A former Passaic councilman who was hired by Gov. Murphy even though he served federal prison time for taking bribes has resigned amid a firestorm of controversy.
At the same time, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal -- a former federal prosecutor himself -- said he's ordered an investigation into how Marcellus Jackson was able to get the job in the first place.
Other people with criminal records who've been hired by the state will be forced to resign, as well, and steps will be taken to prevent it from happening again, the attorney general said.
In a statement issued early Friday evening, Grewal said:
"It is my understanding that Marcellus Jackson has tendered his resignation to Commissioner Repollet of the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE).
"Last week, I directed the Office of Public Integrity & Accountability (OPIA) to begin reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Jackson’s employment with NJDOE."
Grewal created the OPIA to "combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions" a week before Jackson's hiring came to light.
Jackson, 48, took a plea deal after the federal government charged him with taking $26,000 in bribes from undercover agents before voting to give the front company a contract. He served nearly two years in prison before being released in 2011.
After becoming governor, Murphy hired Jackson to be a special assistant in the Office of Civic and Social Engagement under education commissioner Lamont Repollet. The job paid $70,000 a year.
Murphy defended the hiring while suggesting the state should consider hiring more people with criminal records.
"I hope we see a lot more of this, that somebody made a mistake, they admitted it, they repented, they paid their price," the governor said. "We have to get these folks back up on their feet in society and this state."
Among those reacting to Jackson's hiring were state Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, of River Vale, who introduced a measure that would keep public officials convicted of corruption from holding public service jobs again.
In the release he issued Friday, Grewal said that no one in state or county government asked a judge to enter an order preventing Jackson from holding public office, even though state law requires it.
"In 2007, Mr. Jackson was convicted of a federal offense that involved his public office. As a result, he is subject to N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2, the New Jersey law that requires his permanent disqualification from public office in New Jersey.
"Under N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2, the Attorney General or a County Prosecutor must make an application to the court seeking forfeiture of public employment when the underlying conviction involves a federal crime or a crime committed in another state.
"The statute does not allow for any discretion in such cases.
"A forfeiture application was not made in Mr. Jackson’s case and, as a result, there was no order or other record in the state’s files indicating that he was precluded from public office in New Jersey. In the coming days, OPIA intends to seek an order that Mr. Jackson has forfeited his right to public employment in New Jersey.
"It is not clear why such an application was not made in 2007, shortly after Mr. Jackson’s conviction.
"In the course of investigating this matter, OPIA also learned that there may be other individuals who are subject to N.J.S.A 2C:51-2, but for whom a forfeiture application was also never filed. OPIA is currently reviewing these cases and intends to file additional forfeiture applications, where appropriate, once that review is complete.
"In addition, OPIA will review why such applications were not made in Mr. Jackson’s case and in other cases, and will implement controls to ensure future compliance with the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2."
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