By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
The New Jersey State Comptroller, with a duty to expose waste in government, has yet to investigate the widespread occurrence of double-dipping by public officials.
If he does, Comptroller Matthew Boxer could start with his own investigations division.
Investigator Rick Nuel receives $175,254 a year from the state — a $92,000 paycheck plus an $83,254 pension — New Jersey Watchdog found. In June 2011, Nuel retired at age 46 as a State Police captain.
One week later, Boxer hired Nuel as a special investigator for a unit “charged with detecting and uncovering fraud, abuse, waste and misconduct involving the management of public funds and the performance of government officers, employees and programs.”
It is another act in the follies of a state pension system that faces a $36-billion shortfall, yet allows Nuel and many other public workers to retire with fat pensions at relatively young ages, then return to the state payroll.
Nuel is slated to rake in $2.8 million from the State Police Retirement System by the time he reaches age 80, his statistical life expectancy. And for the foreseeable future, Nuel also will draw a near-six figure salary each year from the comptroller.
Former comptroller’s investigator David Stebbins enjoyed a similar deal. He received two state checks totaling $175,083 a year — $92,000 in salary plus an $83,083 pension. In January 2011, Boxer hired Stebbins 17 days after he retired as a State Police lieutenant at age 50. Earlier this year, Stebbins left the comptroller’s staff.
The Office of State Comptroller was quick to defend hiring Nuel and Stebbins.
“Our policy is to do what the law instructs, which is to hire the most qualified candidate available,” replied spokesman Pete McAleer in a written statement to New Jersey Watchdog.
McAleer did not respond to direct questions on whether the comptroller intends to review the prevalence of double-dipping in New Jersey and its impact on public pension funds, the state’s fiscal health and taxpayers.
New Jersey Watchdog investigations have exposed systemic double-dipping by numerous public officials — “retirees” who found ways to return to governmental payrolls and collect two paychecks instead of one. During the past year, the reports have revealed:
- Gov. Chris Christie‘s deputy chief of staff gets $218,740 a year from the state — a $130,000 salary plus an $88,740 pension. So far, Louis Goetting (pronounced “getting”) has received more than $1.1 million in retirement and severance pay, including two golden parachutes from public colleges that forced him to resign.
- State Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, is a “triple-dipper” who pockets $241,255 a year from public coffers — $49,000 as a legislator, $106,983 as a police academy dean and an $85,272 pension as a State Police retiree.
- On the state Attorney General Office’s staff, 23 salaried investigators and supervisors received $1.5 million per annum from state pensions. Most were retired for just one day before returning to the attorney general’s payroll with a different job title.
In New Jersey, 125 law enforcement retirees are on the payrolls of state and county prosecutors. In addition to their salaries, they received $8.6 million in retirement pay.
Forty-four top county cops — 16 sheriffs and 28 undersheriffs — collected $3.25 million a year in pension pay in addition to their salaries. On average, each received $182,238 a year — $108,355 in salary plus $73,883 in retirement checks.
A pension scheme involving one county cop has placed Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Christie’s second-in-command, in apparent legal jeopardy.
As Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, Guadagno made false statements to enable her chief officer, Michael Donovan, to pocket nearly $85,000 a year in retirement pay while drawing an $87,500 annual salary.
State authorities began a criminal investigation in May 2011 at the request of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System’s Board of Trustees. Spokespeople for Christie, Guadagno and the attorney general have refused comment.
Guadagno is former deputy director of the attorney general’s Division of Criminal Justice, which is supposed to investigate the case. Despite his lieutenant governor’s involvement, Christie has not assigned a special investigator or independent prosecutor.
The Office of the State Comptroller was created by statute in 2007. The following year, Boxer began a six-year term as an appointee of then-Gov. Jon Corzine.
‘“The Comptroller’s Office exists to bring greater efficiency and transparency to the operation of all levels of New Jersey’s government … , ” Boxer said after taking an oath of office. “Simply put, this state cannot afford to have its governmental entities wasting money that comes from the hard work of the taxpayers of this state.”
Boxer now reports to Christie and serves as a member of the governor’s cabinet.