A former employee of the Hazlet Township and Piscataway School Districts was arrested yesterday by the state police, and charged with stealing approximately $565,772 from both districts.
According to police, former Transportation Manager/Supervisor Michelle Pumilia, 39, of Union Beach authorized payments to fictitious bus companies for transportation services that were never provided to the districts, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said today.
She worked in Hazlet Township School District between July 2005 and August 2008.
Pumilia was arrested by NJ State Police detectives yesterday on a complaint-summons charging her with second-degree theft by unlawful taking or disposition.
Her mother, Virginia Lisay, 68, who lives with her in Union Beach, was also arrested yesterday on the same charge.
Pumilia allegedly signed off on numerous purchase orders in the two school districts, authorizing the issuance of hundreds of thousands of dollars in district checks to the fictitious bus companies.
Lisay allegedly endorsed many of the school district checks before they were deposited into a bank account. The alleged thefts totaled approximately $229,202 in the Hazlet District and $336,570 in the Piscataway District.
The two women were released without bail after being processed. The charges stem from an ongoing investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau and the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau North Unit. The state investigation began in April.
The state attorney general's office said that the alleged theft in Hazlet was detected after Piscataway noticed something unusual, said spokesman Peter Aseltine. The Hazlet investigation "was prompted by irregularities or inaccuracies in Piscataway," he said. Hazlet did conduct their own independent audits, he said.
Superintendent Bernard F. Bragen Jr. issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying that once it was informed of the ongoing investigation, Hazlet hired an outside auditing firm to conduct an independent audit of the entire transportation department.
"We will continue to work with the Attorney General’s Office in their prosecution of this individual to the full extent of the law," he said.
School Board President Stephen Willig said the board has filed insurance claims to recuperate the money.
Pumilia was employed as the “Transportation Manager” for the Hazlet Township School District from 2005-2008. Board minutes say that in June 2006, she was paid $30,798.
Beginning in 2006, Pumilia allegedly entered a new transportation vendor called “VL Transport” or “Vic Langly” into the district’s computer system.
She allegedly provided the district with a false state business registration certificate for the company.
During the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years, Pumilia allegedly authorized a total of approximately $229,202 in purchase orders and payments to VL Transport and Vic Langly.
The state’s investigation revealed that the company and the individual were fictitious. In addition, there is no evidence that any transportation services were provided to the district in connection with the payments that were made.
Pumilia was subsequently employed as the “Supervisor of Transportation” for the Piscataway Township School District from September 2008 through June 2012. During that period, Pumilia allegedly authorized a total of approximately $336,570 in purchase orders and payments to another purported bus company and proprietor of the company.
The state’s investigation again revealed that the company and the individual were fictitious, and there is no evidence that any transportation services were provided to the district in connection with the payments made.
Law enforcement agencies were alerted after an employee in the Piscataway School District discovered suspicious invoices and both school districts found irregularities during internal audits.
The Division of Criminal Justice filed a forfeiture action yesterday afternoon in Superior Court in Monmouth County and obtained a court order to seize four bank accounts belonging to the defendants and six motor vehicles, including a classic 1970 Chevrolet Corvette. It is alleged that the accounts were utilized in the criminal scheme and the vehicles were purchased, at least in part, with stolen funds.
The charges are the result of an ongoing investigation led by Detective Sgt. Fritz Frage and the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption North Unit, and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Manis of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
Deputy Attorney General Nina Bonner and Detective Melissa Calkin are handling the forfeiture action for the Division of Criminal Justice.
Attorney General Chiesa thanked the Hazlet Township School District and the Piscataway Township School District for their full cooperation in the state’s investigation. He also thanked the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for their valuable assistance and cooperation.
In a press release Thursday, Attorney General Chiesa said, “We allege that this school administrator corruptly stole more than half a million dollars – taxpayer money that should have instead helped these two school districts provide a better education for their young students in this difficult economic climate. We’re aggressively targeting officials who betray the public’s trust and steal taxpayer dollars.”
Stephen J. Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, was quoted saying, “With millions of dollars being paid each year to outside vendors by New Jersey school districts, we must remain vigilant to ensure that the payments represent legitimate expenses for necessary goods and services."
“It’s alarming when we find overbilling by unscrupulous vendors, but it’s even more troubling to find embezzlement by a school district insider involved in the contracting process, as alleged here.”
State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said, “There were many people affected by this alleged theft. The taxpayers whose hard earned money funded the transportation to the districts and the young children who depended on these valuable services. Due to the efforts of the State Police Official Corruption Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice, she will be held accountable for her actions.”
The second-degree theft charge carries a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The complaints are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because the defendants are charged with an indictable offense, this matter will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.
Attorney General Chiesa and Director Taylor noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice web page at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing. All information received will remain confidential.