Thursday, September 18, 2014

State pays $60,000 to settle investigator's whistleblower lawsuit.

On April 27, 2014, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $60,000 to a former investigator for the State's Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission (LGCCC) who claimed that state officials retaliated against him because he stood in the way of an application made by a private company that had "contributed using various means and methods to the campaigns or political war chest of Governor Christie."  As part of the settlement, the former investigator agreed to tender his "irrevocable resignation" from his position.

In his suit, Scott Jenkins, who worked for the LGCCC since 2005, said that Dave & Busters, a private company that provides food, drink and arcade games to the public, petitioned the LGCCC for a waiver from the State's rule of not allowing alcoholic beverages to be served to customers in close proximity where arcade games of chance are being played.  Jenkins said that he reported to the LGCCC members both verbally and in writing that such a waiver would violate state law.  But, according to the suit, Dave & Busters is a contributor to Governor Christie's campaign.  Because of this, Jenkins argued, "Governor Christie has made it clear . . . that he supports the D&B proposal, and that it must be passed whether it is lawful or not lawful to do so."

More generally, Jenkins claimed that officials at the LGCCC "are motivated by a desire to aid businesses make a bigger profit in the legalized games industry, to aid Governor Christie gain political allies and political contributions in order to support his gubernatorial campaign and his national campaign to be become President of the United States in 2016."

He claimed that the Governor's staff directed Eric Kanefsky, the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, to bar Jenkins from speaking to Commission members "in order to effectuate a successful result in the D&B licensing application."

Jenkins also argued that on December 15, 2011, Governor Christie, "in a cloak and dagger act," appointed Steven P. Layman to the Commission so that Layman could "use the power of his Commission seat to further his efforts to engage in political warfare with persons in Margate's Town government."  According to a January 22, 2014 article in the Press of Atlantic City, Layman formerly served as Mayor of Hainesport Township in Burlington County.  Part of Layman's goal, the lawsuit alleged, was to "punish his political adversaries," which included Margate City Clerk Thomas Hiltner.  Hiltner has his own whistleblower suit against Margate.

Jenkins claimed that he has been denigrated and mocked by his superiors, "walled off" from the LGCCC and that his "future with the LGCCC is finished."

The case is captioned Jenkins v. New Jersey, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-7544-13 and Jenkins' attorney was Eric V. Kleiner of Englewood Cliffs.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jenkins's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $60,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jenkins $60,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.