Saturday, 28 February 2015 00:00

Engineer for NJ Department of Transportation Indicted for Falsifying Timesheets to Steal Overtime Pay

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a suspended engineer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) was indicted on February 27 by a state grand jury on official misconduct charges.

Alkesh Desai, 62, of Bensalem, PA, allegedly falsified timesheets to steal $15,000 in overtime pay and using a state vehicle to make numerous personal trips to Philadelphia.

He was charged in the indictment with conspiracy (2nd degree), two counts of official misconduct (2nd degree), theft by deception (3rd degree), tampering with public records or information (3rd degree), and falsifying records (4th degree).  Desai is suspended from his job as a DOT engineer. He had been acting as the supervisor of the Drainage Bureau.  The case was referred to the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau by the DOT Office of the Inspector General.

A co-defendant, Harish Bhanderi, 53, of Newtown, Pa., pleaded guilty on Jan. 9 to an accusation charging him with third-degree theft by deception, admitting that he and Desai fraudulently collected emergency overtime pay.  As a result of his guilty plea, Bhanderi forfeited his job as manager of the DOT Roadway Maintenance, Engineering and Operations Section. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of a term of probation. Bhanderi must pay restitution of $19,905 and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

It is alleged that Desai and Bhanderi submitted timesheets indicating they were entitled to emergency overtime pay for responding after hours to emergency roadway incidents. In reality, they were not responding to emergencies after hours, but were simply driving their state vehicles past sites where emergencies had occurred days or even weeks earlier. It is alleged that the two typically drove to the sites together. The state’s investigation revealed that Desai allegedly submitted 71 false overtime claims totaling $15,076 between June 2013 and June 2014. In addition, during the same one-year period, Desai allegedly used a state vehicle to make 96 trips to Philadelphia, sometimes making round trips to the city twice a day to drive his daughter to and from college. Personal use of a state vehicle is prohibited.  

“State workers have a duty to be responsible stewards of government resources, but Desai allegedly racked up the miles on his state-assigned vehicle while running personal errands and fraudulently milked overtime pay to the tune of $15,000,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman.  “We’re cracking down on this type of self-serving abuse of resources and theft of taxpayer dollars.”

“We’re working closely with the DOT and other state agencies to enforce a culture of honesty and integrity in government where crimes like these simply won’t be tolerated,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge anyone with information about this type of abuse to contact us confidentially, so those responsible can be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.”

“The Department of Transportation does not tolerate waste, fraud or abuse of public dollars,” NJDOT Inspector General Johanna Barba Jones said. “Through the prompt action of our internal investigative team and our effective partnership with the Division of Criminal Justice, we promptly removed this cancerous influence before it could diminish the Department’s culture of integrity.”

Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free tip line 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities confidentially. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.

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