Under Investigation for a Crime or Professional Violation?

Investigations into alleged illegal behavior are not limited to police cases. Many other agencies conduct investigations in New Jersey, and although these investigations may eventually lead to criminal charges, they can also result in noncriminal sanctions as well.

In particular, many agencies regulate licensure for professions and businesses. In addition, agencies exist to ensure compliance with state laws related to the environment, health and safety and other areas of government interest.

Violations of agency regulations or professional standards can result in losing the ability to operate in New Jersey. This could mean that a contractor can no longer do business, a chemical company can be closed, a doctor can no longer practice medicine, or a teacher can become ineligible for a job in New Jersey.

Below are just some of the New Jersey professions and businesses that conduct their own oversight and licensing:

Accountants, architects and landscape architects, engineers, cemeteries, cosmetologists, court reporters, electricians, alarm providers, home inspectors, heating and air conditioning contractors, interior designers, plumbers, morticians, surveyors, planners, real estate appraisers

State agencies regulate other professions and types of businesses, including teachers, physicians, nurses, contractors, insurance companies, employment agencies, collection agencies, adoption agencies and many others. Many types of businesses and professions are regulated both by the government and by professional boards.

Licensing investigations

Examples of situations faced by individuals threatened with loss of licensure illustrate the power of the state and of the accrediting and licensing agencies to regulate business and professional conduct. A psychologist lost her license in August 2012 when an administrative judge ruled that she had been manipulating patients to try to allege child sexual abuse where none existed. The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners recently suspended the license of a Hunterdon doctor for conducting unauthorized research on developmentally disabled patients. The same doctor is also the target of a criminal investigation.

Pharmacists are frequently cited both in criminal complaints and disciplinary actions for selling or distributing prescription drugs. Two pharmacists were recently arrested in the Lakeland area and charged with illegal distribution of hydrocodone. A West Orange pharmacist was recently charged with selling oxycodone without a prescription. A Bayonne pharmacy technician allegedly stole and sold more than 2,000 doses of OxyContin and Xanax. These individuals will almost certainly be subject to disciplinary action by the New Jersey State Board of Pharmacy and will lose their licenses to dispense prescription drugs in the state.

A mixed martial arts trainer was charged with falsifying pre-event records so that fighters did not need to submit to medical exams. The investigation was conducted jointly by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (SACB) and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. The trainer, who let his license lapse years ago, faces several criminal penalties and will probably never be able to renew his license, according to a spokesperson for the SACB.

Criminal investigations

Public employees are frequent subjects of law enforcement investigations. Recently, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey released a list of cases that resulted from lengthy investigations of police officers, corrections officers, sheriffs, Department of Transportation officials, school superintendents and teachers.

Elected officials are not immune to investigation. Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, was recently charged with conspiracy and extortion along with several others. The arrest followed a two-year investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI into a scheme to sell public property and expedite permit approvals needed for the development of a parking garage in return for payments of at least $100,000.

People who believe they are being investigated, whether by law enforcement or licensing agencies, should protect themselves by consulting an attorney as soon as they suspect an investigation. A knowledgeable lawyer may be able to help them protect their livelihoods, futures and standing in the community.