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Coutinho pleads guilty to theft, falsifying records

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The Attorney General's Office announced this morning that Al Coutinho, until Wednesday a state assemblyman in Essex County, has pleaded guilty to stealing funds from his family's charitable foundation and filing false financial disclosure forms with the Legislature.

In pleading guilty, Coutinho admitted to misappropriating donations and contributions to his family's charitable foundation, the Bernardino Coutinho Foundation, between 2008 and 2012.

The news comes a day after Coutinho abruptly resigned from the Assembly.

Coutinho has been an advocate for business issues during his relatively short stint in the Legislature. Most recently, he led the months-long charge to get the Economic Opportunity Act passed. That bill, which reorganizes and beefs up the corporate incentives available to New Jersey companies, had broad support from the business community. It is expected to pass a vote in the Senate today. Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill Monday; the Assembly immediately approved the changes.

Coutinho (D-Newark) was a sponsor of the bill in the Assembly.

According to the announcement, between January 2008 and December 2012, Coutinho cashed checks representing approximately $32,500 in donations and contributions to the family's foundation. In his plea, Coutinho admitted to taking and using those donations for his own personal benefit and for purposes unrelated to the foundation.

Coutinho also admitted he also failed to disclose to the Legislature the income he received as a consequence of his theft and misappropriation of foundation funds.

"Assemblyman Coutinho committed a crime by stealing funds from a charitable foundation and failing to report income as part of his financial disclosure obligations as a legislator," acting Attorney General John Hoffman said in prepared remarks. "In doing so, he failed the people of New Jersey, who rightfully expect their elected representatives to uphold the laws of this state and act with integrity at all times."

Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Coutinho be sentenced to a term of probation, and will be required to make full restitution to the foundation for the funds that he misappropriated.

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