Ex-Jersey City official who pleaded guilty to accepting $300 bribe loses pension appeal

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A former Jersey City official who pleaded guilty to accepting a $300 bribe back in November 2017 won’t be able to collect his pension after the appellate court upheld a previous ruling on Monday.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

” … We conclude that defendant’s taking of a bribe in exchange for a favorable and unjustified change in a property’s tax description is a profound breach of the public trust such that a total pension forfeiture is not a disproportionate result,” Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division Judges Jack Sabatino, Thomas Sumners, and Arnold Natali ruled.

According to the decision, Bennie Anderson began employment with the City of Jersey City in October 1978 and began working as an inspector in the Tax Assessor’s Office in 1990.

When he retired, his annual pension payment would have come out to $60,173.67 a year, however, pleading guilty to obstruct, delay and affect interstate commerce by extortion under color of official right changed that.

“In December 2012, a witness cooperating with law enforcement told defendant that he owned property currently zoned as a two-unit dwelling. He requested that defendant change the tax description of the property to reflect that the home was a three-unit dwelling,” the decision says.

“Defendant agreed to change the tax description without requiring approval from the Jersey City Zoning Board and accepted a $300 bribe for doing so. Defendant was promptly charged and pled guilty to a single count of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). He was sentenced consistent with his negotiated plea bargain to a two-year probationary term, with five months of home confinement, and fined $3,000.”

After his guilty plea in November 2017, the city reduced his annual pension to $47,918.76.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office then filed a claim seeking Anderson’s complete pension and benefits forfeiture, which was successful.

While Anderson argues in his appeal that this was “excessive,” given that the bribe he accepted was only $300, the appellate court disagrees.

” … When defendant took the $300 bribe, he significantly and materially breached the public’s trust. Indeed, honest, hardworking taxpayers and property owners have the right to expect, require, and demand that public servants perform their jobs honorably,” the ruling says.

“That certainly is true with respect to zoning decisions which necessarily affect the health and safety of the tenants and owners of the affected properties,” later saying accepting the bribe was a “colossal amount … when measured against the damage to the public trust caused by that illegal act.”