A botched investigation by the New Jersey Treasury is allowing a Monmouth County sheriff’s executive – and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, his former boss – to get away with a double-dipping scam that has cheated a state pension fund out of nearly a quarter-million dollars.
Ignoring evidence to the contrary, state officials concluded Michael W. Donovan Jr. was employed as “chief warrant officer,” according to a letter from Florence J. Shepherd, acting director of the Treasury’s Division of Pension and Benefits.
Records obtained by New Jersey Watchdog clearly show that Donovan was actually the Sheriff’s Chief Officer in charge of law enforcement. That evidence includes:
- An Aug. 21, 2008 memo written and initialed by then-Sheriff Guadagno, introducing Donovan as the “new Chief of the Law Enforcement Division.”
- Ten organization charts for the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, covering the period of Sept. 22, 2008 through Feb. 13, 2011. Each identifies Donovan as the “Chief” in charge of law enforcement. (Links to each chart appear at the end of this article.)
- A Sheriff’s Office web page describing Donovan’s duties as “Sheriff’s Chief,” including the department’s day-to-day activities.
While the job titles of sheriff’s chief officer and chief warrant officer sound similar, the difference is defined in state statute. Another difference is the money this charade has cost the state pension system, as first exposed by a New Jersey Watchdog investigation in October 2010.
Donovan succeeded former Chief Sheriff’s Officer John J. Cerrato, assuming all of his duties, according to departmental records. But because Donovan is listed as chief warrant officer in payroll records, Donovan has been able to collect $85,000 a year in benefits as a retired county investigator, plus an $87,500 annual salary for his job with the sheriff.
Chief warrant officer is considered a temporary position exempt from the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS). In contrast, a sheriff’s chief officer is covered by the PFRS. Under state pension rules, Donovan should have been required to re-enroll in the plan, which would have stopped his retirement checks.
To date, Donovan has improperly received $227,000 in pension payments. In addition, he should have paid $18,000 in contributions to the plan since returning to work in 2008.
On behalf of the PFRS, the Treasury could sue to recover $245,000 from Donovan. But first, the agency would have to face facts that implicate Guadagno – and would likely embarrass the Christie Administration.
The Feb. 11 letter from Acting Director Shepherd was sent in response to an inquiry from Anthony Wieners, president of the New Jersey State Policeman’s Benevolent Association. Wieners could not be reached for comment.
Three days later, Donovan was given a new job title – plus a raise. As Monmouth County’s new undersheriff in charge of law enforcement with essentially the same responsibilities, he now receives a $90,125 annual salary – plus nearly $86,000 a year in state pension checks.
Here are the links to all 10 of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office organizational charts listing Donovan as chief of the law enforcement division, not as chief warrant officer:
The original New Jersey Watchdog investigation is online at http://newjersey.watchdog.org/2010/10/19/1286/