AG Files Criminal Charges Against Pair of SJTA Commissioners

Platkin in his appearance today.

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) today announced criminal charges have been filed against two members of the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) Board of Commissioners, after they allegedly colluded to block payments to an engineering firm as political retaliation in connection with a feud between a South Jersey Democratic Party leader and a Mercer County Commissioner.

The Vice Chairman of the SJTA Board, Christopher Milam, 45, of Sewell, New Jersey, and Board Commissioner Bryan Bush, 52, also of Sewell, have been charged with official misconduct (2nd degree), conspiracy to commit official misconduct (2nd degree), and perjury (3rd degree).

An ongoing criminal investigation by the OPIA Corruption Bureau determined Milam and Bush unlawfully conspired to prevent the payment of invoices submitted to the board by a civil engineering firm for political purposes, effectively halting compensation to the company for work it had already completed for the authority.

It is alleged that, following behind-the-scenes discussions, Milam and Bush cast votes during three SJTA Board meetings in 2023 to prevent the authority from making legitimate payments due to the engineering firm, which the pair was allegedly targeting for political reasons. As alleged, the defendants knew they did not have a legitimate basis to cast votes denying the payments.

“As this investigation continues, today we are sending a clear message: No matter how connected or powerful you are, if there is evidence suggesting that you have used your position and taxpayer dollars for political retribution or gain, we will hold you accountable,” said Attorney General Platkin. “And if you lie to a grand jury, as alleged here, to cover up your conduct, you will answer for that, too. For people to have trust in government, they cannot feel that the well-off and well-connected play by a different set of rules than everyone else. The law cannot treat people differently. My office will continue to hold powerful people and powerful institutions accountable.”

“The evidence revealed that these defendants misused the power they held as members of the SJTA Board to exact revenge on this particular firm and one of its staff members,” said Drew Skinner, Executive Director of OPIA. “Their subsequent attempts to offer seemingly legitimate, but allegedly fictional, reasons for voting against the payments represents a further violation of the public trust. Abusing public office in order to get political payback — and trying to cover it up — will not be tolerated. Anyone who abuses the power entrusted to them by the public for political retaliation should know they will face serious consequences.”

The investigation further found that on each occasion, Milam’s and Bush’s votes opposing approval of that compensation prevented the Board from reaching the five votes needed for approval. As a result, during those three months, the firm’s invoices for services that had been rendered were not approved and remained unpaid, with additional invoices piling up each month.

According to the investigation, the votes on the payments stemmed from a political feud. Prior to their votes, Milam sent a text message to Bush on February 8, 2023 that stated, “They cut South Jersey in Mercer County so now we vote no.” Milam is active in Democratic Party politics and in February 2023 was selected chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee for Washington Township, in Gloucester County. An employee of the engineering firm is a Mercer County Commissioner who had defied instructions from a South Jersey Democratic Party leader to remain neutral in the Democratic primary for Mercer County Executive. Evidence gathered during the investigation indicated that the decision to withhold payment from the firm — agreed upon by Milam and Bush during private conversations — was allegedly retaliatory, to punish the Mercer County Commissioner’s failure to comply with the leader’s neutrality directive.

The ongoing investigation also revealed that Milam and Bush additionally committed perjury, giving false testimony under oath before the state grand jury in Trenton in March 2024. The investigation determined that the defendants falsely claimed they voted against the payments because of various purported issues with the engineering firm — including an error made by the firm, concerns with one of its projects, and possible double billing by the company — that were not raised until after the defendants began voting no. But, as alleged, their text message shows they voted no because “they cut South Jersey in Mercer County.”

This remains an ongoing criminal investigation, and anyone who believes they may have information about the offenses alleged is urged to contact the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability at 1-844-OPIA-TIP (1-844-674-2847) and ask to speak to Detective Ryan Vivarelli. Corruption tips can be reported anonymously at any time using the OPIA Report Corruption Form found here.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Additionally, second-degree official misconduct requires a five-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment without eligibility for parole. Third-degree charges can result a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

The charges and allegations are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Deputy Attorneys General Michael Grillo and Amanda Nini are prosecuting the case for OPIA, under the supervision of OPIA Corruption Bureau Deputy Chief Andrew Wellbrock, Corruption Bureau Chief Jeffrey J. Manis, and OPIA Executive Director Skinner.

Defense counsel

 

AFFIDAVIT OF PROBABLE CAUSE FOR COMPLAINTS 1111 2024 1606 & 1111 2024
1607:

Milam and Bush Vote Against Payment of Firm-1’s Bills as Retaliation in a Political Feud Between “South Jersey” and a Mercer County Commissioner

I have probable cause that Christopher Milam (“Milam”) and Bryan Bush (“Bush”), the defendants, who were during all relevant times public officials serving on the South Jersey Transportation Authority (“SJTA”) Board of Commissioners, committed the crimes of official misconduct and conspiracy to commit official misconduct. Milam and Bush engaged in acts related to their public positions when they cast votes during SJTA Board meetings on February 15, 2023, March 15, 2023, and April 20, 2023 to prevent SJTA from making legitimate payments that it owed for services already rendered to SJTA by a civil engineering firm (“Firm-1”) knowing said acts were unauthorized because they did not have a legitimate basis to cast said votes to not approve payment. More specifically, this investigation has revealed evidence, including text messages outlined below, that their votes denying the payment for services rendered were acts of political retaliation.

As background to the below-described conduct, I am aware that Milam is active in Democratic Party politics in New Jersey and in February 2023 was selected as the chairman of the Washington Township (in Gloucester County) Democratic Executive Committee.

South Jersey’s Feud with the County Commissioner

On December 19, 2022 at 10:05 a.m., Insider NJ published an article that described a political feud in Mercer County, New Jersey involving a South Jersey Democratic Party Leader (“South Jersey Party Leader”) and a Mercer County Commissioner (“Commissioner-1”). The details of the political feud related to Commissioner-1 not following the South Jersey Party Leader’s instructions to stay neutral in the Democratic primary for Mercer County Executive. The feud was corroborated by statements obtained in this investigation from Commissioner-1, the mayor of a Mercer County town, and a lobbyist (“Lobbyist-1”), all with knowledge of the dispute.

Per records obtained pursuant to a communications data warrant, records obtained pursuant to
communications information orders, documents provided in response to subpoenas, and statements
from witnesses, the following communications occurred on December 19, 2022 after the article’s
publication: – – – –

1:23 p.m. – A political strategist [“Strategist-1”] sent two texts to Milam. The first text was a link to the Insider NJ article, and the second text read “Interesting article.”

1:37 p.m. – Milam responded to Strategist-1’s text and asked: “So are we now supposed to not be good with [Commissioner-1]?”

1:47 p.m. – Milam texted the SJTA Executive Director (“Executive Director 1”) and asked: “Is there a rub now with [Firm-1]?” Firm-1 performed work for SJTA and employed Commissioner-1.

3:11 p.m. – Executive Director-1 responded to Milam by sending a text that said: “Not that I’m aware of. Did something happen?” Executive Director-1, during a recorded statement, explained that he and Milam then spoke on the phone after this text and Milam explained the political feud between the South
Jersey Party Leader and Commissioner-1 and the various articles that had been published regarding that feud.

Additional text messages further demonstrate Milam’s knowledge of, and involvement in, the political feud. Milam texted a Monroe Township Planning Board member (“Planning Board Member-1”) on January 14, 2023: – – – – –

9:35 p.m. – Milam texted Planning Board Member-1: “Bro took my kids to top
golf who do I run into. [Commissioner-1].”

9:37 p.m. – Planning Board Member-1 responded to Milam: “Lol how was that?”

9:37 p.m. – Milam responded to Planning Board Member-1: “Dude it was awkward” and “I shook his hand he said oh are you allowed to talk to me? I said nope I’ll see you later lol.”

9:40 p.m. – Planning Board Member-1 responded to Milam: “Yeah what can you do at this point.”

9:40 p.m. – Milam responded to Planning Board Member-1: “Nothing he not only drew the line in the sand but built a wall and threw a fire ball over it.”

Bills Owed to the County Commissioner’s Firm Come Up for a Vote

On February 7, 2023, SJTA’s Board Secretary (“Board Secretary-1”) distributed the agenda materials to the commissioners, including Milam and Bush, for review before the February 15th meeting. The agenda materials included invoices submitted to SJTA by Firm-1 for services previously rendered, which had been previously reviewed and approved by SJTA employees in the usual course. After invoices are approved by SJTA employees, they are presented to the Board for approval.

“They Cut South Jersey in Mercer County So Now We Vote No”

On February 8, 2023, the day after Board Secretary-1 distributed the agenda materials to the commissioners, Milam and Bush had the following exchange via text: – – – – –

11:00 a.m. – Milam sent Bush four text messages in less than one minute, which stated: “Just so you know I plan to vote no on all of [Firm-1’s] bills that’s why I asked that question,” “They cut South Jersey in Mercer county so now we vote no,” “Lol,” “Well I do.”

11:00 a.m. – Bush responded within the same minute with two text messages, which stated: “I’ll make sure I will too,” “Just give me a heads up.”

11:01 a.m. – Milam responded to Bush and said “Ok I am gonna type an email up and I’ll give you the language as well. So when we vote we vote yes with our recorded comment.” Based on my involvement in this investigation, I am aware that voting “yes with our recorded comment,” meant voting to approve
all bills submitted by other vendors and voting not to approve Firm-1’s invoices (i.e., “our recorded comment”).

11:02 a.m. – Bush responded to Milam and said: “Sounds good.” Milam responded to Bush and said: “Thanks dude I’ll call you when [Executive Director-1] gets back to me.”

11:04 a.m. – Bush responded to Milam and said: “Ok thank you.”

Although investigators subpoenaed Milam and Bush for communications related to the votes on Firm-1’s bills, neither Milam nor Bush provided investigators with the above-described messages in which they agreed to vote to not approve the bills for political purposes.

Per Executive Director-1, Milam contacted him and they had a subsequent phone call that also included Bush and SJTA’s Chief Administrative Officer. I have probable cause that the phone call happened on February 8th around 2:00 p.m. because Milam texted Bush at 11:43 a.m. that dayand said: “You good for 2pm today ? [Executive Director-1] called back,” “Wants to do a call.”

Executive Director-1 explained that during the call, Milam and Bush said they would be voting against the approval of Firm-1’s invoices for services already rendered, and Executive Director-1 directed them to send an email to Board Secretary-1 to memorialize their positions.

Milam subsequently sent an email at 2:17 p.m. memorializing his intent to vote not to approve all of Firm-1’s bills. Bush sent an identical email at 2:37 p.m. Milam and Bush both voted consistent with their emails at the February 15, 2023, March 15, 2023, and April 20, 2023 SJTA Board meetings. On each occasion, Milam’s and Bush’s votes that opposed approval of Firm-1’s invoices for services already rendered prevented the Board from reaching the five votes necessary to take any action. As a result, during those three months, Firm-1’s invoices for services already rendered were not approved by the Board and remained unpaid, with additional invoices added to the unpaid total each month. In total, approximately $150,000 of Firm-1’s bills were unpaid, during those three months, as a result of Milam and Bush’s conduct.

Executive Director-1 stated that at some point after Milam’s initial vote on February 15, 2023, the two spoke again on the phone. During that call, Milam told Executive Director-1 he intended to once again vote against approval of Firm-1’s invoices for services already rendered.

According to Executive Director-1, Milam admitted his vote was “symbolic.” Executive Director 1 stated he did not believe Milam’s votes against the approval of Firm-1’s invoices were in the best interest of the STJA and, when asked to elaborate, explained that a “symbolic vote [was] . . . not normal.”

Milam and Bush Vote Yes After a Former Senate President Calls Milam

On or about May 9, 2023, Commissioner-1 called Lobbyist-1 to complain about Firm-1 not being paid by SJTA for services rendered. On May 11, 2023, Lobbyist-1 texted an individual who was formerly the New Jersey State Senate President, who had represented a legislative district that included Gloucester County in Southern New Jersey, and who has been politically supported by the South Jersey Party Leader (the “Former Senate President”). On the same day, the Former Senate President called Lobbyist-1. On May 12, 2023, the Former Senate President called Milam.

On May 12, 2023, approximately an hour and a half after the Former Senate President spoke with Milam, Executive Director-1 sent an email to SJTA employees stating that he was approving payment of Firm-1’s bills for services rendered. Based on my involvement in this investigation and Executive Director-1’s statement in this investigation, I understand that Executive Director-1 sent his email after speaking to counsel for the SJTA and through this email he was advising SJTA staff to begin preparing the bills for payment, knowing a Board vote was upcoming. On May 17, 2023, Milam and Bush subsequently cast votes during the SJTA Board meeting to approve Firm 1’s bills for services rendered.

Based on the foregoing facts obtained during my investigation, I have probable cause Milam and Bush committed official misconduct and conspiracy to commit official misconduct.

Milam and Bush Commit Perjury to Cover Up Their Illegal Conduct

There is also probable cause that Milam and Bush each committed perjury when they provided false testimony under oath during an official proceeding knowing that their statements were false when they each testified before the State Grand Jury on March 5, 2024 (Milam) and March 12, 2024 (Bush) after taking an oath to tell the truth. Both Milam and Bush were subpoenaed to give testimony before the State Grand Jury, in the City of Trenton, in their official capacities regarding actions taken by them in their official capacities and as set forth below, the perjured testimony concerned actions taken by them in their official capacities.

Milam testified that his February 2023 vote not to approve was based on an error Firm-1 made in failing to include a roof hatch in the construction plans for the East Maintenance Garage, and also claimed an SJTA employee brought concerns to him about a project and he voted not to approve because of his concern about double billing. Milam testified that he shared his concerns with Bush and that Bush supported his stance that they should learn more before approving Firm 1’s bills. Milam’s testimony was knowingly false because, in truth and in fact, the roof hatch error was discovered during a Department of Community Affairs inspection that occurred in March 2023, after Milam began voting not to approve Firm-1’s bills. Milam’s text messages and communication with Bush also indicate that he voted not to approve the bills not because of a roof hatch error or double billing concerns but because, in his own words, “they cut South Jersey in Mercer [C]ounty.” Milam’s false testimony was material because, he purported to offer a potentially legitimate purpose for voting not to approve Firm-1’s bills.

In his testimony, Milam did not provide an explanation as to why his and Bush’s February 8th emails matched, verbatim, and that he did not recall if he forwarded his email to Bush. Based on the aforementioned text messages between Milam and Bush, Milam’s testimony was knowingly false because he texted Bush and specifically said that he would give Bush the language for his email. Additionally, Bush testified that Milam sent him the language for his email. Milam’s false testimony was material because the truthful answers would have tended to show that Milam and Bush worked together in agreement to commit acts of official misconduct.

Milam also testified falsely when he stated that he followed up with SJTA’s Chief Engineer to obtain additional information about the roof hatch issue in relation to his vote to deny payments.

In truth, the Chief Engineer stated that neither Milam nor Bush asked him for additional information and the only time either spoke of Firm-1 was in June 2023, after the votes to not approve payment. This statement was material because, if it was true, it would provide corroboration of Milam’s alleged legitimate concern about the roof hatch issue, double billing, and support of his vote to not approve payment.

Milam also attempted to distance himself from the South Jersey Party

Leader/Commissioner-1 feud when he testified falsely that “the very first” time he learned about it was in February 2024 when he was interviewed by law enforcement personnel in this investigation, which is in direct contradiction to Executive Director-1’s statement that he spoke on the phone to Milam about the feud in December 2022 and Milam’s text messages with Executive Director-1 and with Strategist-1 on December 19, 2022 regarding the feud. This statement was material because, if it was true, it would make it less likely that Milam voted not to approve payment for political purposes.

There is probable cause that Bush testified falsely under oath when asked about his conversation with Milam prior to sending his February 8th email and the basis for his votes not to approve payment. Bush falsely testified that Milam told him Firm-1 was “not living up to their means or whatever” and voting to not approve Firm-1’s bills was a way to get Firm-1 “to do their work or catch up on the work that they weren’t performing on.” The text messages between Milam and Bush, however, provide probable cause that Bush’s testimony was knowingly false and he voted not to approve the bills as political retaliation. Bush’s false testimony was material because, if it had been true, it would have provided a potential legitimate basis for his votes not to approve payment.

6/8/202

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One response to “AG Files Criminal Charges Against Pair of SJTA Commissioners”

  1. If this is the case, then every Democrat Legislator and Democrat Regulator, including Governor Phil KNUCKLEHEAD Murphy, would have to be charged with Official Misconduct and Perjury–since they’ve been running (ruining) the entire NJ government for the past 35 years, and have made fortunes off of their bribery, extortion, collusion, corruption, etc.

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