Ex-transportation head for Hazlet and Piscataway school districts pleads guilty to stealing half a million dollars from districts

TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John Hoffman announced that the former Transportation Manager/Supervisor for the Hazlet Township and Piscataway Township School Districts pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing $565,772 from the two school districts by authorizing payments to fictitious bus companies for transportation services that were never provided to the districts. In addition, her former boyfriend pleaded guilty today to separate theft charges stemming from the investigation.

Michelle Pumilia, 40, of Union Beach, pleaded guilty to an accusation charging her with second-degree pattern of official misconduct before Superior Court Judge Bradley Ferencz in Middlesex County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that she be sentenced to eight years in prison, including five years of parole ineligibility. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Manis took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice. Sentencing for Pumilia is scheduled for Feb. 24.

In pleading guilty, Pumilia admitted that she signed off on numerous purchase orders in the two school districts, authorizing the issuance of district checks to the fictitious bus companies. The thefts totaled approximately $336,570 in the Piscataway District, and approximately $229,202 in the Hazlet District.

She stole an additional $7,040 from the Hazlet District by fraudulently authorizing “aid-in-lieu” checks in her mother’s name. Such checks are provided to students attending private schools who are entitled to district transportation but cannot be bused by the district.

Those checks and most of the checks for the fictitious bus companies were deposited into a joint account she held with her mother. Pumilia must pay full restitution of $572,812. She is permanently barred from public employment and must forfeit all public pension and retirement benefits. Pumilia’s mother, Virginia Lisay, was initially charged in the investigation, but those charges have been dismissed.

“This defendant corruptly stole more than half a million dollars from taxpayers and students in these two school districts,” said Hoffman. “It is shocking that a school administrator, who understands how districts struggle to reduce collateral expenses and keep resources in the classroom, would selfishly betray the school community through such a scheme. Pumilia absolutely deserves the lengthy prison sentence she is facing.”

“This administrator looked at the large sums spent by these districts on transportation, and instead of closely watching expenditures, as was her duty, she saw an opportunity to steal,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will aggressively prosecute any school officials who fraudulently seek to profit at the expense of the school districts that employ them.”

Pumilia’s longtime boyfriend, Scott M. Callahan, 40, who lived with her in Union Beach, pleaded guilty today before Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci Jr. in Monmouth County to an accusation charging him with two counts of third-degree theft by deception.

Callahan, who receives disability benefits, admitted that he intentionally under-reported his income from a part-time job in order to receive Social Security disability benefits and federal Section 8 housing subsidies in excess of the amounts to which he was entitled.

His fraud resulted in him receiving overpayments over the course of 10 years of $38,794 in Social Security disability benefits and $15,300 in Section 8 housing subsidies from the Middletown Housing Authority.

The state will recommend that Callahan be sentenced to a term of probation, conditioned on him paying full restitution. Sentencing for Callahan is scheduled for Feb. 14.

Pumilia was employed as the “Transportation Manager” for the Hazlet Township School District from July 2005 through August 2008. Beginning in 2006, Pumilia entered a new transportation vendor called “VL Transport,” doing business as “Vic Langly,” into the district’s computer system.

She provided the district with false state business registration certificates for the company. During the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years, Pumilia authorized a total of approximately $229,202 in purchase orders and payments to VL Transport and Vic Langly. The state’s investigation revealed that the company and the individual were fictitious, and no transportation services were provided to the district in connection with the payments that were made.

Pumilia was subsequently employed as the “Supervisor of Transportation” for the Piscataway Township School District from September 2008 through June 2012. During that period, Pumilia authorized a total of approximately $336,570 in purchase orders and payments to another purported bus company and proprietor of the company. The state’s investigation again revealed that the company was fictitious, and no transportation services were provided to the district in connection with the payments that were made.

Law enforcement agencies were alerted after an employee in the Piscataway School District discovered suspicious invoices and both school districts found irregularities during internal audits.

The Division of Criminal Justice filed a forfeiture action in Superior Court in Monmouth County and obtained a court order to seize four bank accounts of Pumilia and six motor vehicles. Under the plea agreement, Pumilia will relinquish any interest in the seized bank accounts and vehicles.

The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by Detective Sgt. 1st Class Fritz Frage, Detective Sgt. 1st Class Lisa King and Detective Patrick Squitieri of the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption North Unit, and Deputy Attorney General Manis of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Nina Bonner and Detective Melissa Calkin handled the forfeiture action for the Division of Criminal Justice.

Hoffman thanked the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, the Social Security Administration and the Middletown Housing Authority for their assistance in the investigation.

Special Agent Kristie Morgan assisted in the investigation for the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration. Hoffman also thanked the Hazlet Township School District and the Piscataway Township School District for their full cooperation in the state’s investigation.

Hoffman and Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities.

Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice web page at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing. All information received will remain confidential.