Share |

Ben Bucca & 5 Other City Attorneys Have Been Illegally in State Pension System Since 2008

State Investigation Reveals Prosecutors, Public Defender, & Other Attorneys For New Brunswick Are Accumulating Pension Credits Despite Being Ineligible For Pensions
Ben Bucca
Ben Bucca is one of six attorneys employed by the city who were improperly enrolled in the state pension system. Rutgers Athletics

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Benjamin Bucca may be best-known as the Rutgers Women's Tennis coach.  But that's just one of his four public jobs.

Bucca also serves as the attorney for both the Rent Control Board and the Planning Board for the City of New Brunswick.  He also serves as the attorney for the Highland Park Zoning Board of Adjustment.

But there's one key difference between his work in New Brunswick and Highland Park.  New Brunswick has been giving him credits towards a pension, even though he is not an employee of the city and has his own law practice.

Highland Park treats Bucca as a contractor with the firm Bucca & Campisano.  Therefore, he does not earn credits toward a pension from that town government.

The State Comptroller investigated professionals contracting with 58 different local governments including New Brunswick.  His report indicates that six people working for the Hub City, all of them attorneys, were improperly receiving pension credits in violation of a 2007 law meant to boot them out of the system.

And it's entirely possible there are additional violators employed by the Board of Education, Housing Authority, or Parking Authority.  Boxer's research only focused on the city government here.

In 57 of the 58 entities his office has looked into so far, the State found evidence that at least one professional, usually a lawyer, was improperly enrolled in the pension system.

The report did not name the individuals working for New Brunswick City, but said they were all attorneys associated with their own private practice:

"Those six individuals included an assistant city attorney, three municipal prosecutors, a municipal public defender and the rent control/planning board attorney.  Each of these six individuals is associated with or is a partner in a private firm."

The city responded to a draft version of the damning report, and attempted to justify the continuation of benefits, even though the practice was outlawed in 2007.

The report says that the Comptroller's office was negatively influenced by the city's response to the draft: "New Brunswick set forth several factors that are indicative of employee status for some of these professionals.  However, much of the documentation provided by New Brunswick further supports an independent contractor classification."

The city revealed that Bucca is required to find his own replacement if he can't work, a highly unusual situation for a public employee.

"Pursuant to the annual contract entered into between the rent control/planning board attorney and the city, this attorney is required to identify and pay for his own substitute when a scheduling conflict prevents him from fulfilling  his responsibilities  –rarely, if ever, the responsibility of a typical employee," the report continues.

The report also said three of the attorneys in question are required to provide their own secretaries: "Similarly, the assistant city attorney, the public defender and the rent control/planning board attorney also are required to provide secretarial assistance for themselves at their own expense.  Bona fide employees typically are not required to retain a secretary at their own expense."

Further adding to the complicated situation in the city's Law Department, the City Attorney William Hamilton is already collecting his pension under a special deal where he actually retired years ago.

Hamilton has since been hired as an independent contractor, making the position even more precarious for those who are working under him and remain in the pension system.

"Moreover, the attorney who supervises the city attorneys in question is himself an independent contractor,  thus placing  the city in the awkward position of contending these attorneys are city employees even though they are supervised by an independent contractor," the report said.

The Comptroller has forwarded the six individuals, and almost 200 others across the state to the state Department of Pension & Benefits for removal from the system.

Russell Marchetta, a spokesman for Mayor James Cahill, declined to name the other five attorneys and said he was just about to enter a meeting on this issue.

Bucca has been an ally of the Mayor, voicing his opposition to a number of ballot questions that would alter the status quo, including measures that called for elections for school board members and added neighborhood-based representation to the City Council.

In 2010, Bucca unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for City Council.

Bucca was surprised to find out he was on the list of contractors who were in violation on the report, but he told NewBrunswickToday.com it was an issue related to the city government's interpretation of the law.

"I believe the [Comptroller] intentionally left out all the names because there was no individual wrongdoing... There's a disagreement about whatever laws deal with taxes and independent contractors," he said.

Bucca makes $47,580 as the tennis coach at Rutgers, and another $40,348 serving as the attorney to both of New Brunswick's boards.  Both jobs have been providing him with pension benefits, meaning his pension would be based on the combined salary of $87,928.

That is, unless his gig with the city gets thrown out of the system.

The other five attorneys, who cannot be immediately identified, include one assistant city attorney, three municipal prosecutors, and one public defender.  All are employed by the Department of Law.

Editor's Note: The author of this article was a volunteer on the 2009 campaign to change the city's form of government.  Bucca opposed that campaign.