The Soprano State The Soprano State



  • George Anastasia of the Philadelphia Inquirer labeled Michael Coppola the quintessential New Jersey gangster. A murder suspect on the lam for 10 years, Coppola continued to run a mob crew for the Genovese crime family, according to the feds. Coppola’s crew controlled the Newark, NJ, port and was the Genovese family’s contribution to the corruption of the International Longshoremen’s Association, according to the feds.
    George Anastasia, Inquirer, Dec. 22, 2008

  • Angelo Prisco, the New Jersey mobster best know for getting out of New Jersey state prison early during the McGreevey administration, has been charged with murder. The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York charged Prisco with a litany of crimes as head of a Genovese crime family crew, including the June 3, 1992 murder of Angelo Sangiuolo. Murder is the newest addition to a September 2008 racketeering indictment that accused Prisco of robbery, extortion, firearms crimes and operating an illegal gambling business. The Soprano State tells the details of Prisco’s early release by the New Jersey Parole Board. Parole Board events took a tragic twist in September: state police said one of the Parole Board members handling the Prisco case, Peter James Van Etten, jumped to his death from a overpass onto the Garden State Parkway. He was struck by a bus and died at the scene. Van Etten was one of two parole board members who approved Prisco’s parole in 2002.
    U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin, Dec. 17, 2008

  • The indictment of former Assemblyman Neil Cohen on official misconduct and child pornography charges puts another black mark on New Jersey. State Attorney General Anne Milgram charged Cohen with using computer equipment in his legislative office to view and print copies of child pornography.
    Attorney General Anne Milgram, Dec. 17, 2008

  • Former assemblyman and preacher Alfred Steele, of Paterson, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for accepting a $15,500 bribe in exchange for helping an insurance company get government business. The company was a front for the feds. A Baptist minister, Steele was caught in a federal sweep that charged 11 local and state officials with bribery.
    Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, Dec. 15, 2008

  • To fully appreciate what John Adler meant to powerful state Democrats, you need to read The Soprano State. Needless to say, NJ Democrats will miss him as head of the all-powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. He heads off to Washington on Jan. 6 to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton. Adler will be the first Democrat to represent Ocean County in the U.S. House of Representatives in more than 30 years.
    Asbury Park Press, Nov. 5, 2008

  • Chris Christie left his post as U.S. Attorney Dec. 1. In a review of his seven-year tenure, Christie said, “A new level of attention was brought to the scourge of political corruption in this state, and we are proud of the results.” As well he should be. As he pointed out, there were more than 130 convictions of elected and appointed political officials during those seven years --- without an acquittal. To be sure, Christie led those convictions, but he was right to tip his hat to the federal lawyers and the FBI who did the tough leg work. The state’s new U.S. attorney will have big shoes to fill. We hope he or she is up to the task because as much as Christie has done, there is much more to do in rooting out corruption in The Soprano State.
    Chris Christie, Nov. 17, 2008 release on Dec. 1 resignation.

  • After only 14 hours of deliberation, a jury of six women and six men found former Sen. Wayne Bryant guilty on all corruption charges. The jury ruled that Bryant’s low-show job at the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey was a bribe in exchange for Bryant using his Senate budget post to bring millions of dollars in additional funding to the school. The jury also found that Bryant used his UMDNJ job and two other public posts (at the Gloucester County Board of Social Services and Rutgers University Camden where he also did little or no meaningful work) to pad his government pension. R. Michael Gallagher, former dean at the School of Osteopathic Medicine, was convicted of rigging the hiring process to create the job for Bryant at the school. Christie called Bryant’s conduct the “most disgusting” the federal prosecutor had seen in his seven-year tenure.
    Chris Christie, Nov. 18, 2008
    Susan K. Livio, The Star-Ledger, Nov. 19, 2008

  • Gov. Jon Corzine will not reappoint Superior Court Judge Bill Mathesius to the Mercer County bench. To appreciate that fully, you need to read The Soprano State. As we point out, unlike other judges who initiated tavern spats and stole watches, Mathesius – in addition to handling several politically sensitive cases – took controversial stands and spoke his mind.
    Linda Stein, The Times of Trenton, Nov. 18, 2008

  • U.S. Attorney Chris Christie has indicted yet another Soprano State political boss. This time it was Bergen County Democratic Organization chairman Joe Ferriero, who was indicted along with the organization’s lawyer, Dennis Oury. The indictment charges the two with conspiring to defraud the borough of Bergenfield. The indictment accuses Ferriero and Oury of forming Governmental Grants Consulting, a company the feds said used Ferriero’s political clout to help municipalities obtain grant money. For Oury the feds said the problem is an undisclosed conflict of interest. When Bergenfield hired Governmental Grants Consulting, Oury was the municipality’s lawyer and failed to disclose his connection to the firm. After Ferriero wrote a letter to the state, the indictment charges that Bergenfield got $1.4 million in county and state grants, resulting in a $128,625 payment to Governmental Grants Consulting. Ferriero’s lawyer, Joseph Hayden Jr., said the feds have turned a valuable public service into a criminal charge.
    Chris Christie, Sept. 9, 2008
    Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2008

  • Richard Kaplan just can’t be left out of The Soprano State. Kaplan, a former New Brunswick city construction inspector and zoning officer, is serving a 30-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to taking more than $30,000 in bribes. Once he got to prison, the feds say he started looking for someone to kill his wife. Kaplan told an inmate and an undercover FBI agent that he was willing to pay $25,000 for someone to stage a car accident that would end his wife’s life. Kaplan went so far as to authorize his accountant to pay the first $2,000. Now Kaplan has pleaded guilty to using the U.S. mail to hire a hit man.
    U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, Aug. 19, 2008
  • This is one of those Soprano State stories that reads like fiction. And taxpayers are the victims in the story. Taxpayers in some New Jersey school districts are paying for school officials to get Web degrees with little or no academic value. Then once the degrees are obtained, taxpayers are footing the bill for increased salaries based on those new degrees. Here’s the kicker: the state’s education department issued a report, but said it couldn’t cure the situation. One example: in Freehold a superintendent and two top administrators obtained degrees from Bryer State University, then got raises for their degrees. Alabama forced the school to leave its state, as did Idaho. According to Alan Guenther of the Asbury Park Press, the school is operating out of a P.O. box in LA. Once Senate President Dick Codey expressed outrage, the state said it would make some rules.
    Alan Guenther, Asbury Park Press, Aug. 17, 2008
  • Gov. Corzine just can’t seem to stay out of the Soprano State muck. When he signed a bill for a big new aquarium at Xanadu, a Meadowlands development project, he revealed that he had ties to the CEO of Dune Real Estate, one of the investors helping the troubled project. Corzine and Dune CEO Daniel Neidich are close friends, according to the gov. A two-man, NJ ethics panel cleared the governor of any conflict, but that doesn’t give taxpayers any comfort. And then there is Corzine’s former chief of economic development, Gary Rose, who helped with the Xanadu bail out. According to The Record, Rose had a financial interest in Dune and had stock in Goldman Sachs, which loaned the project money. Neidich, Corzine and Rose were formerly partners at Goldman Sachs.
    Jeff Pillets and John Reitmeyer, The Record, Aug. 15, 2008
  • Federal Judge William Martini sentenced former Newark Mayor Sharpe James to 27 months in prison and gave his girlfriend Tamika Riley 15 months. U.S. Attorney Chris Christie wanted far more jail time for James and is looking to appeal the sentence. The married James, 72, and Riley, 39, said they were sorry. Sharpe was a New Jersey icon as a longtime state senator and mayor of the state’s largest city. Now he’s a corruption icon. Newark had a program that allowed qualified developers to buy discounted blighted land and rehab it. But the jury said James steered land to the unqualified Riley at cut-rate prices, and she resold it for a huge profit without the rehab. It’s once again the politically connected taking advantage of programs aimed at helping the state’s poorer cities.
    Tom Baldwin, Asbury Park Press, July 30, 2008
    U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, July 29, 2008
  • The EnCap saga continues with the feds alleging mob involvement in the project that was supposed to clean up Bergen County landfills. Court documents allege that a reputed Gambino associate, Gino Cracolici, who was tied to a company involved in the cleanup, made a deal to take payments of $40 per dump truck load to allow a firm unlimited access to the landfill project. The glitch was that the firm’s executive was working with the feds.
    Jeff Whelan and Maura McDermott, The Star-Ledger, July 11, 2008

  • The Communications Workers Of America booted Carla Katz, Gov. Corzine’s former gal pal, from her post as president of Local 1034. The union is accusing Katz of misappropriating union money by using dues for travel. Katz called the allegations false. Meanwhile, everyone is awaiting the public release of e-mails between Katz and Corzine. A judge has said some are public record. But the Gov has decided to appeal the decision. Wonder why?
    Gregory J. Volpe, Asbury Park Press, July 8, 2008

  • U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle sentenced former Marlboro Mayor Matthew Scannapieco to 21 months in prison for accepting $245,000 in bribes from developer Anthony Spalliero. Simandle also fined the former mayor $100,000.
    U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, June 20, 2008

  • U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson denied a motion to dismiss the indictment of former state Senator Wayne Bryant. The judge kept the allegations that Bryant used his power as a senator to gain funding for the University of Medicine and Dentistry in exchange for a university position. Wolfson struck down a charge that Bryant had a “no work” job at Rutgers University. Why? Wolfson said there was no standard that could be used to judge Bryant’s work.
    Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin, The Star-Ledger, June 7, 2008

  • You remember the case where Mark Halper, a farmer, went undercover for the feds and caught public officials – including former Gov. Jim McGreevey – saying the code word “Machiavelli.” What the word meant was that public officials would hold up their end of the deal for Halper to pay bribes to get a decent price for his farm, which township officials wanted to condemn. Democratic fund-raiser David D’Amiano went to jail for his role in the extortion plot. McGreevey, who said he used the word inadvertently, was not charged. Now a state appeals court has upheld a $17.9 million jury verdict for the Halper family. Government officials only wanted to pay $4.3 million.
    Ken Serrano, Home News Tribune, May 14, 2008

  • The former director of New Brunswick’s Neighborhood Preservation Program has pleaded guilty to extortion and tax evasion. William Walker was supposed to be fairly doling out contracts for the improvement of substandard homes for qualified low and moderate income families.
    Instead, he admitted taking more than $112,500 in bribes and free home renovations in exchange for giving those contracts to two companies willing to line Walker’s pockets with federal money.
    U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, April 30, 2008

  • After six days of deliberation, a jury of six women and six men -- hailing from six counties and including school teachers, a computer programmer and a postal worker -- used common sense, not secret recordings or a dramatic star witness, to say this to former Newark Mayor Sharpe James: even in New Jersey you can't steer city land worth $46,000 to your mistress so she can resell it for more than $600,000. James and Tamika Riley were convicted of fraud and conspiracy. U.S. Attorney Chris Christie summed it up well: "What everyone should now recognize is that 12 ordinary citizens from New Jersey heard the evidence and independently found what we've said all along -- that Sharpe James is guilty of stealing from Newark and its citizens and of using Newark resources for his personal benefit."
    Jeff Whelan and John P. Martin, The Star-Ledger, April 17, 2008
    U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, April 16, 2008

  • Just when you thought the McGreeveys could find nothing more outrageous to do to New Jersey’s reputation, this hits the news. A former McGreevey aide, Teddy Pedersen, tells several newspapers that he and the McGreeveys were a sexual threesome. The Friday night events lasted for two years, Pedersen said. McGreevey said it’s true. Dina denied it ever happened. The divorce battle and the embarrassment for New Jersey goes on.
    Associated Press, March 18, 2008
  • Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg booted Joseph Santiago out of his job as Trenton’s police director. The city has a residency rule, and Santiago, who said he needed to be home to protect his family from nasty telephone calls and e-mails, has been living in Morris County, 50 miles from Trenton. But Feinberg said a waiver the mayor gave Santiago was no good. The controversy could continue if Santiago appeals.
    L.A. Parker, The Trentonian, March 18, 2008
  • State Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper labeled EnCap – the company hired for a $200 million cleanup of Bergen County landfills – grossly underqualified and said the company misled officials about its ability to do the work. The result? The landfills are more, not less, polluted. Cooper forwarded the results of her year-long probe of EnCap -- whose parent is the politically influential Cherokee Investment Partners -- to the state Attorney General. Will that help? Well, this is New Jersey.
    John Brennan and Jeff Pillets, The Record, Feb. 28, 2008
  • Hold onto your blood pressure. This one is bad even by New Jersey standards. Gov. Jon Corzine nominated Jeanne Fox, president of the state Board of Public Utilities, for another six-year term. The appointment comes even as a whistleblower lawsuit over an $80 million BPU bank account – opened at a private bank outside of state Treasury’s oversight – heads to trial.
    Gregory J. Volpe, Asbury Park Press, Feb. 28, 2008
  • Two cardiologists pleaded guilty to accepting $840,000 for no-work jobs at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The only thing the two did for the money was refer patients to the university’s cardiac unit. The scam was conjured up after the university failed to do enough cardiac procedures to keep its state funding and accreditation. Pleading guilty were Dr. Bakul Desai and Dr. Laxmipathi Garipalli.
    U.S. Attorney’s Office, press release, Feb. 28, 2008
  • The state’s cost for private lawyers defending a whistleblower lawsuit against the Board of Public Utilities reached nearly $1.1 million before the trial ever began.
    Gregory J. Volpe, Asbury Park Press, Feb. 16, 2008
  • Taxpayers chanted, “We’re not going to take it!” while scores of pink pig balloons rose in the sky above the statehouse dome. It was another only-in-New-Jersey moment. Reminiscent of the 1990 anti-tax protests aimed at Gov. Jim Florio, more than 700 taxpayers rallied against Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposal to hike road tolls. Corzine laid the groundwork for the pink pig protest, sponsored by New Jersey 101.5 FM, by declaring in his State of the State speech that “pigs would fly over the statehouse” before spending cuts and tax increases cured the state's fiscal problem. A sign in the crowd had this to say to the governor: “Duh – Cut Spending, Governor Financial Genius.”
    Tom Baldwin, Asbury Park Press, Feb. 9, 2008
  • A judge sentenced Lesly Devereaux, former chief of staff at the state commerce commission, to six and a half years in prison for running her private law practice on state time, for falsifying documents that gave her family members state jobs and for welfare fraud. But since this is New Jersey, Superior Court Judge Maryann Bielamowicz ruled that after only six months – not years – Devereaux would be eligible o live at home under “intensive supervision.”
    Michael Rispoli, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 15, 2008


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