NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Margaret Brennan, 68, a longtime employee of the Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA), was charged with stealing more than $57,000 from the agency over a three-year period.
Brennan worked for the MCUA for 29 years, and according to published reports, earned an annual salary of $151,040.
Yet Judge Bradley Ferencz set her bail at just $10,000, when she pleaded not guilty on Monday, according to NJ.com's Sue Epstein. She has until Friday to come up with the money and avoid spending time in jail.
Epstein reported that Brennan is facing one count of theft by deception, one count of failing to pay the appropriate amount of withholding tax and failing to file tax returns.
Although Brennan worked at the agency for 29 years, finishing as the treasurer and "senior comptroller," prosecutors are only pursuing charges based on alleged thefts in her final three years in office.
According to NJ.com, prosecutors told the court that between November 20, 2012 and June 16, 2014, Brennan wrote 19 different checks or withdrawal slips to herself, effectively stealing $56,000 from the public agency.
"The MCUA promptly engaged outside auditors to conduct an independent internal investigation of the matter. The MCUA shared the report with the Prosecutor’s Office and is also reviewing the report internally," the statement said.
But Epstein reported that Amboy Bank allegedly reported the suspicious activity to law enforcement, according to prosecutors. Meanwhile, MCUA launched an outside investigation three days after her retirement, according to their own statement.
"The MCUA learned [that Brennan improperly took money for her personal use from some of the MCUA’s reserve accounts] on June 30th. Margaret Brennan's last day of work at the Authority was Friday, June 27th," said a spokesperson for a third-party public relations company that works for the MCUA.
"Brennan subsequently made application for retirement. Her retirement benefits will be determined by the State Pension Board. The MCUA alerted and immediately began cooperating with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office," said the firm.
Brennan is represented by Steven Altman, a powerful defense attorney at the New Brunswick firm Benedict & Altman.
According to Brennan's 2013 Financial Disclosure Statement, she is a resident of Freehold Borough in Monmouth County and earned income exclusively from the authority. Her husband John Brennan is listed as collecting a State Police pension on the form.
"The MCUA has implemented recommendations presented during the internal investigation, and will continue to institute any and all further recommendations to ensure this type of event does not happen again."
"No other individuals were found to be involved in this matter," reads a short statement issued by the authority on Monday. "We will continue to cooperate with the Prosecutor’s Office."
According to their website, "the Authority serves to promote public health, protect environmental quality, and sustain the development and growth of Middlesex County by efficiently operating the Wastewater Treatment Facility and the Middlesex County Landfill."
MCUA Executive Director Richard Fitamant did not respond to a request for comment. Just minutes after contacting his office, New Brunswick Today received a call from C-N Communications, a Newark-based public relations firm that works for the authority.
Mike Inganamort of C-N told NBToday that the MCUA retained the accounting firm Eisner Amper LLC to conduct an independent audit of the agency's finances.
"The only statement that the MCUA is making is… what [C-N Communications] released to you," said Tony Cicatiello of C-N Communications. "We're not going to have any more comments basically because it's litigation."
Cicatello referred New Brunswick Today to a report that he wasn't willing to hand over, when asked what assurances the MCUA could give as to why they don't suspect Brennan, a 29-year veteran of the agency, was stealing for longer.
"The prosecutor has the report," said Cicatello.
A spokesperson for the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO) did not respond to a request for comment on the case, but Epstein's report says that Christopher Kubereit was representing the MCPO in court.
Asked how their auditing firm could have missed the thefts, C-N indicated that the MCUA is standing by their usual auditors, Clark-based ParenteBeard.
"ParenteBeard currently has a contract with the Middlesex County Utilities Authority to perform auditing services. The investigation has not revealed any reason to terminate that contract," said C-N.
ParenteBeard officials said they would not comment on any of their clients, including the MCUA.
James Zullo, who recently took the helm of Elijah's Promise, New Brunswick's only soup kitchen, is one of the MCUA's eleven board members. He referred questions to Fitamant.
The board is chaired by Ted Light, a professional engineer, includes the likes of Edison Council member Robert Karabinchak, Union County Freeholder Linda Carter, and Old Bridge Town Attorney Jerome Convery.
The board is represented by John Hoffman of the powerful Wilentz Goldman and Spitzer law firm.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.