Essex County Prosecutor Paula T. Dow announced Tuesday that a former Newark municipal attorney pleaded guilty to attempting to blackmail his boss for $750,000 and a promotion.
Neil Braunstein, 40, of Fanwood, pleaded guilty Tuesday morning before Essex County Superior Court Judge Garry Furnari to third-degree attempted criminal coercion. As part of the plea agreement, Braunstein faces three years probation, permanent forfeiture of public employment and is required to undergo a psychological evaluation. Judge Furnari scheduled sentencing for Dec. 4.
According to Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Brandon Minde, who prosecuted the case on May 19, 2009, Braunstein threatened Julien Neals, the city’s corporation counsel director, with an unspecified offense unless Neals gave him the money and a better job. Braunstein had been employed as an assistant corporate counsel for the city of Newark for four years. After he was approached, Neals contacted the city inspector general’s office, which launched a joint investigation with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Corruption Unit. Braunstein was arrested in his office, without incident, on May 26.
“My office will continue to prosecute those who violate the public trust,” Prosecutor Dow said. “Attempted criminal coercion or blackmail is a serious offense and one that my office will aggressively prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The Inspector General’s Office will investigate and charge any municipal worker who violates the law or misuses his or her office for any kind of personal corruption,” said Inspector General James Wright. “We do not differentiate by pay grade. We hold all of our municipal teammates to the same standard–that they faithfully execute their duties as servants of the public. Those who fail to do so will be held accountable.”
Prosecutor Dow commended Assistant Prosecutor Minde for prosecuting the case. Dow also praised the City’s Inspector General’s Office and Detective Dante Pasquale of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Corruption Unit for the investigation.