Nearly a decade after details began trickling out highlighting widespread, multi-million dollar corruption at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation, the final defendant in the conspiracy was sentenced to federal prison Thursday.
Janell Robinson, a former Newark police officer, was sentenced to nine years after being found guilty last year on charges of conspiracy to defraud the watershed corporation, two counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion affecting interstate commerce.
U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton also sentenced Robinson to three years supervised release and ordered her to pay restitution of $288,950 to the watershed corporation.
Robinson’s attorney declined to comment on the sentence.
During a two-week trial last February, prosecutors described how Robinson was one of the co-conspirators who gave kickbacks to the former director of the Newark Watershed Conservation, totaling nearly $1 million in exchange for no-work contracts and fraudulent payments. Robinson took in nearly $300,000 during the conspiracy, authorities said.
All nine defendants charged in the case have either pleaded guilty or have been convicted.
The Newark Water Group, a community group that first brought the corruption to public light in 2011, previously called the scheme “one of the biggest and widest-ranging scandals Newark has ever experienced.”
“Today’s sentencing of Janell Robinson seemingly brings an end to the criminal investigations of a massive fraud and kickback scheme operating inside the Newark watershed that lasted for years and resulted in more than a million dollars of city money stolen or misappropriated,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.
The watershed corporation, which provided water to half a million New Jersey residents, closed in 2013, but came under intense public scrutiny after the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office released a report in 2014 that found the public agency was extorting millions of public dollars and making illegal payments.
At the helm of the conspiracy was Linda Watkins-Brashear, the former top official of the watershed corporation, who prosecutors said hired contractors who did little or no work but received inflated payments in exchange for kickbacks. She was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty in 2015 to charges of of conspiracy and filing a false income tax return for soliciting around $1 million in bribes.
Watkins-Brashear received a lesser sentence after agreeing to cooperate against her co-conspirators, including Robinson.
On the first day of Robinson’s trial, Watkins-Brashear was transported in from federal prison and detailed how Robinson ran a phony security company that received nearly $300,000 through no-work contracts and padded invoices. In exchange, Robinson paid Watkins-Brashear a cut of the money, she testified.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie F. Schwartz said during the trial that Robinson’s security company, Protected and Secured Services, LLC, was a “fraudulent business that (Robinson) set up to steal from the watershed.”
The watershed paid Protected and Secured Services more than $5,000 every single month for more than a year, including multiple months where Robinson’s company received more than $20,000 from the corporation, even though it only had one employee who worked 16 hours per week, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Robinson paid Watkins-Brashear around $50,000 in kickbacks, while keeping $200,000 for herself, which she used to to pay off her credit card, lease a Mercedes-Benz, help her other struggling business ventures and for personal expenses, like remodeling her kitchen.
Robinson took the stand to defend the security company, saying it did all the work her company billed the watershed corporation for.
After deliberating for around two hours, the jury delivered the guilty verdict, effectively ending the the case centered on the massive kickback scheme that defrauded the watershed of millions.
The Newark Water Group is now asking Acting U.S. Attorney Rachel Honig to release the office’s files related to their investigation, as the group said unanswered questions remain, including if then-Newark mayor and current U.S. Sen Cory Booker knew about the corruption.
According to court documents, Watkins-Brashear told the FBI that a Booker ally instructed vendors to make campaign contributions to Booker and his political friends during his mayoral tenure, according to previous reporting by NJ Advance Media. Booker, who was not charged in the criminal probe, has repeatedly said he was unaware of the corruption.
“The (Newark Water Group) believes there are still many questions about what occurred inside the NWCDC that have not yet been answered or were left unaddressed during the probes,” the statement says. “They remain outstanding to this day.”
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