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Friday, February 19, 2016

Plainfield BOE involvement in fraud scheme needs closer look

Board of Ed president Wilma Campbell, facing April elections,
cannot be happy with Plainfield District's involvement in fraud scheme.

The Plainfield
Board of Education has been implicated in a fraud scheme to which a Linden businessman pled guilty in federal court, according to a report in the Star-Ledger (see here).

Robert Dattilo, owner of Bayway Lumber, admitted to defrauding several agencies -- including the Plainfield school district -- by billing for more expensive merchandise than actually supplied, by substituting lower quality or deective merchandise, by billing for more units than actually supplied, and by bribing agency employees with "gifts" -- including sports event tickets, computer equipment and cameras -- and then inflating the invoices to recoup the cost of the "gifts."

He kept records of all the dealings in a ledger he referred to as "the bank." Invoices were sometimes inflated as much as 200 to 300 percent.

Plainfield school officials did not return phone calls from the Ledger, but the matter certainly merits closer investigation: When did the incidents occur? Were Plainfield school district employees knowingly involved and did they take "gifts" (which would be considered bribes under the circumstances)?

Did any Board members have knowledge of the scheme? (I recall member John Campbell demurring on a question about policy at last fall's candidate forum, saying he was more a "building and grounds" person. (Campbell is the husband of the BOE president.) Did he have knowledge of the fraud being perpetrated against the district's taxpayers?

The incident reminds me of the Red Circle sports equipment refurbishing scandal of a few years ago, in which Plainfield school district employees were also involved. That scam also involved employees accepting "gifts" (also including sports tickets and computers, as well as clothing) in exchange for knowingly authorizing payment of inflated or fictitious invoices. (See the US DOE's scathing report on that incident here.) Two school officials -- one from Elizabeth and another from Long Branch -- pled guilty in that case. Though Plainfield district employees were implicated, no charges were ever filed, nor is there knowledge of any administrative action being taken against any employee in the matter.

The question arises whether Plainfield school district officials -- and perhaps even Board of Ed members themselves -- were aware of the fraud and took part in covering it up.

This cannot be a happy development for Board President Wilma Campbell and her team as the April school board election draws near.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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