We shouldn't be surprised.
The huge amounts of money being spent to clean up and rebuild the shore after Hurricane Sandy were bound to attract unscrupulous people who wanted more than their share of that money. Homeowners have been warned to beware of such people when they contract for repairs. Maybe someone should have given state officials a heads up, too.
The Record newspaper of Bergen County reported recently that bills submitted for hauling mountains of debris from shore towns to landfills contained some peculiar mileage inconsistencies, which - you guessed it - benefited the contractor.
It seems the contract with cleanup company AshBritt Inc. specifies that when debris is trucked 16 miles or more, the price of removal goes up 30 percent. Payments go up again after 31 miles.
And a remarkable number of hauling trips from different locations turned out to be recorded at just over or exactly 16 miles.
This despite the fact that GPS mapping of the routes and a reporter retracing them showed many were less than 16 miles. Charges are supposed to be based on the shortest drivable distance, regardless of what route drivers actually took. It is unclear whether the mileage figures were produced by the truck drivers themselves, AshBritt or its subcontractors.
The newspaper found hundreds of trips that were charged at a higher rate than the actual mileage would warrant. It calculated that in Ocean County alone, the phony mileage added $500,000 to cleanup costs.
Federal officials say hauling overcharges were discovered in other disaster cleanups, including the massive effort after Hurricane Katrina.
Last week Marc-Philip Ferzan, whom Gov. Chris Christie appointed to oversee the state's post-Sandy cleanup efforts, asked state Comptroller Matthew Boxer to look into charges that hauling mileage was falsified. Boxer will also investigate the independent integrity monitors who certified that the bogus distances were accurate.
Christie, who has been criticized for awarding an emergency no-bid cleanup contract to the politically connected AshBritt, had previously issued an order directing Boxer to examine all cleanup contracts of more than $10 million.
We're confident that Boxer will take a hard look at this issue, but his office has no prosecutorial power. All it can do is write a report.
The mileage discrepancies warrant a full investigation by the Attorney General's Office.
No, instances of contractors playing fast and loose with numbers shouldn't be surprising. But neither should they be tolerated.