Jun 11, 2008

NJ public workers charged with stealing gas for own cars

New Jersey will audit vehicle and gasoline use by thousands of Children and Families Department workers after prosecutors on Wednesday charged a dozen people with stealing gas from government fueling stations.

The audit, which will examine use of 2,500 Children and Families' vehicles, comes as six current and former members of the department were indicted on official misconduct charges. Also charged with stealing gas were two municipal employees from Camden, four Camden Board of Education workers, and one private citizen.

"These government workers literally took a free ride at the expense of state and local taxpayers," Attorney General Anne Milgram said. "They didn't steal cash, but it might as well have been cash."

While gas prices around the country have reached $4 a gallon and higher, they remained $3.97 on average in New Jersey on Wednesday, thanks to the state's low gas tax.

Other state workers tipped authorities to the possible thefts, copying down license plates at state-run fueling stations and turning them over to state police. Milgram said other alleged thefts were perpetuated by employees who had been issued keys or cards to activate state-owned gas pumps, and by one person who stole an activation card before being fired.

The thefts ranged from $20 worth of gas to several hundred gallons.

Authorities said two defendants filled up 10 times within one six-hour period last June to steal $472 worth of gas, prompting Milgram to call some of the alleged thefts "a friends and family plan."

Children and Families issues magnetic swipe cards that activate pumps at state fueling stations. The fuel cards are supposed to be signed out and remain with a specific vehicle, but investigators found systematic abuses.

A message left with the department was not immediately returned.

In Camden, authorized city employees are issued fuel keys but are not allowed to fill personal vehicles.

The second- and third-degree charges carry maximum sentences of five and 10 years, respectively. The suspects are to be arraigned within two months.

Similar charges were levied earlier this year against five city workers in Newark, who allegedly stole gasoline by allowing personal vehicles to be fueled at city pumps. One sanitation worker there was charged with stealing 15,302 gallons, worth about $45,000, by letting people fuel private cars at city pumps.

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