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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Former agency treasurer gets probation, must repay $57,000 she took to feed gambling habit

Former agency treasurer gets probation, must repay $57,000 she took to feed gambling habit

Sue Epstein | NJ Advance Media for
May 05, 2015

NEW BRUNSWICK — The former treasurer for the Middlesex County Utilities Authority received five years probation Tuesday afternoon and was ordered to repay the agency the more than $57,000 she took to feed her gambling habit.

Margaret Brennan, 68, may also have to repay the authority about $80,000 it spent on hiring a forensic accountant to trace the money she took to repay gambling debts.

Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves said he would further investigate how much the forensic investigation cost and how much she would have to pay. He did not order Brennan to serve 364 days in the Middlesex County jail, which was part of her plea bargain with First Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Kuberiet.

Instead, Nieves suspended the 364-day jail sentence, and told Brennan that if she doesn't obey his orders, she'll have to serve it.

The judge also ordered Brennan to continue receiving counseling for her gambling addiction.

"This is a breach of the public trust," Nieves said. "The most important thing to me is that you pay back the community. My primary concern is that the public should be made whole."

Brennan pleaded guilty to third degree theft in December as part of the plea bargain. She could have faced second degree charges including official misconduct.

Brennan said very little before she was sentenced.

"I say I'm sorry, but that doesn't convey everything it should," she said, crying. "I did a terrible thing but I'm grateful for my friends and family."

Steven Altman, Brennan's attorney was happy with the sentence, but Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, who sat through the hearing, believed it was an injustice for the public.

"His honor's decision is in essence straight probation which is a slap in the face of the public trust," Carey said. "The 364-day sentence would have been just and fair. We will continue to investigate and prosecute corruption with all available tools."

Kuberiet argued Brennan deserved the jail time in addition to repaying both the money she took and the cost of the forensic accountant.

"Mrs. Brennan impacted 800,000 residents in Middlesex County," Kuberiet said, adding she cut checks for herself 20 times on several different accounts in order to cover up her theft.

"Our community needs to know if you violate the public trust, you will get severe punishment," he said.

But Altman argued she was employed by the utility for 28 years, 26 without a blemish, until her marriage fell apart and she began going to Atlantic City for escape and became addicted to gambling.

Altman said she took out a $175,000 line of credit on her house, but when she ran out of that, she began taking money from the utility, believing she would repay it.

The utilities authority, headquartered in Sayreville, runs the county's landfill in East Brunswick and treats wastewater from Middlesex and parts of Union and Somerset counties at a treatment plant in Sayreville.

Kuberiet said Brennan began taking money Oct. 31, 2011 and continued until June 16, 2014.

The Amboy Bank, which handled the financial accounts for the authority and also was Brennan's personal bank, called law enforcement after reviewing all of those accounts.

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