Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Brick MUA secretly pays $250,000 to settle "whistleblower" suit.

On September 7, 2015, the Brick Township (Ocean County) Municipal Utility Authority (MUA) agreed to pay $250,000 to its former Director of Central Services who claimed that he was fired because he reported that a former MUA Chairman used his influence to move the MUA's bank accounts to a another bank in order to get a personal loan from the same bank.

According to his lawsuit and a May 7, 2015 opinion authored by Ocean County Superior Court Judge Robert E. Brenner, Scott Bundy said that he learned in 2010 that MUA Chairman Patrick Bottazzi was in financial trouble and was trying to get Crown Bank to give him a $1,500,000 loan.  After Bottazzi allegedly steered the MUA's accounts from TD Bank to Crown Bank in order to entice Crown to give him the loan, Bundy said that he reported the matter to the FBI. In addition to the FBI, Bundy claimed that he reported his suspicions to to the MUA auditor, Frank Holman, and Jerry Dasti, the MUA's attorney.

The MUA, however, claimed that its decision to transfer of some its accounts to Crown as well the as its decision to not renew Bundy's contract for Director of Central Services" were done purely for economic reasons."

Bundy's lawsuit claims that Bottazzi referred to him as a "rat" and stated "I hate your guts."  He claimed that "Bottazzi had struck a deal with fellow commissioner Joseph Veni, whereby Mr. Veni would remain as chairman, despite the fact that Mr. Bottazzi was expected to assume that role, and in exchange, plaintiff would be terminated."  Bundy claimed that another official told him that "Pat just traded the chairmanship for your head on a silver platter."

The case is captioned Scott Bundy v. Brick Township Municipal Utility Authority et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-2009-13 and the Bundys' attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Bundy's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the
$250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Brick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Brick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bundy $250,000 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.