A township resident pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that he accepted a bribe in exchange for construction approvals while working for the Freehold Soil Conservation District, authorities said.
John Tonon, 51, of Lakewood Road, while serving in his job as a soil conservationist and inspector for the Freehold Soil Conservation District, according to a release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office.
Tonon pleaded guilty to official misconduct and bribery, both third degree crimes. The prosecutor's office will recommend five years in state prison, under a plea agreement. Tonon will be eligible for parole after two years, according to the release.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, the prosecutor's office has said.
Tonon, who according to state records in 2009 made $65,226 in his position with the conservation district, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5.
Tonon accepted the bribe on Oct. 26 in Hazlet to expedite the permitting process for a recently built home, the release says.
Tonon told the builder the fees associated with the Freehold Soil Conservation District inspection and the associated paperwork ranged between $1,400 and $3,000, according to the release.
But Tonon offered to expedite the process and issue approvals in exchange
for a $700 cash payment – approvals that would ensure faster issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the property, the release says.
Then an undercover officer, posing as a business partner of the builder, stepped in and made several consensually recorded conversations regarding payment and Tonon accepted a $700 cash bribe from the undercover officer, the release says.
The Freehold Soil Conservation District is one of 15 soil conservation districts in the state, run by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
Conservation districts are charged with the implementation of the New Jersey Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Act, which regulates development in areas including stormwater management, soil erosion and sedimentation.
The Freehold Soil Conservation District works in both Monmouth and Middlesex counties.