• Donald Bernard admits taking $956,948 from contractors
  • Four have been charged in U.S. probe of bankrupt entity

A former manager for a nonprofit that oversaw Newark, New Jersey’s water supply pleaded guilty to corruption charges as U.S. prosecutors investigate the bankrupt entity’s activities while Cory Booker was mayor.

Donald Bernard Sr., 68, a consultant and manager of special projects at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. admitted in federal court that he took $956,948 in kickbacks for himself and his boss in exchange for helping award work to contractors. Giacomo “Jack” DeRosa, 59, also pleaded guilty in Newark to laundering part of $85,000 he gave to Bernard from funds he received for roofing work at NWCDC.

Bernard pleaded guilty to two counts of facilitating bribery in violation of the Travel Act and filing a false tax return, while DeRosa pleaded guilty to money laundering. Bernard faces as many as 13 years in prison, and DeRosa faces as many as 20 years.

Last month, the former executive director, Linda Watkins Brashear, admitted 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 faces as long as 17 1/2 years in prison.

NWCDC, which got almost $10 million a year to manage the city’s 35,000-acre watershed, reservoirs and water-treatment plant, filed for bankruptcy last January.

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.

Cory Booker

Last month, trustees of the NWCDC sued 18 people in bankruptcy court blaming them for mismanagement, including Booker, who left for the U.S. Senate after winning an October 2013 special election.

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 state investigation began after a group of city residents known as the Newark Water Group exposed much of the wrongdoing.

“Today’s pleas are a sad commentary, not only on the level of corruption in Newark but also of city oversight,” said Guy Sterling, a spokesman for the group. “The NWCDC’s board not only included a former mayor as its chairman but also two council members. That this could have occurred under their noses is unfathomable.”

The cases are U.S. v. Bernard, 14-cr-00710, and U.S. v. DeRosa, 14-cr-00711, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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