State Comptroller’s Office: lack of oversight led to abuse of funds at Newark Watershed Corporation

TRENTON – The State Comptroller’s office released an investigative report on Wednesday that claims a lack of oversight at the now-shuttered Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) led to a fiscally irresponsible atmosphere and the waste of public money.

Among the assertions made in the 45 page-report is that the agency’s executive director, Linda Watkins-Brashear, wrote unauthorized payroll checks, provided no-bid contracts to personal associates and covertly authorized investments in an account that lost more then $500,000 in public funds.

The NWCDC board dissolved itself by vote in March 2013, one week after after the State Comptroller’s office led interviews that unearthed unauthorized check writing and risky investment activity by Watkins-Brashear, according to the State Comptroller’s office. At the same dissolution meeting, the agency’s board authorized a severance package for Watkins-Brashear worth more than $450,000, even though evidence demonstrated that she was not eligible for this amount because she resigned, the State Comptroller’s office stated.

Before the agency disbanded, the City of Newark appointed the management of its water assets through service contracts worth approximately $10 million a year. The State Comptroller’s office’s investigation also found that the City of Newark awarded the NWCDC with no-bid service contracts between 2008 and 2011 and then failed to oversee those contracts.

“When a government entity decides to delegate an essential service to a vendor, it still maintains the responsibility to monitor that vendor and ensure that the public’s money does not get wasted,” said Melissa Liebermann, the Office of the State Comptroller’s chief of staff. “This report documents an egregious and yet preventable abuse of public funds that was allowed to continue unfettered for years because of poor oversight.”

Newark Mayor Luis Quintana could not be immediately reached for comment about the findings of the State Comptroller’s office’s investigative report about the alleged activities at the NWCDC.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who was the mayor of Newark between 2008 and 2011, issued a statement about the contents of the report.

“The malfeasance alleged in the comptroller’s report is infuriating, and any wrongdoing should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Booker said. “For years, I led a public battle to reform Newark’s water system and improve oversight and accountability, but those efforts were repeatedly blocked. When serious concerns regarding wrongdoing at the Watershed were raised early last year, I took immediate action to dissolve it and bring its operations under the direct control of the city.”

The findings of the report have been referred to law enforcement authorities.

State Comptroller’s Office: lack of oversight led to abuse of funds at Newark Watershed Corporation