Former New Jersey Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, who represented Belleville in the State Legislature, has been sentenced to three years’ probation for stealing funds from his family’s charitable foundation and for filing false financial disclosure forms.
Coutinho, 44, of Newark, is also permanently barred from holding public office or public employment in New Jersey.
Before resigning his office in September, the Demcratic pol had represented the 29th Legislative District, which covers the Ironbound section of Newark, in addition to Belleville. The day after his resignation, he pleaded guilty to theft by unlawful taking and to falsifying or tampering with records.
At his sentencing Thursday before Superior Court Judge Gerald Council in Mercer County, Coutinho was ordered to make full restitution of $32,500 to the Bernardino Coutinho Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to community development and cultural education in the Portuguese community in the Ironbound.
He must also perform 50 hours of community service. According to Acting N.J. Attorney General John J. Hoffman, an investigation had revealed that, between January 2008 and December 2012, Coutinho personally cashed checks, representing approximately $32,500 in donations and contributions to the foundation.
“In pleading guilty,” a statement from Hoffman’s office noted, “Coutinho admitted to taking and using those donations for his own personal benefit and for purposes unrelated to any legitimate, foundation- related business.”
Coutinho also admitted that he had failed to disclose the income he received as a consequence of the theft and misappropriation of foundation funds.
Coutinho first served in the Assembly from May 1997 to January 1998, after being appointed to fill the unexpired term of Jackie R. Mattison.
He was first elected to the Assembly in November 2007 and won reelection in 2009 and 2011.
“When a public official engages in criminal conduct involving dishonesty, as Mr. Coutinho did, the law rightly demands that he forfeit his public office,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Any official who commits such a crime does so at the peril of the criminal law and of his career in public office.”
Hoffman and Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau has established a confidential Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. The public also can log on to http://www.njdcj.org/ to confidentially report suspected wrongdoing.
– Karen Zautyk