group, both of whom face prison sentences for overseeing a scheme to make illegal political contributions and stack the deck in their favor in bidding for public engineering contracts,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “With this case, we have issued a warning that we will come down hard on any corporations and corporate leaders who engage in criminal schemes to try to skirt New Jersey’s pay-to-play law.”
Birdsall Services Group – an engineering firm formerly based in Monmouth County that now is out of business – pleaded guilty on June 13, 2013 to charges of first-degree money laundering and second-degree making false representations for government contracts. As a result of its plea, BSG paid two major criminal penalties: a $500,000 public corruption profiteering penalty and a $500,000 anti-money laundering profiteering penalty. In each instance, the penalty was the maximum amount authorized by law. BSG also paid the state $2.6 million to settle a civil forfeiture action filed by the Attorney General’s Office in connection with the criminal case.
The charges against Rospos, Howard Birdsall and BSG were contained in a March 26, 2013 indictment, which also charged five other executives and shareholders. The charges stemmed from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, which found that the defendants allegedly conspired to avoid the restrictions of New Jersey’s Pay-to-Play Act by disguising illegal corporate political contributions as personal contributions of firm employees.
Another of the indicted defendants, Scott MacFadden, 61, of Brick, N.J., the former chief administrative officer of BSG, pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 to a charge of third-degree misconduct by a corporate official. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to up to 364 days in jail as a condition of a term of probation. He also must pay $30,000 to the state, representing forfeiture of the political contributions he made that the firm reimbursed. MacFadden is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Den Uyl on June 3. The charges against the other individual defendants named in the indictment are pending.
A former employee of the marketing department of BSG, Philip Angarone, 43, of Hamilton (Mercer County), N.J., the former marketing director, pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme before the indictment was returned and is awaiting sentencing.
All of the remaining defendants who are charged in the indictment face first-degree counts of conspiracy and money laundering, as well as other charges. The first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, and the money laundering counts also carry fines and penalties of up to $1 million. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Under the alleged scheme, instead of Birdsall Services Group making corporate political contributions to campaigns and political organizations that would disqualify it from public contracts awarded by certain government agencies, shareholders and employees of the firm made personal political contributions of $300 or less, which are deemed unreportable. Multiple personal checks were bundled together at Birdsall Services Group and sent to the appropriate campaign or political organization. The shareholders and employees were then illegally reimbursed by Birdsall Services Group, directly or indirectly, through added bonus payments, and the firm falsely omitted the illegally reimbursed contributions in documents filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) and with government agencies that awarded the firm engineering services contracts. The scheme continued for more than six years and involved more than $1 million in contributions.