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DRPA official disciplined for misuse of E-ZPass

The Delaware River Port Authority on Wednesday disciplined its top law enforcement official for misuse of E-ZPass privileges, docking him three days’ pay and requiring him to reimburse the agency.

Chief public safety officer Michael Joyce forfeited about $2,000 in pay and reimbursed the DRPA $600 for giving his daughter the E-ZPass transponder of another DRPA manager who has since been removed from his job in an unrelated incident, DRPA chief executive John Matheussen said.

Joyce, a Camden County lawyer, borrowed the E-ZPass of corporate secretary John Lawless. Like most DRPA employees, Joyce and Lawless were issued E-ZPass transponders that allowed 100 free trips per year over the agency’s four toll bridges.

Joyce’s daughter used the E-ZPass and its free trips to attend school in Philadelphia.

“We concluded, at minimum, that this was something that should not have happened,” Matheussen said. He said that, “at minimum, it was a judgment failure.”

Joyce declined to comment.

Pennsylvania State Treasurer Robert McCord, a member of the DRPA board, said Wednesday that the discipline was too light.

“I believe the punishment does not send a strong enough signal,” he said in a statement. “The misappropriation of toll payers’ money cannot be tolerated.

“Unfortunately, I worry this may be just the tip of the iceberg. I intend to investigate these and other related matters further and propose additional action where appropriate.”

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, another member of the DRPA board, said Wednesday that he would ask for more information about previous E-ZPass offenses to determine if the discipline was appropriate.

“When citizens hear about this,” Wagner said, “they have every reason to be irate.” He said he would push to limit free E-ZPass to work-related use, and he called for more “transparency and accountability in general” at the DRPA.

The use came to light after Lawless, a former Pennsylvania legislator, was removed as DRPA corporate secretary. He was escorted from the agency by security officials in April, but he continues to draw his $123,806 salary. He has filed two complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discriminatory treatment because of an unspecified disability.

Philadelphia labor leader John J. “Doc” Dougherty, a DRPA board member, complained about reported misuse of an E-ZPass transponder by an unnamed “high-ranking N.J. DRPA official” in a letter Friday to fellow board members.

Dougherty, one of eight Pennsylvania representatives on the board, in recent weeks has challenged some DRPA practices, such as closed-door meetings and no-bid contracts.

The DRPA disciplined Joyce at a critical juncture for the politically connected, $300-million-a-year agency, which operates the four bridges and the PATCO commuter rail service between Philadelphia and South Jersey.

Matheussen’s contract expired Saturday, and Gov. Christie has said he would not permit Matheussen to be rehired for a third term until questions were answered about DRPA governance and procedures. In the meantime, Matheussen keeps his $219,474-a-year job and $16,500 car allowance as a holdover, based on an authorization letter signed last week by board chairman John Estey and vice chairman Jeffrey L. Nash.

Christie specifically is concerned about reports that the DRPA failed to follow its bylaws and permitted “questionable expenditures like including car allowances in salaries (possibly to pad pensions),” Christie’s deputy press secretary wrote in an e-mail.

Matheussen, who returned early from vacation to deal with the troubled agency, said Wednesday: “I know I need to earn the trust of the governor of both states and our board.”

Matheussen, a former Republican New Jersey state senator, said he had cooperated with Christie’s investigators who were looking at the DRPA’s operations.

Joyce, initially hired as deputy general counsel in 2004, became acting public safety director after DRPA officials pushed Vince Borelli to retire in 2008. Joyce was named public safety director in December and is paid $180,081 with a $9,000-a-year car allowance.

He also serves as the part-time solicitor for Pennsauken, along with Cherry Hill lawyer Timothy Higgins. Joyce is “of counsel” to Higgins’ firm. Higgins is a well-connected Camden County Democrat, who serves as Democratic Party chairman for Merchantville.

DRPA officials authorized Joyce to take the part-time solicitor job in addition to his full-time post for the port authority, Matheussen wrote in a statement on the DRPA website.

Matheussen said Joyce’s daughter apparently had used Lawless’ DRPA-issued E-ZPass for about 18 months, from late 2008 into 2010. The DRPA required Joyce to reimburse it $4 for each of the maximum 150 free trips that could have been taken during that period, Matheussen said.

Dougherty, who is seeking a job in Joyce’s public safety department for the brother of one of his business agents at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, said he had repeatedly asked for DRPA policies on hiring.

Dougherty denied that his unsuccessful efforts on job placements had influenced his attack on DRPA policies.

“I’ll guarantee, anybody I ever recommended for a job would never be alleged to be taking an E-ZPass and committing petty larceny,” Dougherty said Wednesday. “That’s absolutely what I’d expect from a group of people who are seeing their taxpayer MAC cards going out the window.”

The DRPA has not announced a new July meeting date for its board. The usual monthly meeting Wednesday – when, Dougherty had said, he would introduce resolutions to ban closed-door caucus meetings and reduce the limit on no-bid contracts – was canceled Tuesday because Estey was out of town.