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News

All For $20,000: New Brunswick Meter Reader Who Took Bribes To Cut Bills Gets 5 Years In Prison

Union County Courthouse, Elizabeth
Union County Courthouse, Elizabeth Photo Credit: Union County

A former New Brunswick Water Department meter reader who took payoffs to help reduce customers’ water bills by as much as 90% was sentenced Friday to five years in state prison.

Guillermo Quinones, 51, of Somerset joins two former co-workers who also got five-year state prison terms: Joseph DeBonis, a 58-year-old former senior account clerk from Toms River, and William Ortiz, 59, of North Brunswick, a former meter reader.

Their scheme “cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Thomas Eicher, director of the state Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

Ten residents accused of paying bribes to have their water and sewer bills reduced entered pre-trial intervention and must pay full restitution, among other conditions. An 11th pleaded guilty to a bribery-related charge and got probation.

Among them, Quinones, Ortiz and DeBonis collected a total of $20,000 to illegally reduce water and sewer bills for roughly 50 different properties over a period of several years, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.

“Quinones and Ortiz would solicit bribes from customers and then arrange for bill reductions through DeBonis, who had access as a senior account clerk to the city’s water and sewer database,” Grewal said.

“After Quinones and Ortiz received bribes, they provided DeBonis with information about the customer’s properties, and DeBonis modified the customer’s water and sewer bills to dramatically reduce the charges,” the attorney general said.

DeBonis “took a share of the bribe payments in return for falsifying the bills,” he said.

Quinones was sentenced in Superior Court in Elizabeth on Thursday for an earlier guilty plea to official misconduct.

He forfeited his job with the water department and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey under his plea agreement with prosecutors.

The sentences secured against Quinones and his accomplices “reflect our resolve to investigate and aggressively prosecute public employees who unlawfully use their positions for personal gain,” Grewal said.

Deputy Attorney General Samantha Keleher prosecuted Quinones, DeBonis and Ortiz with former Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson following an investigation by Grewal’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).

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