The Soprano State The Soprano State



  • When Chris Christie was elected, we said this: When he picked his attorney general, we would all know whether Trenton would be politics as usual --- or The Soprano State would be turned upside down with a sorely needed state-level corruption buster. Now we know. Declaring an attack on New Jersey’s culture of corruption at all levels of government, Christie nominated Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow for attorney general. Christie said he wanted someone tough and someone who earned the job with merit, not politics. Dow is a woman, an African-American and a Democrat. None of that matters. What matters is that it is said that she is tough and independent. That’s a big start. And now let the prosecution begin, big-time.
    Gov.-elect Chris Christie, Dec. 15, 2009

  • On her way out the door, Attorney General Anne Milgram announced the indictment of the former director of the Hoboken Parking Utility, John Corea, who is charged with conspiring with a contractor to steal more than $600,000 in parking meter funds from the city of Hoboken. The contractor is Brian Petaccio of Toms River, who pleaded guilty in September to stealing more than $1 million in coins from Hoboken’s parking meters. You can find Petaccio in The Soprano State (paperback page 262). Petaccio, who was convicted of running an illegal video poker operation in the wake of an indictment alleging organized crime, had been denied a liquor license application for an Atlantic City bar. But he had his record expunged and reapplied for a license after former Gov. Jim McGreevey took state troopers off investigating Atlantic City liquor licenses. The bar plans were canceled after coauthor Sandy McClure started asking questions.
    Anne Milgram, Dec. 11, 2009

  • Add one more to the 44 suspects rounded up last July. Alfonso Santoro, executive director of the Ocean County Democratic Party, pleaded guilty to accepting cash bribes. Santoro said he took $5,000 from an undercover operator working with the feds. The money was paid in a Toms River restaurant. In return for the money, Santoro was expected to help the purported developer with introductions and bribes to public officials in Ocean County.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 3, 2009

  • New Jersey’s taxpayers could save not just millions, but tens of millions if local government cleaned up its wasteful spending, the State Commission of Investigation said. In a new report, the SCI cited excessive public-employee benefits, including extravagant cash payouts for unused leave, bonuses and severance and paid time off for personal errands like holiday shopping. Yes, holiday shopping on your tax dollars. “In Union City, Hudson County, all civilian municipal employees receive one day of paid leave every year for Christmas shopping,” the report said. “The gravy train continues to roll without impediment…”
    State Commission of Investigation, Dec. 1, 2009

  • The Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards dismissed a complaint against Sen. Brian Stack. The compliant, as coauthor Bob Ingle explained in his blog, was about a $200,000 grant Stack got for Union City where he double dips as mayor. The grant was used to construct a playground adjacent to a daycare center run by Stack’s estranged wife. The only way to get to the playground was through the daycare center. But the committee said there was no monetary benefit to Stack or his family. How can that be? The committee said it’s because Stack and his wife were not living together. Ingle said with decisions like this, there is no point in even having an ethics committee. The entire committee should be dismissed.
    Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, Nov. 27, 2009

  • Bernie Kerik, New York City’s former top cop, pleaded guilty to cheating on his taxes, lying about apartment renovations from a New Jersey contractor and failing to put the information on his 2004 application for federal homeland security director. NBC New York reported that Kerik cried during the plea. Kerik made the mistake of telling the White House that he had no financial dealings with firms looking for business in New York. But the feds charged Kerik with accepting $255,000 worth of renovations to a Bronx apartment from a firm seeking business with the city. The firm was Interstate Industrial Corp., a company banned from doing business in New York by agencies that cited the firm’s association with organized crime.  New Jersey, you may recall in chapter nine, ignored New York’s concerns and allowed Interstate to work in Atlantic City, until Kerik’s problems emerged on the national scene.
    Jonathan Dienst, NBC New York, Nov. 5, 2009

  • Chris Christie will be New Jersey’s next governor. The former federal prosecutor, known for his crime busting, defeated Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine with a strong showing from the independent voters who drive New Jersey’s election victories. Christie captured independent voters by nearly a 2-to-1 margin over Corzine. And the issue that independent voters cared about most was corruption. The entire state, the nation and the world watched last July when the feds rounded up 44 politicians, political operatives and rabbis in a sting investigation. Those arrests came on top of the more than 130 public official convictions that Christie racked up during his time as the state’s U.S. attorney. New Jersey voters are tired of being a laughing stock. Voters are tired of reading about politicians who think they deserve an extra $10,000 every now and then in a parking lot or alley. Voters are tired of adding the corruption tax (the extra cost added to state services by corruption) to all the other high taxes in New Jersey. Christie won big in traditionally Republican counties, particularly the Shore counties. And he kept Corzine’s margins down in the big Democratic counties in the north. That’s what a Republican has to do to win in New Jersey. Christie did not run a good campaign, and there are no specifics about how he will put New Jersey’s government and economy back on an honest and sound footing. He said on election night that there are no easy answers. And that is true. Christie said he will turn Trenton upside down. We will all be watching to see if that is true. Voters in New Jersey have heard that pledge over and over again. And the election results show little patience for candidates who say one thing and do another.  “The fact that independent voters rated corruption as such an important issue in their vote today, indicates that they are really upset with the current political system,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Among all voters, the key issues were the economy and jobs, property taxes and corruption.  As Christie begins his term as the state’s 55th governor, a most important choice will be made when he picks an attorney general. That choice will be the first indication of whether Trenton will be politics as usual or whether The Soprano State will be turned upside down with a sorely needed state-level corruption buster.
    Patrick Murray, Monmouth University, Nov. 3, 2009
    Jason Method, Asbury Park Press, Nov. 4, 2009

  • Several characters from The Soprano State attended a wedding in Bedminster at the golf course owned by the father of the bride, Donald Trump. Ivanka Trump married Jared Kushner, son of Charles Kushner, the Democrat who was Gov. Jim McGreevey’s largest campaign contributor and who went to jail for witness tampering, tax evasion and illegal campaign donations. Charles is infamous for his Jersey-style witness tampering after his family started helping the feds. He hired a hooker to entice his brother-in-law, had the event filmed and then mailed it to his sister.  He wanted to mail it to his sister’s children, according to the feds. But the guy he hired balked at that. The groom is owner of The New York Observer and the political website The New York Post reported that McGreevey was at the wedding.  Remember Kushner hired Golan Cipel, the Israeli McGreevey said he had an affair with, for a public relations job while he was working for McGreevey’s 2001 campaign. And Kushner hired McGreevey’s partner, Mark O’Donnell, as the Kushner company’s chief investment officer. (Dina McGreevey’s divorce lawyer speculated that O’Donnell was a conduit for money from Kushner to McGreevey after it was revealed that O’Donnell’s health insurance at Kushner’s company covered McGreevey and his daughter, Jacqueline. McGreevey called it fiction.) Also attending the wedding were Newark Mayor Cory Booker,  Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Regis Philbin reportedly sang at the reception. Regis also can be found in The Soprano State.  That’s because his sidekick Kelly Ripa’s father, Joe, is a Camden County official (former freeholder now county clerk) with the blessing of George Norcross, South Jersey’s political boss.
    Cindy Adams and Jeremy Olshan, New York Post; Yahoo entertainment, Oct. 26, 2009
    Kathleen O’Brien, Star-Ledger, Sept. 27, 2009, May 21, 2008

  • Just about the time Democrats in Bergen County were musing about the return of Joe Ferriero, a federal jury stepped up and said, “Enough is enough.”  Federal juries, of late, have been the heroes in The Soprano State. After nearly three days of deliberation, a jury added Ferriero to the list of federal convictions for Jersey pols. A party boss in Bergen County, Ferriero ranks lower in the boss system than Middlesex County’s John Lynch, who also was nabbed by the feds. Nonetheless, Ferriero was a significant second-tier boss. He was convicted of conspiracy and mail fraud.  The jury said he conspired with lawyer Dennis Oury to defraud Bergenfield of Oury’s honest services as the town’s attorney. (Oury pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified in the case against Ferriero.) The feds accused Ferriero and Oury of concealing their interest in a consulting firm that profited when Ferriero helped the town garner grant money. After Ferriero wrote a letter to the state, the town got $1.2 million in county and state grants. The consulting firm got $128,625 in fees.  Ferriero’s Bergen County Democratic Organization had close ties to Gov. Jon Corzine. Former U.S Attorney and GOP candidate for governor Chris Christie said the Ferriero organization received more than $400,000 in political donation over the past decade from Corzine and his family, including a $37,000 donation from Corzine’s mom, a retired Illinois school teacher.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Oct. 22, 2009
    Jennifer Fermino, New York Post, Oct. 24, 2009

  • The man who helped the feds in a corruption probe, drawing international attention to New Jersey and netting 44  public officials, politicos and rabbis, pleaded guilty to $50 million in bank fraud. We know this amount sounds unbelievable, but Solomon Dwek deposited a bogus $25.2 million check at a PNC Bank drive-through window and then wired $22.2 million out of the account before the check cleared.  He tried the same trick again, but it did not work a second time. Arrested in May 2006 on bank fraud charges, Dwek spent the next three years helping the feds in an undercover sting. He posed as a businessman trying to launder money in the Syrian Jewish communities of Brooklyn and Deal, and he pretended to be a developer who would trade cash for favors.  Among the 29 arrested on corruption charges were two assemblymen, three mayors, a council president, a deputy mayor, and a political consultant later found dead in his apartment. Among the 15 charged in the money- laundering scheme were five rabbis and a Brooklyn man charged with conspiring to sell a kidney.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Oct. 20, 2009
    Jean Mickle and Michelle Sahn, Asbury Park Press, Oct. 20, 2009

  • Just as he was about to go on trial on charges that he accepted apartment renovations from a New Jersey contractor who wanted help in obtaining a New York City license, Bernie Kerik was hauled off to jail for trying to sway potential jurors. A federal judge said Kerik leaked sealed information.  Judge Stephen Robinson described Kerik as having “a toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance.” Kerik, once considered for homeland security secretary by George W. Bush, was the first former New York City police commissioner to end up in jail.  The firm that renovated Kerik’s apartment was Interstate Industrial Corp., a company banned from doing business in New York by the city’s integrity commission, which cited the firm’s association with organized crime.  Interstate is the same firm that had no trouble getting a license to work in Atlantic City until Kerik’s problems came to the fore.
    Robert Gearty and Greg B. Smith, New York Daily News, Oct. 20, 2009
    Sam Dolnick, New York Times, Oct. 27, 2009

  • The GOP candidate for Camden’s state Assembly seat has an unusual profession, even for New Jersey. Stepfanie Velez-Gentry owns Nookie Parties LLC. She organizes parties for women and couples. It’s like a Tupperware party, she explained to the Associate Press. Only she sells sex toys, lotions, games, lingerie and other erotic items. Camden County Republican Chairman Rick DeMichele said he knew what she did for a living before she decided to run for political office. “She makes a great candidate,” he said. Gentry is running against  two Democrats, Donald Norcross, the brother of South Jersey political boss George Norcross, and city counsel president Angel Fuentes.
    Associated Press, Oct. 16, 2009

  • The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey agreed to pay $8.3 million to settle allegations that its cardiologists were involved in a kickback scheme. In addition to paying the money to the feds, UMDNJ signed an integrity agreement, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office reached settlements with nine cardiologist. Two pleaded guilty to criminal embezzlement. The doctors, according to the feds, were paid for no-show jobs at the university. In return, they referred patients to the university for heart procedures. Why? Because a certain number of heart procedures were needed for UMDNJ to retain state funding for its heart unit. This is one of the most chilling stories in The Soprano State.  When patients face stressful heart procedures, they have the right to know it’s for only one reason: they need it.  And New Jersey patients have the right to expect that the state’s medical university has integrity without a mandate from the feds.
    U.S. Attorney’s Office, New Jersey, Sept. 30, 2009

  • Former state Senator Joe Coniglio has been sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison. Coniglio, a plumber, was paid $5,000 a month by Hackensack University Medical Center to perform “hospital relations.” But a jury said that what he really did was trade that money for using his influence as a member of the Senate budget committee to boost state funding to the hospital. Coniglio collected more than $100,000. In return, the hospital received millions of state dollars.  The judge said the hospital was a “willing participant” in the scheme. Add this to the scheme between former Senator Wayne Bryant and the University of Medicine and Dentistry, and you know why we call it a culture of corruption.  Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra said Coniglio joins a “coterie of once powerful political figures whose greed, arrogance and betrayals landed them in federal prison.”
    Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, Sept. 1, 2009
    Mary Jo Layton, The Record, Sept. 1, 2009

  • Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone, a Hudson County Democrat, has been indicted, along with his wife, by a state grand jury and charged with funneling state paychecks into personal and campaign accounts. “We charge that Assemblyman Chiappone and his wife conspired to have the state issue more than $8,000 in paychecks for legislative aides, knowing that the money was really destined for the couple’s own pockets or his re-election campaign,” said state Attorney General Anne Milgram. Chiappone, who says he is innocent, celebrated his wife’s birthday at a Newark restaurant just hours after they were indicted. “We had already made reservations,” he told The Star-Ledger. (Another only in New Jersey.)
    Tony Kurdzuk, The Star-Ledger, Aug. 27, 2009
    State Attorney General Anne Milgram, Aug. 26, 2009

  • Angelo Prisco has been sentenced to life in prison. The mob capo, infamous in New Jersey for getting out of jail early, was nailed in New York. Federal prosecutors in that state got it, while New Jersey state officials didn’t. When New Jersey let Prisco out of jail, he went back to running his crew. But the feds have now said, no more. Prisco was convicted of conspiring to commit murder. Prosecutors charged him with arranging the June 1992 murder of Angelo Sangiuolo, his cousin. The orders, according to the feds, came from Vincent The Chin Gigante because Gigante thought Sangiuolo was stealing from his mob family.
    Prisco’s fame is now worldwide. His sentencing ran in The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said Prisco’s crew has been dismantled. The sister of the murdered cousin called Prisco a black-hearted animal. Wonder what she would call the state that let him out of jail?
    Associated Press, New York Post,, Aug. 19, 2009

  • Just when you think you have heard it all, New Jersey officials manage the unimaginable. New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said the state Department of Human Services did not adequately oversee contracts with nonprofit groups that are supposed to help the disabled. As a result, Boxer said, Allies Inc. inappropriately spent money, intended to help those with developmental disabilities, on such things as, yes, cruises. The nonprofit took clients on cruises, but the kicker is that half of those going on the cruises, which cost more than $100,000, were employees of the nonprofit, Boxer said. Allies Inc. has a $21 million contract to serve 277 clients. The nonprofit is operated by Krystal Odell, who worked for the Department of Human Services for 25 years and served as the director of its Division of Developmental Disabilities. This, taxpayers, is how the New Jersey state bureaucracy works.
    Noah K. Murray, Star-Ledger, August 11, 2009

  • Former Sen. Wayne Bryant, who faced 10 years in a federal prison for his conviction on bribery and pension fraud charges, will serve four years instead.  As the sentence was posted on the Web, some members of the public were not happy with the four years. One, responding to the Star-Ledger story, wrote to U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson: “Judge, you want to stop corruption? Throw the book at them!!!  A jury ruled in November that Bryant’s low-show job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey was a bribe in exchange for Bryant using his Senate budget post to bring million of dollars in additional funding to the school. The jury also found that Bryant used the UMDNJ job to pad his government pension.  Bryant was ordered to pay $113,000 in restitution to UMDNJ. R. Michael Gallagher, a former dean, who was convicted of rigging the hiring process to create the job for Bryant at UMDNJ’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, received an 18-month sentence.
    The Star-Ledger July 24, 2009

  • New Jersey’s culture of corruption burst onto the world stage when it took a bus to bring in the 44 arrested on corruption charges--- more than two dozen politicians and a handful of rabbis. This is an annex to The Soprano State’s culture of corruption. This is the stuff, as we have always said, that you can’t make up. This is the stuff the rest of the nation, and now the world, has trouble believing.  This is the stuff even New Jersey’s citizens have trouble getting their minds around. This is not just about the usual cash bribes paid to New Jersey politicians. It is about how you get things done in this state, according to the FBI, which made the arrests. You just bribe pols to clear the way for your project. But this time, it is also about body parts, about money laundering, about rabbis.  It’s about parking lots, diners, diamond money, high rises and school contracts, video and audio recordings, Israeli cash, Swiss banks, envelopes full of money, funky political donations, lax building inspections, knock-off handbags, and an official who complained that the bribe was too little.  Only in New Jersey.  And it’s about Joe Doria. Joe has been around for a long time. He wasn’t arrested, but his home and office were raided. Co-author Bob Ingle sounded a warning when Gov. Corzine put Doria in charge of the Department of Community Affairs, the cookie jar for municipal government. But no one in NJ government, particularly Corzine, was listening. Now he is.  Joe resigned.
    This newest addition to The Soprano State is the result of an FBI probe that began 10 years ago, but started to focus in 2007 on public officials now accused of taking thousands of dollars in bribes and rabbis accused of using charities to launder millions of dollars in dirty money, money that resulted from criminal conduct and needed to be hidden. The dirty money allegedly was washed by a system that used cash from Israel in some cases ---money purportedly from diamonds and Swiss banks.  In New Jersey, the bribes were allegedly paid in less exotic places, like New Jersey parking lots, diners, boiler rooms and bath rooms. And, as always, there is a bizarre twist---that’s the Brooklyn man arrested along with the others and charged with conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant. The cost? $160,000.
    It’s entertainment for sure. It’s a job well done by the FBI, whose leaders called it a shocking betrayal of the public trust.  And it’s another huge wake-up call to the Soprano State that the culture of corruption continues.
    Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, Asbury Park Press, CNN, July 23, 2009

  • The state of New Jersey eliminated 13 school districts that had no schools and only a few students. It only took 40 years. Even though the districts had few students, they still had boards of education and many had staff. But don’t get too excited. The change only reduced the number of New Jersey school districts to 603. That’s still more than the state of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia combined.
    Lucille Davy, education commissioner, July 1, 2009

  • Like coauthor Bob Ingle said in his Politics Patrol blog, there is always a Jersey connection. On page 215 of The Soprano State’s paperback (page 213 of the hardback), you will find Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s because she was the federal judge who sentenced Joe Salema, Gov. Jim Florio’s chief of staff, to six months in a halfway house.  Salema pleaded guilty to securities fraud and paid $324,000 to settle federal Securities and Exchange Commission charges. In August 1995, The Trentonian reported that Salema could have spent up to 10 years behind bars. Instead he got the stint in the halfway house, six moths of home detention, a $10,000 fine and 1,400 hours of community service. Conservatives are looking at the sentence with critical eyes. New Jersey residents may do the same. Citizens of The Soprano State saw far stiffer federal sentences for politicians gone wrong during the tenure of former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, now the GOP candidate for governor.
    Bob Ingle, Gannett State Bureau, May 27, 2009
    Chip Scutari, Trentonian, August 15, 1995

  • A federal grand jury indicted Assemblyman and former Perth Amboy Mayor Joe Vas and charged him with misusing his office for personal financial gain. The indictment accuses Vas of selling an apartment building for a $290,000 profit and then using his influence to assure that the contractor who purchased the building received federal funds for renovations. “This is yet another unfortunate example of a culture of corruption where a person in a position of trust acts with a sense of entitlement,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Weysan Dun. Vas also is charged with using $75,000 of the profit from the apartment sale to fund a 2006 Primary bid for a congressional seat. The federal indictment follows an earlier indictment of Vas by a state grand jury. The state charged him with stealing money from the city’s recreation funds.
    Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, May 20, 2009

  • The feds arrested Paul Bergrin, the lawyer who represented Angelo Prisco in a New York conspiracy case, and charged him with racketeering conspiracy, including the murder of a federal witness. After a meeting with Bergrin, one of those attending the meeting shot the informant three times in the head, the feds said. Bergrin also was charged with trying to hire a hit man from Chicago to kill a witness in a Monmouth County drug case. The problem for Bergrin was that the hit man was cooperating with the feds. Bergrin is a former Essex County assistant prosecutor and a former assistant U.S attorney.
    Acting U.S. attorney Ralph Marra, May 20, 2009

  • Now this one is crazy, even for The Soprano State. The state has spent more than $400,000 since 2003 on a program to teach New Jersey students how to grow food in space. The nonprofit organization that got the money was called E3CO. Each year, $60,000 went to an executive director, who died in 2007. Another $33,388, went to Sara Crane, the ex-wife of Joe Salema, who served as chief of staff to Gov. Jim Florio. Salema pleaded guilty in 1995 to securities fraud stemming from kickbacks in a Camden County bond deal. The funding for E3C0 was attached to the Rutgers University budget. Our hats are off to Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin for uncovering this one.
    Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin, The Star-Ledger, May 11, 2009

  • A federal judge sentenced former school Superintendent Robert Walsh to a year in federal prison for embezzling more than $90,000 from the Delaware Valley Regional High School in Hunterdon County. Where did Walsh get the money? “The conduct of this defendant is hard to fathom,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra. “Here we had a well-paid high school superintendent who could have continued to command the respect and attention of his students, the community and the school board. Yet he threw that all away for what was literally the lunch money he stole from the cafeteria.” Walsh pleaded guilty in January 2009.
    Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, May 8, 2009

  • The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey spends $1 million on cellphones each year. How can that be? An internal audit obtained by The Star-Ledger shows that UMDNJ paid for the cellphones of people no longer working there, funded fancy options like picture messaging and did not track the personal calls made by employees. The audit showed 30 phones, assigned to people no longer working for the university, were billed to UMDNJ. Toping that number, 181 pagers were still assigned to those who had departed. Only in The Soprano State.
    Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin, The Star-Ledger, May 3, 2009

  • Angelo Prisco, the mob capo who got out of jail early in New Jersey, has been convicted of conspiring to commit murder in New York.  At 69, Prisco faces between 15 years and life in prison for the 1992 murder.  According to the jury, mob boss Vincent “the chin” Gigante ordered Prisco to kill Angelo Sangiuolo, who was suspected of stealing from the mob. Here is what the feds said happened: Prisco in turn told two members of his crew to do the job. After Prisco ordered Sangiuolo into a van, John “Johnny Balls” Leto shot him. The van was then deposited at a McDonalds’s where Prisco picked up Leto and went with him to dispose of the gun.  The killing of Sangiuolo occurred a decade before Prisco’s early release from a New Jersey jail where he was serving time for arson for hire. After his release in 2002, which a whistleblower said was prompted by a call from the governor’s office, Prisco went back to running his mob crew, according the State Commission of Investigation. Between 2003 and 2005, the feds said Prisco’s crew tied up and beat victims in home robberies that netted cash for the capo.
    Mike Frassinelli, Star-Ledger, April 28, 2009
    Thomas Zambito, New York Daily News, April 28, 2009

  • The feds landed another big fish when a jury convicted former state Sen. Joe Coniglio of extortion.  The 66-year-old senator and plumber (only in New Jersey) was collecting  $5,000 a month in consulting fees (a total of more than $100,000) from Hackensack University Medical Center.  What the medical center got in return was the support of Coniglio, a member of the Senate budget committee, for state funding netting the center millions of dollars. Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra called Coniglio a member of a special class of crooked politicians who are champions of graft.  Coniglio is the third former budget committee member convicted of corruption. He follows former senators Wayne Bryant and Sharpe James
    Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, April 17, 2009
    Kevin Penton, Asbury Park Press, April 18, 2009

  • An audit of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Board of Concerned Citizens said that the board spent more than $42,000 for things outside the scope of its bylaws. The audit also said the board averaged a deficit of $10,000 over the past three years. What caused the deficit? Spending on catering, cellphones, flowers, gift baskets and award plaques. The board was created nearly 40 years ago to help Newark accept the university. But, as we have seen before at UMDNJ, things have gone awry. Mary Mathis-Ford, board chairwoman, said the board has not violated policies. She added that in 2007 she gave up a university funded car service that had transported her back and forth from her home in the Poconos to the Newark university, a 140-mile round trip.  Once again, only in New Jersey.
    Ralph R. Ortega, Star-Ledger, April 5, 2009

  • Apparently Gov. Corzine didn’t learn anything when pigs flew over the
    statehouse. In his 2009 budget speech, Corzine proposed eliminating property tax deductions when residents (except seniors and the disabled) file their state income tax. (Later he changed it to apply only to households with incomes of more than $150,000.) And his budget called for eliminating property tax rebates for households earning more than $75,000. The Jersey Guys on NJ 101.5 declared the middle class in NJ DOA with Corzine’s budget. The radio talk show hosts collected empty wallets in two caskets at rest stops along the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike. Protesters joined as Ray Rossi and Casey Bartholomew led a mock funeral for the middle class on the statehouse steps. Security being what it is these days, the coffins couldn’t enter the statehouse. The contents were put in boxes for delivery to the gov.
    Michael Symons, Gannett NJ, April 1, 2009

  • It never seems to end with corruption at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Frank X. Watts, former director of the physical plant at UMDNJ, has been indicted on bribery charges. The state grand jury indictment charged Watts with accepting gifts -- a deck for his home, a furnished sun room, a Cadillac Deville and a cellphone -- from a contractor in exchange for steering millions of dollars of work to that contractor. Watts frequently ignored the rules for awarding public contracts, according to state Attorney General Anne Milgram. “This type of corrupt pursuit of self interest on the part of officials is what erodes public confidence in state agencies,” Milgram said.
    State Attorney General Anne Milgram, March 31, 2009

  • A senior investigator for the New Jersey Department of Labor pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting $1.86 million in bribes from temporary employment agencies. In return for the bribes, Joseph Rivera admitted that without doing inspections, he certified the firms were in compliance with state wage rules. Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra said Rivera was “driven by pure greed.” As part of his plea, Rivera forfeited the trappings of corruption -- $120,400 in cash, two Ocean City homes, a Florida home and a Lexus.
    Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, March 30, 2009

  • The state Senate gave Gov. Corzine what he wanted, another six year term for Jeanne Fox as president of the state Board of Public Utilities. Democrats fell in line. The Senate vote was 23-13. The Senate Judiciary Committee vote was seven Democrats to four Republicans. Democrats praised the renewable energy initiatives of Fox, who is the wife of Corzine’s campaign advisor. But the victory could be costly in an election year. State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, called Fox the “poster child for government waste, fraud and abuse.” Coauthor Bob Ingle said, “This sorry mess has all the elements that help NJ stay at the top of the national heap when it comes to corruption, cronyism and wasted money.”  Fox was reappointed despite having opened an $83 million bank account outside the state Treasury system. An audit showed the account kept poor records and handed out money to former BPU employees for clean energy programs. Another audit showed the BPU hired a former BPU executive director for big consulting bucks to evaluate grants when the agency could have used its own staff. An audit also found BPU had no records of $2.7 million worth of grants given out in 2003. Joe Potena, the man who blew the whistle on the unauthorized bank account, lost his whistleblower lawsuit, but is appealing. The state spent $2.6 million on private lawyers to defend the case. And then there is the globe trotting that BPU board members said they did to help those paying New Jersey’s utility bills. It’s the stuff those creating political ads dream of. 
    Bob Ingle, Gannett NJ, March 9, 2009.
    Michael Symons, Gannett NJ, March 16, 2009

  • State Attorney General Anne Milgram announced that a state grand jury indicted Assemblyman and former mayor Joe Vas and charged him with stealing $5,000 from Perth Amboy recreation funds and with rigging a lottery for low-income housing. If Vas is convicted, New Jersey may be the only state where a public official robbed the rec department for a pair of sneakers and for food for his father’s funeral. As we say in The Soprano State, you can’t make this stuff up. If you live somewhere else, it makes you laugh. If you live in New Jersey, there is a serious side to it all. Vas is charged with rigging the housing lottery so that his driver could get a cheap house. “By rigging a housing lottery, he rewarded his personal driver at the expense of the city, denying deserving families who might have been able to purchase this two-family home,” Milgram said. “Public officials are elected to serve the public, not exploit their positions for private gain.” Taxpayers should be angry enough to send that message to Trenton.
    Anne Milgram, NJ attorney general, March 11, 2009

  • The New Jersey Supreme Court will not touch the issue of 800 pages of e-mails between Gov. Corzine and his ex-girlfriend and union official Carla Katz. The e-mails were exchanged during contract negotiations between the state and her union, the Communications Workers of America, representing state workers. Both Katz and Corzine say they were counseled not to engage in “back channel” conversations during the negotiations, and did anyway. But Corzine still managed to cry executive privilege and keep the e-mails secret. For a bit, it appeared that New Jersey’s citizens had won. A lower court judge, Paul Innes, looked at the e-mails and said, yep, in this country, the citizens have the right to see them. Innes said that the Corzine-Katz relationship had “created a clear potential for conflict” and the public had the right to decide for itself.  But then Corzine went to an appellate court which said governors can keep things secret. The appellate court, among other things, relied on the old executive privilege ruling way back when Nixon was president. You would think that a Democratic governor would want no part of relying on the GOP’s Tricky Dick for a secrecy ruling. It’s no surprise that the top court judges, all appointed by New Jersey governors, allowed the appellate court decision to stand.  What’s still a wonder is how Corzine did any work other than e-mailing, what with the 800-page volume. While Corzine appears to have won, it’s the citizen-voters who will have the final say on this and other issues when they go to the ballot box and vote for governor this November. Corzine will likely face former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. Here is the kicker: New Jersey’s two Democratic U.S. Senators want to see Katz’s lawyer in the e-mail case, Paul Fishman, replace Christie as U.S. attorney.  
    Bob Ingle, Gannett NJ, March 18, 2009
    Superior Court Appellate Division, Jan. 12, 2009

  • Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson dismissed the whistle-blower lawsuit filed against the Board of Public Utilities by Joe Potena. The state spent more than $2.6 million for private lawyers to defend the BPU. A jury in the fall of ‘08 said Potena had blown the whistle on BPU officials, but was not sure if retaliation resulted. Potena wanted a new trial. The state wanted the lawsuit tossed, and Smithson sided with the state. Smithson said he saw no evidence of retaliation. Potena said the judge fell asleep twice during the trial. This is not the first time Smithson has been involved in a high-profile, politically sensitive case. He directed a verdict of acquittal before the jury ever got the case against Sports Authority Chairman Michael Francis, who was charged with trying to hide alleged ties to the mob and with allegedly trying to use his state position to get business for his private firm. In the Francis case, Smithson cited improper conduct by state investigators. It should be noted that the Potena case turned out very differently from the whistleblower case of Ken Connolly. Connolly was the whistleblower in the early release of mob capo Angelo Prisco. With Superior Court Judge Bill Mathesius on the bench, the case never went to trial. The state settled for $480,000. The outspoken Mathesius was not reappointed to the bench by Gov. Corzine. We leave you to figure it all out.
    Michael Symons, Gannett State Bureau, Jan. 24, 2009
    New York Times, Jan. 21, 2000

  • Mims Hackett Jr., former mayor and former state lawmaker, was sentenced to five years in prison for submitting $5,000 in bogus expense vouchers to the city of Orange. Hackett will serve the sentence at the same time he serves a nine month federal prison sentence for bribery. Hackett admitted accepting $5,000 for helping an insurance company get business with the city. The problem for Hackett was that the insurance agent was an undercover man for the feds.
    Sue Epstein, Star-Ledger, Jan. 23, 2009



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