By Dari Kotzker
The court room, virtually empty as Albert Coutinho faced Mercer County Superior Court Judge Gerald Council, telling him that he was pleading guilty to unlawful taking and falsifying records.
One day after resigning his Assembly seat, Coutinho admitted stealing thousands of dollars from his own family’s charitable foundation, then filing false income statements to cover it up.
The 44-year-old former Assemblyman avoided a possible six and a half year prison term after working out a plea deal with the Attorney General’s Office. State investigators said he’d spent the Coutinho foundation’s money for personal benefit.
Coutinho pleaded guilty to third-degree theft by unlawful taking and a fourth-degree charge of falsifying documents. He agreed to pay back more than $32,000. It ended a five-year legislative career representing Newark’s Ironbound section.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz served with Coutinho in the 29th District.
“Assemblyman Coutinho was my friend before he ran in office, is my friend today and will be my friend tomorrow. And he was a phenomenal legislator,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz welcomed Coutinho’s successor, Eliana Pintor Marin.
“Her background is extraordinarily strong in finances, she’s a friend, she’s a phenomenal candidate,” Ruiz said.
This past Monday’s Assembly session saw Coutinho praised for his work on the Economic Opportunity Act. At that point, his colleagues thought he had resigned because of health issues.
“You’re a role model in my opinion for both Democrats and Republicans in the future. The work done on this bill and your patience is also a fitting tribute to you as a member of this body,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, who worked on the bill with him, doesn’t think Coutinho’s criminal actions will affect the sustainability of the legislation.
“One’s a personal matter. In terms of his performance here in the legislature, he was a good partner of mine in promoting job creation and investment in New Jersey,” Lesniak said.
Coutino had nothing to say as he left the courthouse.
Donald DiGioia, Coutino’s lawyer said, “As you and I discussed, you can call me this afternoon at the office.”
The judge also told Coutinho that he will never be able to hold a public job again and will have a criminal record. His sentencing is set for Oct. 24.