Former Wall School Superintendent Faces Slew of Charges; UPDATE: Brower Cleared
The former superintendent of the Wall Township school district has been indicted by a Monmouth County grand jury in connection with various schemes aimed at fleecing the district of more than $360,000 in fraudulently obtained vacation time payouts and mortgage fraud totaling more than $1 million.
Fifty-six-year-old James Habel is also charged for playing a part in covering up an alleged sex abuse of a special needs student.
Habel faced two indictments. The first charges him with second degree Official Misconduct, second degree Theft by Deception, two counts of second degree Mortgage Fraud, first degree Financial Facilitation of Criminal Activity, third degree Theft by Failure to Make Required Disposition of Property and eight counts of Falsifying or Tampering with Records.
The second indictment connects Habel to the previous indictment handed up against his former assistant Sandra Brower, charging him with second degree Official Misconduct, second degree Conspiracy and fourth degree Obstructing the Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function in the alleged sex abuse case.
In the first indictment, Habel is accused of carrying out a scheme to defraud the district of about $362,000 by failing to notify the district of his absence and properly account for about 110 days when he was absent or outside the district, which often occurred on Fridays and Mondays. When Habel retired, he was paid about $93,000 for the 110 vacation days he never deducted from his accrued balance.
Separately, Habel repeatedly cashed in vacation days and deposited the proceeds into tax-deferred accounts, yet failed to deduct the cashed-in vacation days from his accrued balance. As a result, Habel was the beneficiary of “double-dipped” payments of $268,000 when his vacation balance was carrying in the negative.
Habel then attempted to conceal his criminal activity by thwarting attempts by school district human resources officials to accurately record his attendance, directing subordinates to delete and destroy records that accurately accounted for his vacation day cash-ins and balance. He went so far as to direct the district Information Technology director to delete certain e-mails from the district’s computer server, an order that was disregarded. Habel also is charged with shredding, destroying or removing files from his office.
The first indictment also charges Habel with two counts of theft, totaling more than $1 million, for committing mortgage fraud in refinancing loans on his Point Pleasant Beach and Florida homes.
The first degree Financial Facilitation of Criminal Activity charge carries a mandatory minimum of no less than 10 years in prison, if convicted. There is also a mandatory minimum required sentence of five years in prison if he is convicted of the second degree Official Misconduct charge.
If convicted, Habel could face 10-20 years in state prison for the first degree offense, 5-10 years on each of the second degree offenses, 3-5 years on the third degree charges and up to 18 months for each of the fourth degree charges.
In November, The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office launched a Corruption Tip Line. That number is 855-7-UNJUST or 855-786-5878 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.