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Former Rutgers coach charged with stealing from parks system

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – A former Rutgers University men’s basketball coach diverted thousands of dollars of public money from a New Jersey park system to a nonprofit he controlled and gave him and his family benefits including free concert tickets, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Kevin Bannon’s attorney, John Furlong, said he’s “supremely confident” he will prevail at trial after he was charged with receiving unauthorized benefits for himself and others while leading the Mercer County Park Commission

A grand jury returned a 10-count indictment against the 60-year-old Lawrenceville man on Tuesday, including charges of official misconduct and theft, more than a year after he was fired from the agency after the state’s investigation became public knowledge.

Bannon coached at Rutgers from 1997 through 2001, when he was fired after reports surfaced that he forced his players to strip their clothes off if they missed shots during free-throw shooting contests.

The indictment alleges Bannon ran the nonprofit Friends of Mercer County Parks on county time with county employees and used several schemes to divert funds. The Park Commission is a semi-autonomous public agency funded by the county.

“We allege that Bannon corruptly used the Friends organization to divert county funds and expand his power over park facilities and events, while also conferring unauthorized benefits like free golf and VIP concert tickets on himself, his family and his inner circle,” Attorney General Christopher Porrino said.

The indictment alleges that Bannon, without authorization, signed a contract with a concert promoter on behalf of the Park Commission that personally awarded him numerous free VIP tickets worth $6,240 to three concerts staged in the summer of 2015. The contract provided that Bannon could host up to 50 guests at each concert, including access to a VIP hospitality tent.

Prosecutors say Bannon also hired an accountant to work for the Friends organization and paid him with free golf cart at any time at any of the Park Commission’s golf courses. Authorities say the accountant played about 200 rounds of golf between 2013 and 2015, for which the waived fees totaled over $8,000.

Bannon ran the nonprofit with his brother, whom he allegedly hired as a project manager for the park commission so that the brother could run the nonprofit. Bannon’s brother and the accountant are not facing charges.

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