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Former BOE Business Administrator Sentenced to One Year Probation for Bid Rigging

Robert Berman, 55, of South Plainfield, pleaded guilty on Oct. 24, 2011

Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that the former business administrator for the Westfield School District was sentenced Friday for accepting $13,000 in windows and doors from a contractor he recommended be hired by the school district.

Robert A. Berman, 55, of South Plainfield, was sentenced to one year of probation by Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donohue in Union County. Berman pleaded guilty on Oct. 24, 2011 to an accusation charging him with third-degree conspiracy to make false representations for a government contract. He was required to forfeit his positions as business administrator and board secretary for the Westfield School District. He was also ordered to pay a $6,000 penalty into the State’s Anti-Trust Revolving Fund for anti-trust enforcement efforts.

In pleading guilty, Berman admitted that he accepted roughly $13,000 worth of window glass and doors installed at his home by Metropolitan Metal Window Company from 2004 to 2008. He further admitted that, as business administrator, he issued written recommendations that the Westfield Board of Education appoint Metropolitan as the district’s “contractor of record” and he approved contracts knowing that they contained false information.

Berman was charged in March 2011 as a result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, which also led to charges against a school district engineer and three contractors. The engineer and two of the contractors have pleaded guilty. Charges are pending against the third contractor, who is the co-owner of Metropolitan. Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello prosecuted the case and represented the State in court today. The investigation was led by Deputy Attorney General Militello, Sgt. Lisa Shea and Detective Michael Behar of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.

The school district engineer, Kenneth Disko, 48, of Mountainside, was the contracted engineer or engineer/architect on record for the Westfield, Tinton Falls and Scotch Plains-Fanwood school districts. Disko pleaded guilty on Oct. 12, 2011, before Judge Donohue to taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks from 2001 to 2010 on contracts he recommended that involved rigged bids and fraudulently inflated costs. His sentencing is scheduled for March 2. The State will recommend that Disko be sentenced to three to five years in state prison, pay a penalty of at least $50,000, and be barred from public contracts in New Jersey for 10 years.

Disko admitted that he knowingly prepared fraudulent quotes and estimates in connection with school district contracts, and directed contractors to inflate quotes and estimates. He admitted that he submitted those quotes and estimates to the Westfield, Tinton Falls and Scotch Plains-Fanwood school districts and recommended approval of the fraudulently bid contracts in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks from contractors.

On Dec. 1, 2011, two contractors pleaded guilty to rigging bids and inflating school contracts at the direction of Disko. Martin W. Starr, 45, of Cliffwood Beach, owner of Starr Contracting, and Stephen M. Gallagher, 51, of Cliffwood Beach, owner of East Commercial Construction, pleaded guilty to accusations charging them with third-degree false representations for a government contract before Superior Court Judge John S. Triarsi in Union County. They are also scheduled to be sentenced on March 2. Under their plea agreements, the state will recommend that each man be sentenced to up to 364 days in the county jail and a term of probation. The companies owned by Starr and Gallagher also pleaded guilty to the same charge. The individual and corporate defendants will be disqualified from public contracts for five years, and are jointly and severally liable for paying a $50,000 penalty into the Anti-Trust Revolving Fund.

In pleading guilty, Starr admitted that in 2009 and 2010, he prepared fictitious quotes from legitimate contractors without their permission and submitted them to Disko in order to appear to be the lowest bidder for contracts worth nearly $25,000 that were awarded to Starr Contracting by the Westfield and Scotch Plains-Fanwood districts.

Gallagher admitted that he helped Starr to obtain those contracts by preparing fraudulent and fictitious quotes and estimates for his own company and submitting them to Disko as higher bids than those submitted by Starr. Also, in connection with other contracts that were awarded to Gallagher’s company in the Westfield and Scotch Plains-Fanwood districts, Gallagher inflated quotes and the cost of work performed. The state’s investigation revealed that in return for the inflated contracts, Gallagher gave cash kickbacks to Disko.

Charges are pending against the third contractor, John Sangiuliano, 57, of Scotch Plains, co-owner of Metropolitan Metal Window Company, which provided the windows and doors to Berman. It is alleged that Sangiuliano, in bidding on contracts for the Westfield and Tinton Falls school districts, knowingly prepared fraudulent quotes at Disko’s direction bearing the names of other legitimate contractors, making the quotes higher than his own. It is also alleged that, at the direction of Disko, Sangiuliano knowingly inflated Metropolitan’s quotes and the cost of repairs for the contracts. In exchange for the inflated contracts, Sangiuliano allegedly gave kickbacks to Disko in excess of $36,000 in 2009 and 2010. The charges against Sangiuliano are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The investigation revealed that Disko also received over $44,000 in kickbacks from a prior owner of Metropolitan, now deceased, for contracts awarded from 2001 to 2004.

Denise Sherwood January 27, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Do I understand correctly? He got caught unlawfully accepting 13K in windows and only has to pay a 6K penalty along with 1 year probabtion and loss of his position? So....13K minus 6K = 7K ....interesting.
Gary McCready January 28, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Lots of things are hard to believe - like he would risk a job-for-life just for a bunch of windows, or maybe risk losing his pension. Wonder if he did?
Lisa Stern January 28, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Oh I think he did it, just for a lot more then 13k worth of windows...thats all he was caught doing, what was he doing that we didn't catch? I think that when you THINK you know someone you can't imagine them any differently then how they appear, unfortunately there is often a lot more below the surface,,,
Gary McCready January 30, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Lisa, Yeah, he used to be really well regarded as bringing projects in on-time and UNDER budget; now we know how he accomplished the latter. For a lot of good, nasty! comments regarding him and his lawyer, see the NJ.com story at http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/westfield_school_official_sent.html Read there his lawyers quote on it being a "victimless" crime; guess the lawyer does not consider NJ taxpayers to be victims - could really take off on that last concept!
Ghost of Nixon January 30, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Mr. Mcready and Ms. Stern-one should not throw stones. Sometimes good people make one mistake that winds up defining their lives (mine was watergate) The courts have spoken.- From what I hear Mr. Berman is a solid citizen- a good family man and his case is now closed and you should do the same with your mouth.
buzz January 31, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Ghost of Nixon. you are an idiot if you think Watergate was a mistake and can be forgiven. Unbelievable statement. Berman cheated the Westfield taxpayers and hence the children. What was cut form the budget that paid for the over charges he approved? A teacher, a sporting event, what? He was well compensated and was greedy.

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