As his criminal trial began on charges of violating New Jersey's "pay to play" law for his role in arranging $1 million in corporate political donations to win municipal work for now-defunct engineer Birdsall Services Group, former Executive Vice President Thomas Rospos pleaded guilty to third-degree charges of tampering with public records, state prosecutors said on Feb. 25.

Rospos had faced first-degree state charges that include conspiracy, falsifying records and money laundering in a six-year contribution scheme.

The plea, in a Toms River, N.J. court, follows one made pre-trial on Feb. 18 by former firm CEO Howard Birdsall, to a charge of second-degree misconduct by a corporate official. Four other executives also are set for trials to start.

The state attorney general's office said Birdsall and the executives avoided compliance with the law by masking the contributions as smaller donations by individual employees who later were reimbursed through bonuses.

However, a spokesman for the attorney general says the state has "never disclosed any information about the specific political committees and candidates who received donations from Birdsall Services Group and its employees pursuant to this scheme, which is part of our investigation and our ongoing prosecutions, and we have not charged any recipients." 

The names of most were disclosed by the Newark Star-Ledger in a 2013 report

Rospos, 64, who was Birdsall's second largest shareholder, must pay $150,000 to the state to cover his reimbursed donations and "will be debarred for 10 years from personally bidding on any public contracts in New Jersey or holding an interest of 5% or greater in any company that bids for such contracts," said the state, which also may ask for a three-year jail term at sentencing on May 13.

Edward Bertuchio, an Eatontown, N.J.-based attorney for Rospos, did not respond to a request for comment.

Birdsall, 72, must pay $49,808 to cover the value of his reimbursed contributions and faces a four-year state prison sentence, says the state. The firm's largest shareholder, he will be sentenced on April 22.

John P. McDonald, an attorney for Howard Birdsall, said he could not comment on the plea.

One previously indicted executive, former Birdsall chief administrative officer Scott McFadden, pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 to corporate misconduct and had agreed to testify against Rospos, said the state attorney general.Two other former Birdsall managers pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2013 and await sentencing.

Birdsall Services Group pleaded guilty in 2013 to first-degree money-laundering charges and has paid the state about $3.6 million in penalties and to settle civil actions.

The firm then filed for bankruptcy, and its assets were purchased for $5.6 million by California-based Partner Engineering and Science.

At its peak, Birdsall had 325 employees and ranked at No. 191 on ENR's list of the Top 500 Design Firms in 2013, with about $55.4 million in revenue.

This story was updated on Feb. 26 to reflect new legal developments.