• Watkins Brashear admits taking $999,000 in kickbacks
  • Four employees or contractors have been charged in U.S. probe

The former executive director of a nonprofit that managed 35,000 acres of watershed for Newark, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to accepting $999,000 in kickbacks for awarding work to vendors and contractors.

Linda Watkins Brashear, 56, admitted Monday in federal court in Newark that she took kickbacks from 2007 to 2013 from more than a dozen people who offered printing, marketing, cleaning, media, political and interior design services. She pleaded guilty under a plea agreement to one count of wire fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return and faces as long as 17 1/2 years in prison.

Watkins Brashear ran the Newark Watershed Conversation & Development Corp., which filed for bankruptcy in January. She is the fourth employee or contractor charged with corruption at the entity, which got almost $10 million a year to manage the city’s reservoirs and water-treatment plant.

‘No Oversight’

A report last year by the state comptroller’s office said that from 2008 to 2011, “the NWCDC recklessly and improperly spent millions of dollars of public funds with little or no oversight by either its board of trustees or the city.” That report said Watkins Brashear secretly wrote checks to herself and squandered money in high-risk margin trading.

Under the plea deal, Watkins Brashear admitted that she authorized payments to contractors and vendors “knowing that, in numerous instances, no work had been performed,” according to court documents. She also admitted that she failed to disclose the proceeds of the fraud and kickback scheme on her U.S. tax returns filed from 2009 to 2012.

Last month, trustees of the NWCDC sued 18 people in bankruptcy court blaming them for mismanagement, including former Newark mayor Cory Booker, who left the city to join the U.S. Senate in October 2013.

The trustees named three groups of defendants: officers and employees of NWCDC who misappropriated funds, including Watkins Brashear; accountants and other professionals who failed to prevent or curtail the waste; and trustees like Booker who “simply ignored or failed to exercise their fiduciary duties to the NWCDC and the city of Newark,” according to court documents. Booker has denied wrongdoing and asked a judge to dismiss him from the case.

The case is U.S. v. Watkins, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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