NEW BRUNSWICK — Two former employees of the city's water department have been sentenced to five years in prison for taking bribes in exchange for lowering water and sewer bills.

Joseph DeBonis and William Ortiz illegally reduced bills for about 50 properties in return for bribes totaling about $20,000.

The 56-year-old DeBonis, of Toms River, was a senior account clerk. Ortiz, 57, of North Brunswick, was a meter reader.

Joseph DeBonis charged in New Brunswick Water Department bribery scheme. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

The state Attorney General's Office says Ortiz solicited bribes from customers and arranged for bill reductions through DeBonis, who had access to the city's water and sewer database.

Some of the bills were reduced by as much as 90%.

In one scheme in 2014, Ortiz took a $1,000 bribe to switch a property owner’s water meter with one that did not record actual water usage. The meter — which he dubbed “the thief” — was switched out again before the end of the month in order to avoid detection, authorities said.

Both men forfeited their pensions and are barred from future public employment.

The scheme cost the city of New Brunswick about $500,000.

The Hub City has had to flush out corruption from its various agencies in recent years.

In 2016, four New Brunswick Parking Authority workers were charge with conspiracy and taking bribes from restaurant owners in exchange for parking in closed decks.

Last year, Middlesex County prosecutors charged four New Brunswick Parking Authority employees with conspiracy and taking bribes from restaurant owners in exchange for allowing their customers to park in closed decks. All pleaded guilty.

In 2008, six Parking Authority employees were charged in similar crimes and were convicted.

Also last year, a New Brunswick firefighter was charged with with filing bogus disability claims. Another city firefighter was charged with a similar crime in 2015.

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