June 12, 2019

Investigation Continues Into Town Property Misuse

By Anne Levin

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the Princeton Police Department are continuing to investigate allegations of misuse of municipal property in Princeton, specifically within the town’s Sewer Operating Division.

“This is an active criminal investigation. We are, as we speak, gathering information on a number of allegations,” Police Chief Nicholas Sutter said Tuesday morning. “In our experience, this is probably the first time we’ve dealt with any allegations like this, certainly at this site.”

First reported online by Planet Princeton, it is alleged that private contractors have paid municipal employees to use the town’s River Road sewer department site to dump dirt and asphalt. Among other allegations under investigation is a charge that a $300,000 jet truck, and municipal workers, have been used to help a contractor install new sewer pipes at a residence.

One municipal employee was terminated last week as a result of the initial investigation. On Monday, Municipal Administrator Marc Dashield declined to release that individual’s name because of his involvement in the investigation.

Mayor Liz Lempert called the allegations “extremely upsetting,” adding, “Once we started the initial investigations internally and found there was enough credible evidence to explore further, I asked Marc (Dashield) to bring in the prosecutor’s office. It’s important to have that participation, so that the public can fully trust the outcome. Any violation of public trust is completely unacceptable.”

According to the published reports, a driver employed by the town admitted that he was dumping dirt removed from the site of the Mary Moss Playground renovation, located at John and Lytle streets. Contractors are responsible for getting rid of dirt from job sites. But it is alleged that about 40 truck loads were dumped at the River Road site in exchange for $75 a load. The municipality paid a contractor to renovate the park last year, and dirt was allegedly dumped at the River Road site last summer.

It is also charged that a contractor with keys to the River Road facility entered the site and loaded a truck with stone that had been purchased by the town, then used it for a private project.

According to the published reports, municipal employees have also alleged that bulldozer parts were bought with taxpayer dollars and then given to a contractor in exchange for cash, piping materials have allegedly been given to a developer of teardown properties in exchange for cash, and municipal gas was allegedly used for personal purposes by an employee.

In a press release issued soon after the story appeared, Dashield referred to the allegations related to use of the municipal jet truck for sewer pipe installation. “The sewer operating division staff occasionally use the jet truck to clear sewer laterals to relieve sewer backups into residential homes,” he wrote. “This service is extended to all residents.”

Asked Monday if they were aware of any misuse of municipal property, Dashield and Lempert said they were not. “We were completely taken by surprise,” Lempert said. “Everybody was.”