Man accused of stealing $1.5 million from carpenter pensions gets no jail

A New Jersey man accused of embezzling over $1.5 million from the pension funds of New Jersey and New York carpenters union members was sentenced to six months of home confinement, a fine of $20,000, and three years of probation.

George R. Laufenberg, 72, of Wall Township, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Kevin R. McNulty to two counts of an indictment charging him with embezzling approximately $140,000 in pension benefits and making false statements to the DOL. Judge McNulty imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

No restitution was ordered as a result of Laufenberg’s settlement in a separate civil case with the Northeast Carpenters Benefit Funds, in which he forfeited his ‘pension supplement’ of $14,000 per month.

Laufenberg was the administrative manager of the Northeast Carpenters Pension Fund, which was subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

In that capacity, Laufenberg was a fiduciary and participant in the pension fund who used his power to steal from the benefit plans and give himself “unapproved and improper” pension and annuity funds, according to former U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.

Prior to being fired by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in 2016, Laufenberg was at the helm of more than $2 billion in funds for the union, which cited “potential violations” of federal securities law as reason for his unemployment.

In a deal with federal prosecutors, Laufenberg admitted to stealing $140,000 that was paid to him under a deferred compensation agreement to which he was not entitled.

Laufenberg also admitted that he made false statements in a form required under ERISA that he filed to the Department of Labor on behalf of the pension fund.

In 2014, Republican Gov. Chris Christie nominated Laufenberg to the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a position he held for three years before being replaced when it came to light that he had falsely claimed residency in Hudson County.

When Port Authority of New York and New Jersey commissioner George Laufenberg was nominated to the post in June 2014, he listed his home address as Hoboken.

Two weeks after Christie nominated him and about three weeks before he was confirmed to the Port Authority, Laufenberg changed his voter registration from Wall Township, in Monmouth County, to Hoboken.

Wall Township, where Laufenberg had lived for decades, is far outside the port district where most of the New Jersey commissioners are required to be “resident voters.”

A whistleblower lawsuit by John Ballantyne and two other former union employees, alleges the United Brotherhood of Carpenters dissolved the local council to get rid of Ballantyne in retaliation for firing Laufenberg, family members of a union official who had no-show jobs, and political consultant Tricia Mueller, whose company, Groundwork Strategies, had a $33,500 per month contract for which she did little or no work.

Ballantyne is joined on the suit by Robert Weakley, who served as the regional council’s director of human resources, and Laura Czarneski, Ballantyne’s longtime assistant.

“Today’s sentencing sends an important message to all those entrusted with protecting benefit plan assets. Regardless of title or position, the Department of Labor will hold fiduciaries to the highest standards of accountability to protect the benefits of America’s workers,” said New York Regional Director Thomas Licetti of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Critics say Laufenberg got caught red-handed and walked away without spending time in prison, as almost any other person would face, largely due to his political connections and personal friendship with high ranking union officials who are equally corrupt.

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