By a decision dated August 28, 2020, the Commissioner of Education upheld an administrative law judge’s decision declaring an applicant for employment with the Elizabeth school district be permanently disqualified from school employment due to several convictions in 2008 for federal bribery and corruption charges.
In 2019, the petitioner applied for employment in the Elizabeth district. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:6-7.1, the petitioner was required to undergo a criminal history background check with the Office of Student Protection.
The petitioner filed an online application for a background check and noted that he had been convicted of certain crimes. The petitioner’s criminal history background check revealed that in 2008, in connection with his work as a contractor, he was convicted of several separate federal crimes, including five counts of mail fraud, one count of making a corrupt payment, theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and obtaining property by fraud involving federal funds. The person seeking employment was sentenced to 39 months and ordered to pay $82,705 in restitution.
The job-seeker did not dispute the convictions or the accuracy of the background check report, but rather argued that said charges did not disqualify him from employment because they were not “substantially equivalent” to any New Jersey crime of the second degree, which would be disqualifying.
Both the judge and commissioner disagreed with petitioner’s argument and held that “USC Section 666 (a) (2) (A) and N.J.S.A. 2C:27- 2 are statutes seeking to punish the bribing of public officials and obtaining rewards in return for payments or other consideration and are substantially equivalent to each other; the controlling statute here, N.J.S.A. 18A:6-7.1, mandates permanent disqualification and does not provide any leniency or discretion in regard to its application.”
Additionally, the judge found the job-seeker’s minimalization of his crimes as a failure of the petitioner to have learned from his past.
During these tumultuous times, this case serves as a reminder of the importance of the many non-COVID related tasks that still must occur for the safety and security of our students and schools. School board members and district staff should discuss any questions about this case with their board attorney or with the NJSBA Department of Legal and Labor Relations at (609) 278-5254.