Ex-city engineer also sentenced as lawmen praise exec for cooperation
Long before three Monmouth County mayors were hauled from their homes in handcuffs, and before officials from Hoboken to Trenton to Asbury Park were convicted for taking cash-stuffed envelopes, came a New Jersey corruption scandal identified by a single word.
It splashed into the state's lexicon four years ago, with news that employees of United Gunite Construction Inc., an Irvington firm, had bribed officials statewide for contracts and were cooperating with the FBI.
Federal prosecutors later won nine guilty pleas in the case. Former Paterson Mayor Martin Barnes went to prison, as did Essex County Executive James Treffinger.
United Gunite is now gone, but the fallout continues. Yesterday, a federal judge in Newark sentenced the company's former president, William "Steven" Carroll to six months of house arrest, citing what he said was "extraordinary" cooperation with prosecutors.
He also sentenced a former Paterson city engineer, Nicholas Giella, to four months in prison and four months of house arrest for accepting a free trip from a Gunite salesman.
Both men had been background figures in the scandal. But court documents filed by prosecutors and his attorney in recent days showed that Carroll's role was larger than previously disclosed.
Working with the FBI, Carroll secretly recorded conversations with Barnes and with Camden Public Works Director Robert Gibson in 2000 that led each man to plead guilty, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Carroll also spent hundreds of hours helping agents sift through United Gunite's records to identify the graft paid to public officials. And he provided "significant information" about people who were never charged -- or identified -- in the case.
"Steve's cooperation sparked a series of investigations into official corruption in New Jersey that continues to this date," his attorney, Avraham Moskowitz, wrote in a sentencing memo.
Prosecutors didn't go that far, but openly praised Carroll as one of their most helpful informants.
"The government couldn't have asked for Mr. Carroll to do anything more than what he did," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nelson Thayer told the judge yesterday. "Mr. Carroll's cooperation was exceptional."
Carroll, 53, became injected into the scheme when his father died in 1998. The elder Carroll had conspired with Jerry Free, Gunite's chief salesman in New Jersey, to bribe public officials for emergency sewer and repair contracts. Gunite is a cement-like substance.
Free and Giella also pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. Free, who awaits sentencing, admitted that he had, for years, showered cash, free trips, designer suits, female companions, gifts or campaign contributions on public officials. Giella took one such gift -- a free family vacation to Disney World.
Carroll's defense attorney argued that he was plunged into a pay-to-play culture and to reject it would have been "a death knell" for the company. Pleading for a probationary sentence, Moskowitz said also said Carroll had once battled substance addictions, but had been a sober, church-going family man for the past three years.
"Simply put, your honor, Mr. Carroll is not the same person he was five years ago," Moskowitz said.
Carroll, who now lives in Georgia, told U.S. District Judge William Bassler, "I am truly very sorry to all the people who have been affected by my wrongful actions."
Bassler said that rarely during his 15 years on the federal bench had he received such a glowing endorsement of leniency from prosecutors. He also appeared swayed by Carroll's attempts to rehabilitate his life.
After his house arrest, Carroll will have to serve 2 1/2 years of probation. Bassler also ordered him to pay a $20,000 fine, as well as back taxes owed by the company. The judge said he hoped such prosecutions will help restore public confidence in elected officials.
"The amount of corruption in the state of New Jersey has been described as a culture of corruption -- and I don't think it's an exaggerations," Bassler said. "This has been one of the worst I've seen, to be quite honest."