By Mark Lagerkvist │ New Jersey Watchdog
Gov. Chris Christie has offered a judgeship to a state official who heads the agency investigating a pension scandal involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Christie’s running mate.
Christie submitted the nomination of Stephen J. Taylor for Superior Court judge to the state Senate last week. Taylor, 52, has been director of the Division of Criminal Justice since he was appointed by Christie in 2010.
DCJ began the criminal investigation in 2011 at the behest of a state pension board. Spokespersons for DCJ, Christie and Guadagno have declined to comment on the probe, now 21 months old.
Taylor’s nomination is the latest twist in the political soap opera surrounding an alleged $245,000 pension scheme and an upcoming gubernatorial election.
The case centers on false statements by Guadagno that enabled her aide to collect nearly $85,000 a year in state retirement pay in addition to his $87,500 annual salary, as first revealed by New Jersey Watchdog in 2010.
As Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, Guadagno hired Michael W. Donovan Jr., a retired county investigator, as the sheriff’s “chief of law enforcement division.” She announced the appointment in a memo to her staff. The sheriff’s official website subsequently identified Donovan as “sheriff’s officer chief,” supervising 115 subordinate officers and 30 civilian employees.
But Donovan faced a legal problem. As a sheriff’s officer chief — a position covered by the pension system — Donovan should have been required to stop receiving pension checks, plus resume his contributions to the state retirement fund.
So Guadagno lied about Donovan’s job title, enabling her chief to get two checks instead of just one. While double-dipping is generally legal in New Jersey, Guadagno’s actions raise questions of fraud and deception.
In county payroll records, the oath of office and a news release, Donovan was listed as the sheriff’s “chief warrant officer” — a similar sounding, but low-ranking position that’s exempt from the pension system. A chief warrant officer is responsible for serving warrants and other legal documents.
However, on Guadagno’s organizational chart, there was no chief warrant officer. Donovan was listed as chief of law enforcement.
Under state statute, “Any person who shall knowingly make any false statement or shall falsify or permit to be falsified any record or records of this retirement system … shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The state Police and Firemen’s Retirement System‘s board of trustees voted in May 2011 to call for a criminal investigation of the Donovan case — plus parallel instances involving John Dough, of Essex County, and Harold Gibson, of Union County.
Instead of entrusting the case to an independent prosecutor, the matter was referred to DCJ. It is conceivable the findings will never be released to the public, either before or after this year’s election.
Taylor worked on the Christie-Guadagno political campaign in 2009, before he was appointed as director of DCJ. Prior to that, Taylor worked under Christie as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s New Jersey office.
If confirmed by the Senate, Taylor would serve a seven-year term on the Superior Court bench in Morris County.
As DCJ director, Taylor receives an annual salary of $138,000. As judge, his pay would go up to $165,000 per year. During his first term on the bench, Taylor would collect $1.15 million.
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