By John Burton
TRENTON – A Superior Court judge in Ocean County has sentenced the once large and politically connected Monmouth County engineering firm, Birdsall Services Group, to pay $1 million in criminal penalties for its guilty pleas of making illegal political contributions.
Birdsall, which had been headquartered in Eatontown, was charged with getting employees to make political contributions of $300 or less – which don’t have to be individually reported to the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) – as a way to circumvent state Pay-to-Play restrictions and keep the firm’s hand in for receiving millions of dollars each year in government contracts.
The firm would reimburse the employees, listing the income as work-related bonuses, authorities had charged.
The firm pleaded guilty June 13 to first-degree money laundering and second degree making false representations for government contracts, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
The $1 million fine is broken down into two penalties, with half of it for a public corruption profiteering penalty and the other half being levied for an anti-money laundering penalty, according to the attorney general.
Birdsall is also prohibited under the plea agreement from working on government contracts for 10 years. But that penalty is a moot point, as the firm filed for bankruptcy earlier this year following the indictments against it and seven of its employees. Company assets were sold to a California–based engineering firm, according to authorities.
Among company employees individually charged was Howard C. Birdsall, who was the firm’s chief executive officer – and largest shareholder – until his retirement last year. He also served for a number of years as president of the Board of Trustees of Brookdale Community College in Lincroft and had served as a college trustee for a total of 23 years.
Birdsall faces a nine-count indictment, handed down by a grand jury in March, that charges him with crimes, including money laundering, tampering with public records, conspiracy and making illegal political contributions. Authorities allege he personally made at least $49,804 in illegal campaign contributions and received reimbursements. His case is still pending.
Two former firm employees – marketing director Philip Angarone, 41, of Hamilton and Eileen Kufahl, 49, of Bradley Beach who also worked in the firm’s marketing department –previously pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
According to the 2011 ELEC reports, the latest year figures are available, Birdsall Services Group received $28.4 million in contracts from state, county and municipal government entities around the state.