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PERTH AMBOY, NJ—A 54-year-old man from Howell Township was charged with second-degree "theft by extortion" in connection with his work as a drug treatment counselor at a Perth Amboy clinic called "Journey to Wellness."
Anthony Trimble, who also earns $63,470 working for the state performing a similar function at the Special Treatment Unit of East Jersey State Prison in Avenel, according to NJ.com's Craig McCarthy.
According to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO), Trimble "demanded [an] undisclosed sum on December 14, 2016 after the victim failed a drug test."
Trimble faces five to ten years in state prison if convicted of doing so but, at least for now, he is a free man. Having been released on his own recognizance, Trimble did not spend any time as an inmate in jail and did not have to pay any bail to be released.
The victim was someone, whose identity prosecutors did not disclose, who had been sentenced to three years on probation, and was required to report to Trimble. The man's attorney allegedly alerted authorities.
The private company, which is apparently working with the state's criminal justice system, told McCarthy that they fired Trimble after learning of the accusations from detectives.
But the status of his job with the State of New Jersey is still not clear, more than three weeks after the arrest.
Ellen Lovejoy, a spokesperson for the NJ Department of Human Services, did not respond to an inquiry about whether or not Trimble was being paid during his suspension. McCarthy's report noted that, "It was unclear if Trimble was still being paid by the state while suspended."
The charges have raised also concerns about privatization within the criminal justice system, where small companies get put in charge of serious responsibilities.
"With 1 in 5 positive tests being a false positive and retesting at the discretion of the counselor and a positive test result impacting probation or child visitation the incentive is great for the clients to pay off the counselors," noted one commenter on the December 23 NJ.com article.
"Private drug rehabs not investigated closely enough," the comment concluded.
Journey to Wellness' website includes a pitch for people to consider applying for a job there:
Come join our professional and friendly substance abuse counseling team!
We have openings for applicants with a degree in psychology, social work, counseling, or a related field AND a CADC or LCADC to provide substance abuse counseling services to men, women, adolescents and their families.
Bilingual candidates are welcome! We are also accepting interns pursuing the CADC or the LCADC who speak Spanish fluently.
The company also offered the following six points about the job on its website:
1. Flexible hours
2. Per diem hours
3. A highly competitive hourly rate
4. Your caseload is determined by you
5. On-the-job training and support
6. A family-friendly working environment
In the weeks following the news of Trimble's arrest, the site also displayed a message indicating it had been hacked.
"I wanted to inform you that the site is vulnerable to any type of attack, your files are not safe from attack," read the message from the hacker, who apparently went by the name "REV."
With an increasing number of alleged offenders taking deals that require them to submit to urine testing in order to avoid jail, probation and other diversionary programs find themselves increasingly relying on urinalysis.
Drug testing is sometimes left to private companies like Journey to Wellness, but even in cases where the government is in charge, similar problems still arise.
Trimble's situation mirrors a charge leveled against a Middlesex County Court employee who worked in the county's "drug court."
Rhonda Battle, another state employee who worked in the courtroom of Judge Lorraine Pullen at the Middlesex County Courthouse is still facing an indictment on charges she took $200 bribes throughout 2014 in exchange for clean test results.
Judge Pullen abruptly retired shortly thereafter, but she is now back on the bench in Superior Court. Battle's case is still pending, and has been moved to her home county–Union–to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The investigation is being conducted by MCPO Detective Kevin Schroeck, and is characterized as "active" and "continuing." Anyone with information is Schroeck at (732) 745-3300.