Ex-water corporation boss gets 8 years for $1 million fraud

The former head of a not-for-profit corporation formed to oversee the water services for the city was sentenced on Friday to more than eight years in prison for accepting nearly $1 million in kickbacks.

Linda Watkins Brashear pleaded guilty in 2015 to fraud for participating in what state auditors called "an egregious and yet preventable abuse of public funds" as executive director of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. from 2007 to 2013.

The 57-year-old West Orange resident also admitted failing to report more than $300,000 in income.

On Friday she received a 102-month sentence and was ordered to pay $1.3 million in restitution.

Among the payments Watkins Brashear received were $260,000 in cash from a partner of the watershed corporation's special project manager and $177,000 from an internet research consultant.

She submitted to the corporation inflated invoices that covered the kickback payments, prosecutors said.

The 2014 state auditor's report said Watkins Brashear wrote dozens of checks to herself totaling about $200,000, which the corporation couldn't justify, and received a severance package worth twice that amount at an emergency board meeting after state investigators began asking questions.

The report also said Watkins Brashear made risky investments without board permission, resulting in losses of more than $500,000. She also was accused of authorizing contracts worth more than $300,000 for interior design work to companies owned by her ex-husband.

In a statement to the court on Friday, Watkins Brashear apologized and said she had been struggling with a gambling addiction during part of her tenure with the corporation.

Several contractors have pleaded guilty in connection with the investigation, and former watershed official Donald Bernard Sr. was sentenced in July to eight years in prison for his role in the fraud.