Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Union County Dems - Ledger - PAC treasurer admits theft

Published in the Star Ledger, Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Ex-PAC treasurer admits he stole funds
Plea deal to net him probation, restitution

Star-Ledger Staff

The former treasurer of a political action committee supporting Democrats admitted yesterday he stole more than $53,000 from the organization to pay personal bills for his brother and himself.

Charles Betancourt, 29, of Garwood, said he took the funds from the Central Jersey Democratic Leadership Committee during a four-month period after the organization collected $130,000 in a fund-raising campaign in February 2005.

Betancourt admitted misappropriating the money, totaling $53,238, by writing checks and authorizing electronic transfers. He also said he falsified reports submitted to the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission to cover up the diversion of funds for his personal use.

Betancourt, who was facing up to eight years in prison if he had been convicted at trial, agreed to plead guilty during a hearing in the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick.

In exchange, he will repay the stolen funds and will face a probationary term of up to five years when he is sentenced Nov. 3 in New Brunswick by Superior Court Judge Frederick DeVesa.

Executive Assistant Prosecutor Ronald Abramowitz said Betancourt pleaded guilty to charges of theft by deception, misrepresentation of political contributions and filing false reports.

Abramowitz said Betancourt used the money to pay off a $25,000 car loan; paid $11,567 in personal loans from a bank and federal credit union, and paid $1,075 in delinquent credit card accounts from Macy's and HSBC Bank.

The prosecuting attorney said Betancourt also paid his brother's debts. Abramowitz said the brother was unaware the money had been stolen. He declined to identify the brother.

Authorities, who began investigating the political action committee last December, determined committee chairman James Devine had removed Betancourt as treasurer last October after reviewing committee bank records. Betancourt had been treasurer of the committee since its inception in 2001.

Devine is the owner of Devine Media, which publishes a chain of weekly newspapers circulating in Middlesex and Union counties.

Jim O'Neill covers the Middlesex County Courthouse. He may be reached at or (732) 249-5670

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.