Former Superintendent's Home Raided By Prosecutor's Office
James F. Habel's Point Pleasant Borough home raided this morning
Investigators from the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office Thursday morning raided the Point Pleasant home of former Wall Township Superintendent of Schools James F. Habel.
Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni was tight-lipped about the raid, saying only that the office "conducted an investigative action'' at Habel's residence.
Gramiccioni did not say what investigators were looking for or what was taken from Habel's home at 1614 Blue Heron Court in the raid, which began at 6:30 a.m.
Attempts to reach Habel were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.
Habel took the helm of the Wall School district beginning in 2003. Habel received a base salary of $220,048 in 2011, plus extensive benefits.
The retirement payout for the former superintendent was a topic at a recent Board of Education meeting, where board President John Tavis said Habel's retirement payout would cost the district more than $408,800 for unused sick and vacation time in accordance with a contract that also gives him lifetime health insurance.
The former superintendent, Tavis said, also is entitled to 363 days of accrued vacation time, because Habel in 11 years never used his vacation days. At the time of the contract, there was no cap on the amount of payout or number of days that could accrue.
Gramiccioni did not say if Thursday's raid was related to Habel's contract.
Current Superintendent of Schools Daniel Simon said investigators from the Prosecutor's Office were recently combing through records at the Board of Education office.
Simon declined further comment.
Habel spent the last six months of his term at the helm of the school district on medical leave, citing an undisclosed medical problem. The superintendent used some of that accrued sick time beginning in January. He did not return to the district.
Habel, who maintains a home in Florida and whose wife is a full-time Florida resident, expressed "great interest" in a superintendent job in the Sunshine State in 2008, according to a letter he wrote to the Pinellas County School Board, located in Largo, Fla.
In it, Habel says he has been a part-time resident of Pinellas County since 1987 and has an interest in maintaining good schools there.
"I have a vested, long-term commitment to Pinellas County and the future of our school system,'' he said in the letter, which is attached to this story.
Habel's pay was cited in a 2006 New Jersey Commission of Investigation report titled, "TAXPAYERS BEWARE — What You Don’t Know Can Cost You: An Inquiry Into Questionable and Hidden Compensation for Public School Administrators."
In it, the commission found that school districts, legally, can pay employees in a tax-free annuity if the employee agrees to take a reduction in salary. The legal practice, however, appears "in many instances to have been awarded as adjuncts to base salaries rather than in place of corresponding salary reductions as required by the enabling statute."
The report cites a payment of $69,450 into an annuity made to Habel during the 2003-04 school year.
The report cites a practice it calls "questionable'' in regard to total compensation for administrators. For instance, Habel's reported salary to the state Department of Education in 2004-05 was $159,000. His actual compensation — including benefits and perks — was $215,780, a difference of $56,780 or 35.7 percent, the report says.
"The official DOE listing provides no clue that many top administrators receive payments for unused leave, annuities, pension contribution reimbursements and other forms of remuneration well beyond the scope of regular paychecks,'' the report says.