The various branches of New Jersey state government seem in a quandary about how to hold responsible many public employees who took part in defrauding the government health benefits system of more than $25 million.

Since August last year, 21 participants have pleaded guilty in the conspiracy to write phony prescriptions for compounded medicines, have an out-of-state pharmacy bill New Jersey employee benefits insurers, and divvy up millions in kickbacks.

Yet in those 15 months since their guilt has been established in federal court, not one of these people who sold out their fellow employees and the public they’re supposedly serving has lost their license.

That doesn’t make any sense. Surely the licenses require that the holders not use them in criminal acts to rob the state and its taxpayers.

The state agencies dragging their feet on license revocation say they’re awaiting the sentencing of those convicted before taking action (or even deciding what that action will be apparently). But the sentencings keep getting delayed — in the 15 months since the guilty pleas started, no one has been sentenced either. Now the first sentencing may happen in February or March … or maybe will be delayed again.

The health-benefits fraud took place in 2015 and 2016. Central figures in the conspiracy — including pharmaceutical representatives, doctors and public employees — recruited state and local government workers to fill out prescriptions for expensive compounded medicines they didn’t need. These public employees — including teachers, police officers, firefighters and state troopers — also received kickbacks for their role in the fraud conspiracy. Many apparently are from Atlantic City, Margate and Ventnor.

And yet, more than a year after federal law enforcement began taking ringleaders to court, the public still awaits the first charges against public employees who requested the bogus prescriptions and an accounting of how many public servants took part in the fraud.

There is strong public interest in the matter. Readers have repeatedly written letters and commented online about the slow pace of the prosecutions and their concern that government officials might go easy on their own.

This much is clear. When workers in the private sector commit a crime in conjunction with their work, they’re fired. Companies seldom even wait for a conviction if behavior contrary to company policy can be established.

There shouldn’t be one standard of soft accountability for government workers and another, stricter one for everyone else. Everyone convicted of enriching themselves at the expense of the public should lose their jobs and their licenses. They betrayed the public trust and shouldn’t be in a position to do so again.

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