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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Though Rutgers University's public relations officials refuse to admit it, records show that a university police officer charged with stealing $30,000 from her union remains on the school payroll.
As we reported, Grace Stewart was charged with one count of third-degree theft for stealing $30,000 over a three-month period. At the time, we reported that a source told us Stewart had been suspended without pay since March, whe she first came under investigation.
However, according to a document obtained by New Brunswick Today, Stewart continued to receive paychecks from Rutgers after the charge was filed, and may still be getting paid by the university.
Officials at Rutgers have taken the unorthodox approach of neither confirming nor denying if Stewart continues to be an employee at the school, and the officials have completely avoided discussing her pay status.
The stonewalling by Rutgers Media Relations forced New Brunswick Today to invoke the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), a law intended to preserve the public's right to obtain information about their government.
Our OPRA request, in turn, forced the school to indirectly answer our question about Stewart's pay status.
An employee in the Rutgers office that handles OPRA requests said the document provided in response was accurate as of May 26, one week after the Essex County Prosecutor's Office announced Stewart had been charged.
It listed Stewart as "active," meaning she is still getting paychecks, as confirmed by Elizabeth Gilligan, a Compliance Associate at Rutgers University's Office of Enterprise Risk Management, Ethics, and Compliance.
But a Rutgers spokesperson still refused to acknowledge that the school was continuing paying the accused thief, or explain the reasoning behind their decision.
"Upon advice of counsel, it is the university's policy not to discuss personnel issues," was all that university spokesperson EJ Miranda would say, even after being presented with the documents that showed Stewart was still on the payroll.
However, this represents a departure from the past practice of the university, and the standard practice at almost every other public entity: to confirm whether employees are suspended, and if so, whether they will continue to be paid.
Indeed, the university's "Media Relations" division has previously revealed more details about employees who were suspended.
As a scandal involving player abuse in the university's athletics program garnered national attention and sparked internal reviews, the university suspended one of their coaches and publicized it to the press.
"Rutgers University today announced the suspension, with pay, of the men’s lacrosse head coach, pending the completion of an investigation by the Rutgers University Police Department," reads the April 19, 2013 press statement which included a quote from President Robert Barchi and Miranda's contact information.
That came four months after the suspension of the school's mens' basketball coach, who would later be fired after videos surfaced of him abusing his players.
In December 2012, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti spoke openly about the suspension of coach Mike Rice.
"Mike will not be permitted to do anything. He'll be removed from the program. He won't be able to be active in his role as head basketball coach inside or outside the university," Pernetti was quoted by ESPN. "The suspension for this period of time and these games is a complete removal from the program."
Eventually, Rice and Pernetti lost their jobs and others called for Barchi to be fired as well.
After the protracted debacle, which was followed by allegations that Pernetti's replacement had abused players on a team she coached decades earlier, Rutgers re-located its OPRA offices to the Newark campus.
Miranda did not directly respond to a request to confirm whether President Bob Barchi is still employed by the university, or explain why the university was permitted to reveal the employment status of sports coaches but not police officers.
"You have our answers," wrote Miranda.