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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A probation officer who once worked at a New Brunswick courthouse has admitted to taking bribes to ensure that a man was able to complete probation even if he failed drug tests.
The case, State of New Jersey v. Rhonda Battle, was moved to Union County's Superior Court because of her former job in Middlesex County.
Battle, a 48-year-old woman from Roselle, pleaded guilty to a single count of official misconduct, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO).
Battle had been employed as a probation officer for the Superior Court’s "Drug Court" program‐which offers counseling and rehabilitation to first-time offenders as an alternative to incarceration—at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick.
She admitted to keeping the client’s name off a random drug-testing list, knowing he would test positive for drug abuse, according to the MCPO.
The criminal charges against Battle, first made public in late 2014, were quickly followed up by the abrupt retirement of Judge Lorraine Pullen, the county's Drug Court Judge, who has since returned to the bench.
Middlesex County's Presiding Criminal Judge Bradley Ferencz also retired shortly after the scandal broke.
In a press release sent to other media outlets, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey announced that Battle pleaded guilty to "a charge of accepting bribes to protect a man who continued using illicit drugs while serving a probationary term for drug offenses."
Under the plea agreement, Battle agreed to forfeit her public position with the state judiciary, and to be forever barred from public employment in New Jersey.
However, the MCPO did not specify the degree of the official misconduct charge—as they typically do—in the April 10 press release about the plea deal.
"Under a plea agreement reached with Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D’Elia, the defendant is expected to serve three years in a New Jersey state prison with no chance of parole until two years are served in custody," read the official statement.
That likely means Battle has pleaded to a third-degree charge. The MCPO did not immediately respond to a clarifying question about the plea deal.
According to the deal, Battle has admitted to taking "bribes, including a $400 payment on December 23, 2015 from the man who was assigned to regularly report to her as part of his probationary term."
However, the state's official misconduct statute says that if someone commits official misconduct to benefit themselves to the tune of $200 or more, the culprit should be found guilty of a second-degree crime, and subject to a five-year mandatory minimum sentence with no parole.
According to authorities, Battle had been accepting bribes on more than the one occasion she admitted to.
"The investigation determined that Battle accepted bribes between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2014 to ensure her client passed drug testing and would not be found in violation of the conditions of his court-ordered probationary term," read the MCPO release.
The MCPO credited Detective Nicholas Chiorello with investigating the case.
Battle's sentencing is set for June 16 in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge John M. Deitch in Elizabeth.