More than $80,000 stolen in Jersey City payroll inflation scheme

Department of Recreation payroll clerk pleads guilt to theft by unlawful taking

Jersey City resident Angela Rivera pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge Vincent Militello in Hudson County on Jan. 27.
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Jersey City resident Angela Rivera pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge Vincent Militello in Hudson County on Jan. 27.

On Jan. 27, a former Jersey City Department of Recreation payroll clerk pleaded guilty to stealing roughly $80,000 by fraudulently inflating payroll hours for relatives and associates, according to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Jersey City resident Angela Rivera, 41, who was a payroll clerk and senior analyst for the Jersey City Department of Recreation, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge Vincent Militello in Hudson County.

Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Rivera be sentenced to three years in state prison. She will be required to pay full restitution to the city and will be permanently barred from public employment.

Her sentencing is scheduled for April 9.

Thousands stolen

According to the Office of the Attorney General, from Dec. 31, 2016 through Feb. 23, 2018, Rivera stole $80,553 by inflating payroll hours for certain former part-time and seasonal employees who are her relatives or personal associates.

She altered timekeeping spreadsheets for those employees, causing paychecks to be issued that reflected additional hours the employees did not actually work.

A number of those paychecks were deposited into Rivera’s personal account after she forged the employees’ signatures to endorse the checks over to her.

Other checks were deposited into accounts controlled by the employees named on the checks.

Deputy Attorney General Samantha Keleher prosecuted the case and represented the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) in the plea proceedings.

Attorneys and detectives in the OPIA Corruption Bureau investigated the case after receiving a referral from the Jersey City Department of Recreation.

When the recreation department initially learned of the alleged misconduct, they completed an internal audit and referred the matter to OPIA.

“The City of Jersey City initiated this investigation by providing the Attorney General’s office the initial information,” said city’s spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. “We have had zero tolerance for corruption, and we are thankful for the work that the AG’s office did here.”

“As a payroll clerk, Rivera was trusted to maintain accurate employee records and ensure that city funds were properly spent, but instead she falsified records to steal tens of thousands of dollars,” Grewal said. “This type of public corruption can be very costly to taxpayers, as this case demonstrates, and we’re determined to hold those who commit such crimes accountable.”

Four relatives and associates of Rivera who allegedly took part in the scheme were previously charged in the investigation; 24-year-old Jersey City resident Ashley Cuevas, 41-year-old Bayonne resident Alfred Coriano, 42-year-old Jersey City resident Gabriel Villanueva, and 34-year-old Jersey City resident Carlos Huertas.

The court admitted them into the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program, subject to payment of full restitution.

Each was charged by summons on Jan. 6, 2020, with theft by unlawful taking for allegedly depositing paychecks into accounts they controlled that they knew reflected work hours that had been fraudulently inflated by Rivera.

If they successfully complete PTI, the charges against them will be dismissed.

Office of Public Integrity and Accountability

“The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability is working hard to deter this type of dishonest conduct and enforce a culture of integrity in government,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “We urge anyone with information about official misconduct and abuse of public resources to contact us confidentially. We’ll pursue all leads to ensure that those responsible are investigated and prosecuted.”

Keleher prosecuted the case for OPIA under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee and Counsel to the Director Anthony Picione.

Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions.

In December 2019, the Attorney General issued a directive codifying OPIA and making it a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office.

That directive established the OPIA Corruption Bureau as the lead office within the Department of Law & Public Safety for the investigation and prosecution of state criminal violations involving corruption and abuse of public trust.

OPIA has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption.

The AG’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption.

For more information go to http://nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.