OUT OF COMPTROL: STATE WATCHDOG HIRES ‘DOUBLE-DIPPERS’ TO INVESTIGATE WASTE IN NJ GOVERNMENT Investigative Report by Mark Lagerkvist

Posted on July 16, 2012

The New Jersey State Comptroller — with a duty to expose waste in government — has yet to investigate the widespread occurrence of double-dipping by public officials.

If he does, Comptroller Matthew Boxer could start with his own investigations division.

Investigator Rick Nuel receives $175,254 a year from the state — a $92,000 paycheck plus an $83,254 pension — New Jersey Watchdog found. In June 2011, Nuel retired at age 46 as a state police captain.

One week later, Boxer hired Nuelas a special investigator for a unit “charged with detecting and uncovering fraud, abuse, waste and misconduct involving the management of public funds and the performance of government officers, employees and programs.”

Comptroller Matthew Boxer

It is another act in the follies of a state pension system that faces a $36 billion shortfall, yet allows Nuel and many other public workers to retire with fat pensions at relatively young ages, then return to the state payroll.

Nuel is slated to rake in $2.8 million from the State Police Retirement System by the time he reaches age 80, his statistical life expectancy. And for the foreseeable future, Nuel also will draw a near-six figure salary each year from the comptroller.

Former comptroller’s investigator David Stebbins enjoyed a similar deal. He received two state checks totaling $175,083 a year — $92,000 in salary plus an $83,083 pension. In January 2011, Boxer hired Stebbins 17 days after he retired as a state police lieutenant at age 50. Earlier this year, Stebbins left the comptroller’s staff.

The Office of State Comptroller defended hiring Nuel and Stebbins. “Our policy is to do what the law instructs, which is to hire the most qualified candidate available,” replied spokesman Pete McAleer in a written statement to New Jersey Watchdog.

McAleer did not respond to direct questions on whether the comptroller intends to review the prevalence of double-dipping in New Jersey — and its impact on public pension funds, the state’s fiscal health and taxpayers.

New Jersey Watchdog investigations have exposed systemic double-dipping by numerous public officials — “retirees” who found ways to return to governmental payrolls and collect two paychecks instead of one. During the past year, the reports have revealed:

A pension scheme involving one county cop has placed Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Christie’s second-in-command, in apparent legal jeopardy.

As Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, Guadagno made false statements to enable her chief officer, Michael Donovan, to pocket nearly $85,000 a year in retirement pay while drawing an $87,500 annual salary.

The double-dipping scheme was first reported by New Jersey Watchdog in 2010 — and gained national attention two months ago with an article published by NBCNews.com.

State authorities began a criminal investigation in May 2011 at the request of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System’s Board of Trustees. Spokespeople for Christie, Guadagno and the attorney general have refused comment.

Guadagno is former deputy director of the attorney general’s Division of Criminal Justice, which is supposed to investigate the case. Despite his lieutenant governor’s involvement, Christie has not assigned a special investigator or independent prosecutor.

The Office of the State Comptroller was created by statute in 2007. The following year, Boxer began a six-year term as an appointee of then-Gov. Jon Corzine.

‘“The Comptroller’s Office exists to bring greater efficiency and transparency to the operation of all levels of New Jersey’s government … , ” said Boxer after taking an oath of office. “Simply put, this state cannot afford to have its governmental entities wasting money that comes from the hard work of the taxpayers of this state.”

Boxer now reports to Christie and serves as a member of the governor’s cabinet.

Posted under New Jersey, New Jersey Watchdog.

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