TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a former purchaser for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) pleaded guilty today to violating departmental rules in order to award contracts to a vendor who had befriended him. The vendor charged much more than other vendors, costing the state an additional $93,059 in total on purchases authorized by the defendant.
Ricardo Noce Jr., 62, of Collingswood, N.J., pleaded guilty today to an accusation charging him with second-degree misapplication of entrusted property or property of government before Superior Court Judge Frederick J. Schuck in Camden County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to three years in state prison. He must pay restitution of $93,059 to the state. Noce, who currently is suspended, must forfeit his job and will be permanently barred from public employment. Sentencing is scheduled for May 24.
Deputy Attorneys General John A. Nicodemo and Jonathan Gilmore prosecuted Noce and took the guilty plea for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA). The NJDOT’s Office of the Inspector General (NJDOT-OIG) initially investigated Noce and referred the case to the OPIA.
As a buyer in DOT’s Operations Unit-South in Cherry Hill, Noce was responsible for purchasing equipment and supplies for DOT’s Southern Region. The investigation by the OPIA and NJDOT-OIG revealed that on over 30 occasions from December 2013 to November 2017, Noce awarded purchase contracts to his friend in violation of a rule requiring competitive bidding for purchases over $1,000. Noce structured the orders so each contract was under the threshold, splitting large orders for identical items – such as work gloves, for example – into multiple contracts, each with a price under $1,000. This practice, which is specifically prohibited, enabled him to avoid the rule requiring that he solicit quotes from three bidders for such contracts and award the contract to the lowest bidder. The favored vendor routinely charged the state much more than other vendors charged for the same items. In total, the vendor charged the state an estimated $93,059 over prices offered by other vendors in contracts awarded by Noce, including but not limited to the contracts where Noce violated the competitive bidding rule.
“The rules governing state contracting are designed to prevent this type of favoritism and waste,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We are sending a clear message that we have zero tolerance for government employees who betray the public’s trust to serve their own interests and the interests of their friends.”
“We will continue to work with the DOT to safeguard the integrity of government contracts and the interests of New Jersey taxpayers,” said OPIA Director Thomas J. Eicher. “We urge anyone who has information about fraud in government contracting or other official misconduct to contact us confidentially at 844-OPIA-TIPS.”
“The New Jersey Department of Transportation does not tolerate the misapplication of state property. I commend NJDOT’s Office of the Inspector General for its discovery of these crimes and appreciate the investigative support and prompt action from the Division of Criminal Justice. Waste, fraud and abuse in the expenditure of public funds will not be tolerated,” stated New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
Attorney General Grewal commended the attorneys and detectives in the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability who handled the investigation and prosecution. He thanked the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General for its referral and valuable assistance.
The Attorney General’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips from the public leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted on the Attorney General’s website at: www.nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.
Andrew Butchko, Esq., Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., Somers Point, N.J.