Thursday, February 18, 2016

NJ engineer Birdsall pleads guilty, faces multi-year jail term

Howard Birdsall in center - APP Photo by Thomas B. Costello

The onetime head of a prestigious Monmouth County, NJ engineering firm that met its demise during a state pay-to-play probe pleaded guilty today to corporate misconduct in a plea bargain that calls for a 4-year prison term, Kathleen Hopkins reports in the Asbury Park Press.

Howard Birdsall
, 72, of Brielle, the former chief executive officer of Eatontown-based Birdsall Services Group, entered a guilty plea to misconduct by a corporate official in a brief proceeding before Superior Court Judge James Den Uyl.

Birdsall admitted concealing or misrepresenting political contributions, in violation of state law, and also reimbursing Birdsall employees for political contributions they had made.

He acknowledged the scheme netted a benefit in excess of $75,000 to himself and others.

Birdsall, also the former longtime chairman of Brookdale Community College’s board of trustees, admitted that he operated Birdsall Services Group for the furtherance of a commission of a crime from Jan. 1, 2006 through May 31, 2012.

He made the admissions by replying with simple, affirmative answers to questions posed to him by his attorney, John P. McDonald.

Firm's downfall 
Birdsall was indicted March 26, 2013 along with his firm and six other of its key executives, in a case that swiftly led to the demise of one of New Jersey’s oldest and most prestigious engineering companies.

The state Attorney General’s Office alleged then that the firm and its executives deployed a scheme to skirt the state’s pay-to-play law by masking corporate political contributions as individual campaign donations and then reimbursing employees who made the donations in the form of company bonuses.

The state alleged the firm and its executives made more than $1 million dollars in illegal campaign contributions that, had they been reported as corporate political donations, would have disqualified it from public contracts.

Authorities at the time of the indictment alleged that Howard Birdsall made at least $49,808 in illegal campaign contributions.

Birdsall, in entering his guilty plea, agreed to forfeit that amount and turned over a check to the state in court to cover the forfeiture.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony Piccione said the plea agreement also calls for Birdsall to be banned for 10 years from bidding on public contracts or doing any public work, and that eight other criminal charges against the defendant will be dismissed.

He said he will recommend a four-year prison term for Birdsall with no period of parole ineligibility. The sentencing date is April 22.

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