ESSEX COUNTY SHERIFF’S CHIEF SCAMS $860,000 FROM PENSION – by Mark Lagerkvist
Essex County Sheriff’s Chief John Dough is literally rolling in dough, thanks to a decade-long double-dipping scheme.
Dough has cheated a state pension fund out of $860,000, according to a New Jersey Watchdog investigation.
In addition to his $114,000 annual salary from Essex, Dough draws $77,500 a year from the state Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS). The key to the scam is a strategic fudging of his job title that has allowed him to trick the pension system.
When Dough retired in 2000 as a deputy chief of the Newark Police Department, Sheriff Armando Fontoura hired Dough as his new chief officer. As sheriff’s chief, Dough should have been required to re-enroll in PFRS and forfeit pension checks until he leaves the job, according to state rules.
Instead, Dough improperly collected $763,000 in pension payments. In addition, he should have contributed 8.5 percent – around $97,000 – of his new earnings to the PFRS fund.
To fool pension officials, Essex County personnel records listed Dough as “chief warrant officer” – a different and lesser position that is exempt from PFRS. That charade allowed Dough to turn the pension fund into his personal jackpot, collecting both retirement checks and paychecks for more than 10 years.
The fact that Dough really functions as the sheriff’s chief – and not a lower-ranking chief warrant officer – is documented in public records:
- Dough identified himself as “Chief of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office” in a 2001 statement to a Congressional committee.
- Under oath in 2007, Dough testified as “Chief of the Sheriff’s Department” to the state Public Employment Relations Commission,
- According a state Civil Service Commission decision in 2009, Dough was the “Chief, Sheriff’s Office,” who supervised and outranked a Sheriff’s Officer Captain.
- The Essex County Sheriff’s official web site proclaimed: “As Chief of the Department, Chief Dough is responsible for the day to day operations of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.”
When confronted, Sheriff Fontoura and his aides acted like suspects with bad alibis.
Public Information Officer Kevin Lynch flatly denied Dough is chief, blaming the “confusion” on a “mistake” in content he posted on the sheriff’s web site. A revised web page now lists Dough as “Chief Warrant Officer” with different job responsibilities – but Dough is still listed ahead of Essex’s undersheriffs.
Fontoura refused an on-camera interview with News 12 New Jersey, which cooperated with New Jersey Watchdog on this investigation.
“The fact is there were times when he (Dough) functioned as the acting head of the department,” the sheriff told News 12’s Walt Kane in a phone conversation. “He put out memos and signed papers and he signed them as chief. And that’s what he does…Bottom line is that the title I hired him is chief warrant officer.”
Fontoura also claims by hiring Dough with the title of chief warrant officer instead of sheriff’s chief, Essex County saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. “My position is that him being here and all the work that he does saves the taxpayers money,” said the sheriff.
The scheme is similar to one involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, first exposed by a New Jersey Watchdog investigation last October. When Guadagno was Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, she hired retired county investigator Michael W. Donovan as her sheriff’s chief. But in payroll records, Donovan was listed as chief warrant officer. As a result, Donovan collects a $85,000 a year pension along with his $87,500 annual salary.
The PFRS could force Dough and Donovan to repay more than $1 million to the pension fund. According to the rules: “If you return to employment, are eligible for membership, and you fail to re-enroll, you will be required to reimburse the retirement system for the amount of all retirement benefits…In addition, you will be required to pay pension contributions in the form of back deductions…”
Dough would owe the PFRS in excess of $860,000 – $763,000 in pension benefits, plus $97,000 for back deductions he should have paid into the fund. Donovan would owe $245,000 – $227,000 in pension refunds and $18,000 in back deductions.
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