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Former World Business Lenders payroll manager Kerrie-Anne Murray.

Company that got tax breaks cut New Jersey jobs, ex-employee says

WBL wanted to rebut testimony of ‘disgruntled employee’ but task force told them no

By Nikita Biryukov, May 02 2019 1:49 pm

A former payroll manager for World Business Lenders told the task force investigating the Economic Development Authority that the subprime lender cut all the jobs it was required to create to keep a tax incentive after it sold the award in 2016.

But her former employer has denied the allegations, calling Kerrie-Ann Murray a disgruntled employee and offering to also appear before the task force to rebut her testimony.

Darryl Isherwood, a spokesman for the EDA who is working with the task force, could not immediately say why WBL was not allowed to appear.

A refusal to allow WBL the chance to tell their side of the story could fuel speculation that the task force has a political agenda, something that does Gov. Phil Murphy no favors in a battle with Camden County Democrats over tax breaks that has amped up exponentially over the last two days.

Murray, who testified before the task force without counsel Thursday, said the firm moved from New York to New Jersey and created a new department to comply with the roughly 100 new hires required for the company to comply with the requirements of its award.

“The purpose of the department was to hold calls to potential small business loan borrowers,” Murray said, adding the nature of the hires was surprising “because it wasn’t a role or positions that the company previously used. The company does subprime lending, if I can say that, so you would have to be very experienced in sales.”

Murray testified the firm cut the department, firing roughly 80 employees, all at once in 2017.

She said staff were told the company’s tax credit was sold to a different firm in 2016.

WBL pushed back on Murray’s testimony.

“Her employment as WBL’s patrol manager was terminated because she had a long-documented track record of continuous performance deficiencies and misconduct,” WBL Human Resources Director Stephanie Hamilton said in a statement. “During her employment tenure, Ms. Murray routinely committed errors due to her carelessness and her oversights and displayed an inability to perform the basic functions of her position, including failing to properly pay employees.”

The firm did not contest that it sold its tax credit in 2016 — such sales are allowed under the 2013 law enabling Grow NJ, the program WBL received an award under — but claimed that it eliminated positions because of a downturn in the financial technology industry.

Hamilton said WBL told the task force the firm believed Murray would lie before the committee. No representative of the company is scheduled to testify Thursday.

The whistleblower alleged WBL committed other abuses, including keeping an employee on payroll by marking a false termination date on spreadsheets submitted to the EDA to show compliance with Grow NJ requirements.

The falsified date kept the employee’s severance pay on the firm’s payroll through 2016, Murray said.

Employees at the firm were required to maintain a minimum amount of hours worked. Those hours were also recorded on the compliance spreadsheets, which Murray said the firm stopped filing a month or two after the firm eliminated roughly 80 positions in 2017.

If an employee fell under the amount of required hours in a given period, payroll staff were instructed to backfill those hours on the spreadsheet using paid time off.

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