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  • In a victory for New Jersey taxpayers, a scummy backroom deal between unpopular Gov. Christie and New Jersey lawmakers went up in flames. The scheme, being pushed through with lightning speed, generated enough public outcry to crash and burn. In an unholy alliance, the Republican governor tried to change the state’s ethics law that bans governors from earning money other than their state salary. Under the bill, writing a book would not have counted. Therefore, the governor, who has to endure one more year in office, would have been able to spend his time writing a book. And as Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure know, that’s a job requiring long days of work. And what would the Democratic lawmakers have gotten in return? An increase in salaries costing New Jersey taxpayers an estimated $7 million the first year and $10 million a year thereafter. The raises were meant for the governor’s cabinet, lawmakers’ staff members, judges, county prosecutors and clerks, sheriffs and other high-ranking government employees. A Christie critic and governor wannabe, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, labeled it what it was: “It is exactly the sort of thing that makes people lose faith in government and convinces them that elected officials are only in it for themselves. It almost sounds like the equivalent of, and I hate to use this word, the equivalent of a bribe.” Lt. Gov. Guadagno, distancing herself from Christie, called the deal “ridiculous.” The backroom deal came in the wake of a 23-cent increase in the gas tax, an announcement by Christie that he plans to renovate the State House at a cost of $300 million, and the 10th downgrading of the state’s credit rating since Christie became governor. In another victory for the public and the press, the Legislature postponed consideration of a bill that would have ended requiring the publishing of public notices in newspapers in what many saw as revenge by Christie against a critical press. (The governor has been absent from the state to run for president and then in support of President-elect Trump, and Christie’s popularity dipped to a Quinnipiac University polling record of only 19 percent of the state thinking he’s doing a good job while Fairleigh Dickinson University said it was 18 percent.) The bill would have ended the requirement for publishing public notices in newspapers, giving government the option of using an online notice to keep citizens informed. (If you didn’t have a computer or didn’t check a Web site, you would be out of luck on the notice.) Critics argued the loss in revenue for newspapers would close some newsrooms and decrease the staffing at others. Christie, without supporting data, said it would have saved taxpayers millions. Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray predicted that the backroom deals at work in the Legislature would have “set the seal on public disgust for the (government) institutions.” This time, the public sent a message. As Ingle and McClure have told many a university class, that’s the only way the Soprano State’s culture of corruption will end.
    Salvador Rizzo and Dustin Racioppi,, Dec. 19, 2016; Brent Johnson and Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 19, 2016; Dustin Racioppi,, Dec. 18, 2016; Charles Stile,, Dec. 16, 2016; Editorial, Asbury Park Press, Dec. 16, 2016; Matt Arco and Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 6, 2016; Salvador Rizzo,, Dec. 14, 2016; Editorial,, Dec. 14, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner and Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 15 and Dec. 17, 2106; Aaron Blake, Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2016

  • Bloomberg reported another scandal at New Jersey Transit. The agency failed to staff its safety office at the same time it was handing out high-level jobs to those with ties to Gov. Christie. And all the while, rail accidents climbed. Vacancies included a deputy chief and a dozen other posts at the safety office while NJ Transit hired or promoted those with Christie connections to chief financial officer, deputy executive director, assistant executive director, post-hurricane resiliency manager and chief of police and strategic planning, Bloomberg reported. An NJ Transit crash killed a woman and injured more than 100 passengers in Hoboken in September. From January 2011 to July 2016, the agency reported the most train accidents and the highest fines for safety violations of any commuter railroad in the country, Bloomberg reported. Agency spokesman Nancy Snyder meanwhile said the filling of the posts in the safety office “takes some time.”
    Elise Young, Bloomberg, Dec. 12, 2016

  • Now that the state has taken over Atlantic City, it is up to Gov. Christie to decide who runs the show in the gambling resort. The job has gone to Christie pal Jeff Chiesa at the cost of $400 an hour, Matt Arco of NJ Advance Media reported. The fee scale was negotiated by Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Chiesa worked with Christie at the U.S. Attorney’s Office before becoming the governor’s chief counsel, then attorney general, a job Chiesa turned over to Porrino when Christie appointed Chiesa to the post of U.S. Senator. After departing the Senate, Chiesa returned to what was then the law firm of Wolff & Samson, renamed Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi after Samson, who has since pleaded guilty to bribery, stepped down from the firm. Under the Atlantic City management agreement, senior partners at the Chiesa firm will earn $400 an hour for their Atlantic City work. Partners will earn $350, associates $240 and paralegals $90 an hour.
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 15, 2016

  • Gov. Christie announced that he will be departing the State House in July, no matter what. Even if he doesn’t land a job in the Trump administration and needs to finish his final year in office, he plans to vacate the building (along with everyone else) after announcing $300 million in renovations that will take four years to finish. Constructed in 1792 and with its most recent renovations to the legislative wing 25 years ago, the State House executive wing is falling apart, Christie announced with a flourish. (He provided no details on funding the project, and critics note voters in New Jersey need to sign off on bond funding.) Reporters flocked to the announcement expecting something juicy in terms of Christie’s future employment. But he vowed to finish his term unless something “extraordinary happens.” News reports say he is pushing to head the Republican National Committee and is still on the long list of candidates to head Homeland Security. Political columnist Charles Stile speculated that Christie, a post-9/11 federal prosecutor, was dusting off his resume when he pointed out the State House renovations will include a new facility where state police can screen visitors before they enter the building. “As anybody who understands homeland security, as I do, knows, you don’t screen people for explosives and weapons inside the building,” Christie told reporters. But any Trump cabinet post for Christie would mean a confirmation hearing that would likely raise the damning issue of Bridgegate. A top Christie staffer and Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority were both convicted of misusing federal resources when they closed the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge, a move prosecutors said was meant to punish the mayor for not endorsing the governor. Christie was not charged in the federal case, but an activist filed a complaint against him in municipal court charging Christie knew about the closure and failed to open the lanes, something Christie has repeatedly denied. A municipal court judge ruled there is probable cause to continue the case, which will be prosecuted by the Bergen County prosecutor’s office. The judge turned down a request for a special prosecutor.
    Charles Stile,, Nov. 30, 2016; Dustin Racioppi,, Nov. 29, 2016; Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 29, 2106; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 29, 2016;, Dec. 1, 2016; Eli Rosenberg, The New York Times, Dec. 2, 2016; David Madden, CBS, Dec. 2, 2016

  • United Airlines was penalized another $2 million for its role in the special “chairman’s flight” for former Port Authority chairman David Samson. Samson, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Christie, pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case, admitting he used his official authority to pressure United Airlines into creating a special flight from the Newark Airport to his vacation home in South Carolina. Samson used an agenda item at the Port Authority (a maintenance hanger at the Newark Airport) to push the airline into reinstating the unprofitable route, investigators said. United Airlines settled charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission for $2.4 million after already paying a $2.25 million penalty in the federal criminal case. The SEC said the flight lost $945,000, a cost paid by the airline’s shareholders. Samson is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 5. Christie’s former transportation commissioner (also former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s transportation chief) Jamie Fox, Trenton’s ultimate insider, also was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery in the case. You can find this entire cast of characters in nearly all the chapters of The Soprano State.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 2, 2016

  • The Patterson School District, run by the state since 1991, has done some Soprano State hiring by paying a part-time employee $850 a day. Juanita Petty, who retired last July as business administrator for the Wayne school district and who is collecting a state pension of $54,000 a year, has been hired by Patterson schools as an interim assistant business administrator and will only work two days a week. School board president Chris Irving said the district just needed someone “who can do the job.” John McEntee, union rep for Patterson teachers, said the school district “needs to reconsider this picture.” And, in the midst of a spending freeze, Paterson schools state Superintendent Donnie Evans, who is expected to retire soon, appointed a new chief of staff for the district at a salary of $141,000 a year. A district spokeswoman said Pamela Powell was hired to replace the retiring chief of staff and therefore did not violate the freeze. The Patterson Press reported Powell, a reverend at Calvary Baptist, one of Patterson’s largest churches, is the former principal at Kennedy’s School of Business, Technology, Marketing and Finances, one of the city’s worst schools in terms of standardized test scores. A state report also indicated two-thirds of the school’s students had been suspended.
    Joe Malinconico, Patterson Press, Dec. 1 and 2, 2016

  • Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco pleaded guilty to taking $110,000 in kickbacks from developers who were supposed to use the money to provide housing for the city’s poor. Blanco is only 44, and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said his behavior showed an “aggressive and appalling greed.” According to investigators, two developers received approval from Passaic city council and the zoning board to build eight low-income residential units in Passaic. After the approval, the mayor sent an intermediary to tell the developers a kickback would be needed for the project to proceed. After Passaic city council gave the developers $216,400 in federal housing money, they used the funds to pay much of the $110,000 Blanco demanded, investigators said. The mayor wanted cash, but instead was given signed blank checks, which he cashed and pocketed, according to the feds. Truly a Soprano State story.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 17, 2016

  • The public may soon get an inside look at the old mob-related Operation Jersey Boyz and a Soprano State murder. Reputed mobster Frank Lagano was killed execution-style in 2007 in the parking lot of his East Brunswick diner. The killing came in the wake of Lagano’s arrest in a gambling probe by the Bergen County prosecutor’s office called Operation Jersey Boyz. His family filed suit contending Lagano is dead because prosecutors revealed his identity as an informant, and the family wants the return of the $264,000 seized during his arrest. They also contend an improper relationship between Lagano and one of the investigators. Judge Marilyn Clark, the Passaic County judge who initially approved wiretaps in the Jersey Boyz case, granted the family’s request to unseal records dating back to 2004. However, the judge delayed the release until Dec. 16, which gives prosecutors time to appeal.
    Jean Rimbach,, Dec. 2, 2016

  • There are a multitude of explanations for why Gov. Christie was booted from the helm of President-elect Trump’s transition team. Bridgegate is at the top of the list. Christie wasn’t charged in the case, but his former top staffer Bridget Anne Kelly and his Port Authority appointee Bill Baroni were found guilty on all charges connected with the closing of Fort Lee Lanes to the George Washington Bridge. After the verdict, Christie did not appear on the campaign trail in the final days before the election. Trump adviser Jack Kingston told CNN that Christie was a “distraction” to the transition. Not only was Christie demoted to a vice chair, but his pal Richard Bagger was replaced as executive director and Bill Palatucci replaced as general counsel. Another factor: Vice President-elect Pence, who replaced Christie at the top of the transition team, not only has Washington experience but was an adamant defender of Trump while Christie termed Trump’s crude comments about women “completely indefensible.” Yet another factor: Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner remains a close advisor to the president-elect. The New York Times reported that Kushner never wanted Christie at the transition helm in the first place. As we detail in Chapter Two of The Soprano State, when Christie was U.S. attorney he prosecuted and jailed Jared’s father, the wealthy Democratic donor Charles Kushner, on charges of tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering. (After learning that his family was cooperating with federal prosecutors, Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce his sister’s husband, had the encounter video taped, and then sent the tape to his sister, according to prosecutors. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.) Another factor: Christie’s problems at home where Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg called for his impeachment after witnesses in the Bridgegate trial testified Christie knew about the lane closures before and during the traffic jam that prosecutors said was to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie. David Wildstein, another Port Authority executive who pleaded guilty in the case, testified Christie laughed when he was told. Christie denies the allegations. Meanwhile, a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll revealed only 19 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters have a favorable opinion of Christie. Only 20 percent said he was doing a good job, a drop of six points in just six weeks. Michael D. Shear, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Nov. 11, 2016; Matt Arco and Jonathan D. Salant, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 11, 2016; Dustin Racioppi, The Record, Nov. 10 and 11, 2016; Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 11, 2016; Max Pizarro,, Nov. 11, 2016
    Kate Zernike, New York Times, Nov. 4, 2016; Erin Petenko, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 4, 2016; Paul Berger,, Nov. 5, 2016; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 6, 2016

  • The jurors in the Bridgegate case are Soprano State heroes. The seven women and five men stood up to New Jersey’s culture of corruption. Even though the judge ruled that motive did not have to be considered to convict, the jury’s ruling sends a message: you can’t use government to reward and punish for political reasons, even in New Jersey. It wasn’t easy, as jurors told the press. The best of defense attorneys worked hard to paint a sympathetic face on the two defendants, one a high-ranking staffer in Gov. Christie’s office (former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly), the other a top Christie appointee to the Port Authority (former deputy executive director Bill Baroni). Much of the testimony and media coverage focused on Christie. David Wildstein, another Port Authority executive who pleaded guilty in the case, testified that Christie knew about the lane closures and laughed when he was told. But Christie, for whatever reason, wasn’t the one on trial. In the end, the jury decided that Kelly and Baroni were part of scheme to close Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge. They found the two defendants guilty on all seven counts. Kelly and Baroni were charged with conspiracy and wire fraud, misusing Port Authority resources and violating the rights of citizens to travel without government restriction. Along with the Fort Lee mayor (who failed to endorse Christie for reelection), school children, emergency responders, and commuters were punished by the lane closures. They too finally had their day in court. Defense attorneys say an appeal is certain. Federal appellate judges will take a look at what’s happened in the Soprano State. Reaffirming the jury’s decision could send a good government message nationwide.
    Kate Zernike, New York Times, Nov. 4, 2016; Erin Petenko, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 4, 2016; Paul Berger,, Nov. 5, 2016; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 6, 2016

  • Testifying in the Bridgegate case, Bridget Anne Kelly choked up on the witness stand when she was asked to name her four children. It raises the question: how come no one in governor’s office or the Port Authority had tears for the school kids and the first responders who were stuck in traffic when the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed? Prosecutors allege Kelly and former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni were in on the plan to close the lanes to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not supporting Gov. Christie’s reelection. Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, made national headlines when she testified the governor knew ahead of time that the lanes were being closed for a traffic study, something he has denied. (Kelly and Baroni also are charged with using the traffic study to cover up their real motives.) Kelly portrayed herself as someone who followed orders and was afraid of her boss, not as a tough woman key to an operation inside the governor’s office that rewarded and punished public officials depending on whether they supported Gov. Christie. She cried on the stand when describing brutish behind-closed-doors behavior by the governor. Baroni, a former state senator and Trenton insider for decades, has been portrayed as disadvantaged as a leader at the Port Authority because of anti-gay sentiment. (As a Republican senator he was a supporter of marriage equality.) Kelly (dressed in pink for the tearful testimony) and Baroni (sporting pink and purple ties during the trial) are seen smiling outside the federal courthouse and have hired the best in defense attorneys. Baroni testified he really believed the lane closings were a traffic study. When it’s time for a verdict, it will be up to the jury to decide what’s theatrics and what’s fact. At issue is whether or not government was used as a political tool to punish and reward, and whether or not that’s legal, even in New Jersey.
    Dustin Racioppi and Paul Berger, Record, Oct. 21, 2016; Tom Moran, Star-Ledger, Oct. 21, 2016; Charles Stile, Record, Oct. 21, 2016; Andrea Bernstein, WNYC News, Oct. 19, 2016

  • In a separate legal case related to Bridgegate, an activist filed a complaint against Gov. Christie charging him with official misconduct and alleging he knew about the lane closures and failed to stop them. The allegation is based on testimony by former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, who said he told Christie about the lane closures while they were happening and the governor laughed. Wildstein pleaded guilty in the case and is a witness for the federal prosecution. A municipal court judge ruled there was probable cause that the crime of official misconduct was committed and issued a summons against the governor, who agreed to appear in court Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving. The governor’s spokesman called the complaint, filed by Bill Brennan, “dishonorable” and said the governor had no knowledge of the lane closings beforehand or while they were closed.
    Samantha Reyes and Shachar Peled, CNN, Oct. 19, 2016; Salvador Rizzo, The Record, Oct. 14, 2106; Lauren Del Valle and Adrienne Shih, CNN, Oct. 13, 2016

  • Gov. Christie’s approval rating plunged again to a new low. Only 21 percent of registered voters think he is doing a good job, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University survey. Christie’s positive rating was 26 percent in June when Fairleigh Dickinson last polled. The new survey revealed 70 percent of New Jersey residents are following the Bridgegate trial. Fifty-two percent believe Christie knew about the lane closures and failed to stop them, the survey results revealed.
    Michael Catalini, Associated Press, Oct. 19, 2016

  • After taking three days to figure it out, Gov. Christie told Craig Carton (former Jersey Guy now on WFAN’s “Boomer and Carton”) that Donald Trump’s lewd video was “completely indefensible” and his apology inadequate. But at the same time the governor said he was not abandoning the Trump ship, like others in the GOP. And in the Bridgegate trial, defense attorney Michael Critchley dropped what could be the real bombshell for Christie when, during questioning, Critchley alleged that the governor not only knew about the lane closures while they happened, but also knew beforehand. Critchley represents Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former chief of staff. Kelly is charged, along with former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni, with creating gridlock at the George Washington Bridge to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie, and then creating a cover up by claiming a traffic study. Top cops with the Port Authority testified Baroni tried to get them to lie about the traffic study, and when they refused, Baroni lied to New Jersey lawmakers when he told them Port Authority cops asked for the lane changes.
    Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Oct. 11, 2016; Stephen Rex Brown, New York Daily News, Oct. 11, 2016; Paul Berger, Record, Oct. 11, 2016

  • Matt Katz of WNYC, writing for the Sunday Review of The New York Times, recalled how Gov. Christie and Bill Baroni, a defendant in the Bridgegate scandal, were theater mates for The Soprano State premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater in October 2010. Those were the early days of the first Christie administration when the governor was still billed as a good-government prosecutor. How things have changed. Now, as Katz rightly predicts, Christie holds the ability to bring the Soprano State right into the White House, should Donald Trump win. Christie, as the transition head for Trump, is vetting the very people who would become top members of any Trump administration. In the Bridgegate case, those Christie hired are charged with using government to reward and punish for political reasons. The words Christie said to Katz as he entered The Soprano State premiere are worth remembering. “We’ll always have a corruption problem in New Jersey.” The same could be true for Washington D.C.
    Matt Katz, WNYC, Oct. 1, 2016

  • Former Assemblyman Robert Schroeder pleaded guilty to stealing more than $1.8 million from people who loaned him money and to writing more than $3.4 million in bad checks. Under a plea agreement, state prosecutors will recommend eight years in prison and full restitution of the $5 million to victims who investigators said trusted Schroeder because of his position. Schroeder’s company sold tents and portable buildings to the U.S. Military for Afghanistan and Iraq. As business declined, he borrowed money from individuals, and when he fell behind in repayments, he wrote 47 bad checks totaling $3.4 million to 12 individuals, according to the indictment. Investigators said Schroeder also persuaded people to loan him $1.8 million for a housing project in an oil drilling area of North Dakota, and then used the money for other debts.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Oct. 7, 2016

  • An appellate court turned down former Elizabeth School Board president Marie Munn’s attempt to overturn her sentence for stealing from the federal school lunch program. After a five-day trial, a jury convicted her of filing false applications for her children over a five-year period for $2,649 in benefits she did not qualify for. Munn was sentenced to three years probation and 300 hours of community service. In the appeal, Munn claimed the charges should have been dismissed and she should have been able to enter a pre-trial program that would have removed the charges from her record and that evidence was improperly admitted during the trial. The appellate judges said, “ We are not persuaded by any of these arguments.”
    Tom Haydon, NJ Advance Media, Oct. 11, 2016

  • The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has accused the Christie administration of failing to properly account for the way it spent $43 million in federal money for Superstorm Sandy recovery. “HUD did not have assurance that the $43.1 million disbursed under the contract was for costs that were eligible, supported, reasonable, and necessary,” the inspector general said. New Jersey will need to either cough up the documentation, or give the money back. The money was a community development block grant to help homeowners and was administered by a contractor hired by the state. New Jersey says nothing is amiss, as it followed it own rules and there was proper documentation.
    Jonathan D. Salant, NJ Advance Media, Oct. 5, 2016

  • A federal judge slammed the controversial Delaware River Port Authority’s bidding process as irrational after the agency awarded a bridge painting contract to the second lowest bidder. District Court Judge Noel Hillman said he couldn’t ignore the actions of a public agency that “acts in violation of its own rules, applies those same rules differently to different entities, creates a façade of rationality and transparency, and fails to provide this court with any meaningful record to review its decision.” Hillman said the bi-state agency in an “apparent subterfuge” awarded a $17.8 million contract for painting of the Commodore Barry Bridge to Corcon Inc., the second lowest bidder. The bid was awarded behind closed doors, and none of the decision-makers could tell the court why Alpha, the lowest bidder, did not get the contract. “This testimony depicts the decision-maker as the apparition of the Wizard of Oz before the curtain is thrown open. Only here, the curtain remains closed tight,” Hillman said. In another scandal, former DRPA chairman John Estey (appointed by former PA Gov. Ed Rendell) pleaded guilty in May to wire fraud in the wake of an FBI sting that caught Estey taking $20,000, which he agreed to pay Pennsylvania lawmakers to influence their votes. In Soprano State style, Estey passed along $7,000 in contributions and kept $13,000 for himself, investigators said.
    Rebecca Everett,, Sept. 30, 2016; Greg Adomaitis, NJ. com, May 1, 2016; Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy, May 11, 2016,

  • The most damning testimony to come out of the Bridgegate trial is the allegation that Gov. Christie laughed when (in the middle of the lane closures) he was told. Also damning is the description of a spreadsheet kept inside his office on the goodies doled out to elected officials, including steel remembrances from the World Trade Center, to get them to endorse Christie’s reelection. Christie still denies knowing about the lane closures, and the presidential election is sucking up so much media attention that the trial is not getting the national focus it normally would enjoy. Former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, who spearheaded the lane-closing stunt and has pleaded guilty in the case, said Christie was told during a Sept. 11, 2013 memorial service in New York where pictures were snapped of Wildstein, the governor and defendant Bill Baroni, another former Port Authority executive. It was Matt Mowers, a former Christie aide now working for the Trump campaign, who told how Christie staffers developed a list of Democratic mayors who would be wooed with goodies in the effort to garner endorsements for the Republican governor. The goal was to make Christie more electable as a presidential candidate, but in the end, it was the plan to punish and reward officials over endorsements that ironically helped scuttle Christie’s plans for the White House. Christie is not charged in the case. Baroni and former Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly are charged with creating gridlock at the George Washington Bridge (that hurt commuters, school children and first responders) to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie, and then creating a cover up by claiming a traffic study. The jury will decide whether they misused federally funded property, committed fraud and deprived the public of its right to interstate travel.
    Kate Zernike, The New York Times, Sept. 27, 2016; Peter J. Sampson and Paul Berger, The Record, Sept. 24, 2016; Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 27, 2016

  • Politico New Jersey noted the irony of Gov. Christie appearing with former Gov. McGreevey at a press conference and pointing out the need for second chances at the same time Christie was accused of laughing at the lane closings in Bridgegate. “I’m an advocate for second chances in every aspect of life,” Christie said. “Because there is not a person in this room, myself included, who hasn’t made mistakes. Hasn’t wished that they could take a judgment back.” The event in the governor’s outer office was for National Recovery Month and announced an expansion of a program that hires recovering addicts to help others in emergency rooms. McGreevey resigned in disgrace in 2004 after admitting to an extramarital affair with a man identified by aides as Golan Cipel, the unqualified man McGreevey hired as New Jersey’s security adviser. McGreevey is now executive director of the New Jersey Re-Entry Corporation, which helps ex-cons.
    Katie Jennings, Politico New Jersey, Sept. 27, 2016

  • How do we know about Bridgegate? Because New York’s appointees to the Port Authority told the press, and the press did its job. John Ma, chief of staff to Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye, called a Record reporter with a tip: closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge could be politically motivated. Ma called John Cichowski on the fourth day of the lane closures while they were being called a traffic study. “I told him, off the record, that to my knowledge there was no traffic study and that the lane closures had been ordered by David Wildstein,” Ma testified. Ma said Foye knew he was making the call. The Record reported the lane closures began after Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent an email to Wildstein: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
    Peter J. Sampson and Paul Berger, The Record, Sept. 22, 2016

  • The New York Times wrote an interesting comparison of Gov. Christie (former U.S. attorney) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (former New York attorney general). Both were known as corruption busters, prosecutors who wore white hats and promised clean government when they were elected governor. Both states had a history of gubernatorial scandals (former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York and former Gov. Jim McGreevey of New Jersey), which made these corruption-busters appear even cleaner. In the Soprano State, Christie’s bid for president and vice president and his approval ratings as governor have been damaged by Bridgegate. In New York, Cuomo’s friend and former top aide Joseph Percoco has been charged with steering state money in exchange for bribes, and several other close advisers and donors to Cuomo were arrested. (Perhaps catching up with New Jersey), New York prosecutors charged that two of the governor’s former aides in ‘Sopranos’ style, used the word “ziti” for the illegal kickbacks. The two governors have not been charged with a crime, but Vivian Yee of the New York Times asked the same question we have been asking in The Soprano State: “How could the governors not have known?”
    Vivian Yee, The New York Times, Sept. 25, 2016

  • Some declared it a shocker when prosecutors said Gov. Christie knew about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as it was happening. But to think that Christie would not have known should be even more shocking. Governors are micromanagers by nature. And after all, it was the unit inside his office, which defendant Bridget Anne Kelly headed, that prosecutors allege teamed with his Port Authority officials for the business of rewarding and punishing those who did or did not endorse Christie’s reelection. What now comes into play is Christie’s denial of having known. We already know of a text message sent by a former aide to the governor during his press conference on Bridgegate. The text said he “flat out lied.” But the trial has a long way to go. Christie’s knowing or not knowing is not on trial. Kelly and former Port Authority official Bill Baroni are charged with misusing federally funded property, fraud and depriving the public of its right to interstate travel. The gridlock, which prosecutors say was to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie, hurt commuters, school children and emergency responders. Once again, it will be up to the jury to finally decide whether government officials used public property for political punishment and whether, even in New Jersey, it’s illegal.
    Kate Zernike, The New York Times, Sept. 19, 2016

  • The Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN all described how Gov. Christie lied for Trump on the birther issue. Once Trump declared that President Obama was born in the U.S., ending five years of saying it wasn’t so, Christie appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” to blame Hillary Clinton’s campaign for starting the birther issue and to deny that Trump was pushing it for five years. Washington Post fact-checking: “This is such bogus spin that we have to wonder how Christie manages to say it with a straight face. Regular readers know we shy away from using the word ‘lie,’ but clearly Christie is either lying or he is so misinformed that he has no business appearing on television.” CNN titled its coverage, “Reality check: Chris Christie’s whoppers on the birther issue.” MSNBC, “Following birther reversal, Trump’s allies lie about his lie.” The Washington Post went so far as to say Christie’s behavior is why Americans hate politics. “A sitting governor goes on national television and when he is called out for an obvious falsehood, he simply repeats the inaccurate talking points over and over.”
    Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2016; Steve Benen MSNBC, Sept. 19, 2016; Steven A. Holmes, CNN, Sept. 19, 2016

  • Even before the Bridgegate trial, Gov. Christie’s popularity continued to plummet. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll revealed only 26 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters believe Christie is doing a good job, a five-point drop from the last Rutgers’ survey. Another poll, the Morning Consult poll, also done before the trial started, showed Christie’s approval rating at 29 percent, the third worst rating in the nation. (Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback came in at 23 percent with Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut at 26 percent.) Most political analysts agree Bridgegate scuttled Christie’s chances of becoming Donald Trump’s VP candidate. But Trump is still standing behind Christie, his transition chief, and the Bridgegate allegations are nothing new to Trump. Late last year, he said Christie “totally knew” about the closing of the bridge lanes for political punishment.
    S.P. Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 20, 2016; Matt Friedman, Politico New Jersey, Sept. 20, 2016; Max Pizarro,, Sept. 20, 2016; Anthony Zurcher, BBC, Sept. 20, 2016; Dustin Racioppi, The Record, Sept. 15, 2016; Michael Catalini, Associated Press, Sept. 15, 2016

  • In addition to the criminal trial, commuters and taxi drivers caught in the Bridgegate gridlock of September 2013 have filed a class-action lawsuit. Federal Judge Jose Linares ruled that five counts, including alleged violations of constitutional rights and civil conspiracy, should move to trial. Cabbies, commuters and car services who filed the suit say they represent thousands forced to “suffer extreme traffic delays and to be confined to their cars, waste gas, lose time and sustain other economic losses,” when the lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed. Among the defendants in the civil case are the two defendants in the criminal trial, former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and former Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly, and former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty in the criminal case.
    Peter J. Sampson, The Record, Sept. 16, 2016

  • When Bridgegate goes to court this month, what really will be on trial is the Soprano State’s culture of corruption. Gov. Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni stand accused of closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Defense attorneys have labeled it normal politics. Prosecutors and the defense agree “the Christie administration treated the Port Authority… as an arm of the governor’s campaign for a second term, using it to cajole mayors into endorsing Mr. Christie and discipline them if they did not,” The New York Times reported. As if that wasn’t enough: “An entire department of the governor’s office was focused on gaining the support of local officials, as Mr. Christie sought the sort of landslide victory that would allow him to argue that he was the Republican best able to take the White House.” Brigid Callahan Harrison, a prof of political science and law at Montclair State University told The New York Times that Bridgegate offered a “glimpse” into the “machinations” that shaped Christie as a national candidate. “Not just all of the kind of back-room inside politics that many people find really distasteful, but the enormous extent to which the administration would flex it muscles to paint Chris Christie as this candidate that had such broad appeal.” Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was number 47 of 100 Democratic mayors the Christie administration hoped to convince to support the Republican governor. The bridge closure on the opening week of school in 2013 created gridlock for commuters, school buses and first responders. Kelly and Baroni are charged with misusing federally funded property, fraud and depriving the public of its right to interstate travel. Port Authority executive David Wildstein already pleaded guilty in the case. What remains to be seen is whether a jury believes using the governor’s office to reward and punish mayors for political benefit is routine politics, even in New Jersey.
    Kate Zernike, The New York Times, Sept. 6, 2016; Paul Berger, Record, Sept. 5, 2016

  • The change Donald Trump has promised could be the Soprano State moving to Washington D.C. If Trump is elected president, his administration will likely take a “heavy New Jersey accent” into the White house, the Associated Press reported. With Gov. Christie at the helm of Trump’s transition team, Christie’s closest friends and allies have been placed in key transition posts and would likely move into any Trump administration. Helping Christie as counsel to the transition is his longtime friend Bill Palatucci. Christie’s first chief of staff, former state senator Rich Bagger, is the transition’s executive director.
    Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, Sept. 4, 2016

  • Washington Post political blogger Aaron Blake used Gov. Christie as an example of why people don’t trust politicians. On the campaign trail in the presidential primary, Christie said Trump’s plan to build a border wall and have Mexico pay the bill made “no sense” and the Mexican president would not foot the cost. Christie was asked on CBS’s Face the Nation if he now believes he was wrong. The governor said he disagreed with Trump on the campaign trail “because he was running against him.” As to whether Mexico will pay for a wall, Christie said Trump is a “very good negotiator.” Now that it’s general election season, Blake said, “we should apparently take everything he (Christie) says to the bank.”
    Aaron Blake, Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2016

  • Gov. Christie said it’s Chicago, not Camden, N.J, that needs Donald Trump’s help, even though Camden’s homicide rate is double Chicago’s. Trump and Christie have used the stray bullet death of Nykea Aldridge in Chicago (where the homicide rate is 17 per 100,000) and cast the blame for violence on the liberal policies of cities like New York and Chicago. But the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that in Camden, the homicide rate is 40 per 100,000, including the recent stray bullet death of an 8-year-old girl.
    Maddie Hanna and Andrew Seidman, Inquirer, August 30, 2016

  • A state appellate court ruled that Soprano State government agencies can refuse a request for records by saying they can “neither confirm nor deny” the records exist. The response, first used by the federal government to protect national security, is only used in one other state, Indiana. The appellate court ruled against the North Jersey Media Group, which requested records (from the Bergen County prosecutor) related to a Catholic priest who had not been arrested. The court ruled in favor of protecting the confidentiality of persons who have been investigated, but not charged. Lower courts would be responsible for making sure any such denials are valid. Jeff Hermes of the Media Law Resource Center in New York labeled the decision very troubling. “A decision like this is going to give state agencies … a way to make it much, much harder to figure out if a denial of a request is legitimate.”
    Salvadore Rizzo, Record, August 31, 2016

  • President of the Dunellen Board of Education, Phillip Heiney, has been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. State prosecutors said Heiney used a file-sharing network to share videos of child pornography over the Internet. Investigators seized 100 pieces of computer equipment at his home. “Anyone who would commit such crimes belongs in prison, not in our schools,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino.
    Christopher Porrino, Aug. 23, 2016

  • Gov. Christie flew on the “chairman’s flight” that could cost his former Port Authority chairman David Samson jail time. Samson pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he used his official authority to pressure United Airlines into creating a special flight from the Newark Airport to his vacation home in South Carolina. The governor’s office said Christie, a former U.S. attorney, knew nothing about Samson’s illegal methods to obtain the flight. The special flight left Newark on Thursday night (returning the same night), then went from Newark to South Carolina on Sunday night for the chairman’s return flight Monday. Christie and his son used the flight to travel to South Carolina on Sunday Jan. 27, 2013, NJ Advance Media reported. Ironically, employees of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman (who charged Samson in the case) also used the flight for travel to courses at the National Advocacy Center, University of South Carolina.
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 23, 2016

  • Federal Judge William Walls got it right when he blasted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark for recommending light sentences for corruption in the Soprano State. Walls said prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s office have a pattern of prosecuting corruption and then letting the perpetrators off easy if they plead guilty, the Record reported. “That is so ridiculous it makes no sense in the context of true law enforcement. This is sheer legal nonsense. If you swindle the government, regardless of your status, you should go to jail.” Walls did agree to three years probation for a contractor (Leovaldo Fundora) who pleaded guilty in a Union City bid rigging scheme that cost taxpayers $120,000 to $200,000 in federal funding. But Wall said it was the last time. “This is absolutely ridiculous, and I will not do it again. The society is being swindled and your office seems to care about notching wins.” He accused Fishman’s office of wanting high conviction rates more than tough sentences. A spokesman for Fishman said those who cooperate are entitled to “some consideration” at sentencing. It is interesting to note: Walls also is presiding over the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. (Former Port Authority Chairman David Samson pleaded guilty to bribery before federal Judge Jose Linares and will be sentenced Dec. 13.)
    Salvador Rizzo, Record, Aug. 17 and 18, 2016; CBS New York and Associated Press, Aug. 17, 2016

  • New Jersey continues to play a major role in the Trump campaign. Even though Gov. Christie cut away Bill Stepien as his campaign manager in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal, Trump picked Stepien up as national field director in charge of political operations and voter turnout. Emails in the Bridgegate affair revealed Stepien knew about and made light of the closure of the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge. In January 2014 Christie said, “I was disturbed by the tone and the behavior and attitude, the callous indifference that was displayed in the emails… And reading that it made me lose my confidence in Bill’s judgment and you cannot have someone at the top of your political operation that you do not have confidence in.” (Former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly are charged by the feds with closing the lanes to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Another Port Authority executive pleaded guilty in the case.)
    Dustin Racioppi, Record, August 26, 2016; Jenna Portnoy, Star-Ledger, Jan. 9, 2014

  • CNN Money raised serious questions about the $39 million Trump made while Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts lost more than $600 million between 1995 and 2004. Trump’s salary, bonus and options came to $20 million. He was compensated an additional $18.5 million for consulting contracts that paid him for consulting with his own company, for licensing deals that paid him to use the Trump names, and for the company using his personal jet or golf courses for VIPS, CNN reported. “In other words, a company that Trump controlled was paying Trump to use other stuff he owned, including his name,” Matt Egan of CNN Money reported. The Trump campaign did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
    Matt Egan, CNN Money, Aug. 18, 2016

  • When Trump’s friend Chris Christie became governor, the New Jersey casinos founded by Trump owed the state nearly $30 in overdue taxes and interest, but ended up paying only a sixth of that amount, the New York Times reported. For several years, state auditors and lawyers had been battling to collect the debt. But that all changed, and by December 2011, two years after Christie’s election, the state agreed to settle the account for $5 million. Legal experts told the NY Times the large discount and the friendship between Trump and Christie “raise inevitable questions about special treatment.” A spokesman for Christie said the governor “had no knowledge or involvement” in the settlement. The Washington Post earlier reminded its readers about Trump’s casino history in New Jersey where Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy in 1991, followed by Trump’s Castle and Plaza casinos in 1992. Trump promised regulators he wouldn’t use junk bonds, and ended up using them anyway. He said it was his prerogative to change his mind. Russ Buettner, New York Times, Aug. 16, 2016; Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 17, 2016; Robert O’Harrow Jr.,
    Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2016

  • Only in the Soprano State would the governor (a former U.S. attorney) and Democrats in the legislature allow three of four seats on the watchdog panel for elections (the Election Law Enforcement Commission) sit vacant. Their lack of action has effectively shut down the commission, now with only one Republican member. The commission, a monitor for both campaign fundraising and spending, is supposed to have two members from each party. Five years of vacancies resulted in the dismissal in April of ELEC charges against Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo (a Christie pal) who was accused of misusing campaign money by spending it on athletic games, a tuxedo, a gym membership, two trips to Puerto Rico and parking tickets. ELEC has made it know that it would revive the case, if it ever gets up and running.
    Editorial Board, Star-Ledger, Aug. 22, 2016; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, April 25 and 27, 2016; Salvador Rizzo, Record, April 26, 2016

  • Another shocker in the Bridgegate scandal: a former aide to Gov. Christie sent a text saying the governor “flat out lied” during a press conference on the Bridgegate affair. Aide Christina Renna texted: “Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and (former deputy chief of staff Bill) Stepien not being involved.” During that 2013 press conference, Christie said he had no reason to believe his staff was involved and that Stepien (then his campaign manager) had assured him he was not involved in closing the Fort Lee lanes of the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Renna sent the text to Christie’s campaign staffer Peter Sheridan who texted back: “Gov is doing fine. Holding his own up there.” But Renna then texted: “Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or CCFG (Chris Christie for Governor) emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that, it could be bad.” The emails surfaced in a court filing on behalf of former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni. (Baroni and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly are charged by the feds with closing the lanes to punish the mayor. Another Port Authority executive has pleaded guilty in the case.) Asked about the allegation that he lied, Christie said, “I absolutely dispute it.” The Renna emails to Sheridan were deleted, but have been recovered. Democrats who chaired the legislative investigation into the scandal are calling for an investigation into whether Renna destroyed evidence and whether she perjured herself in testimony before the legislative committee.
    Dustin Racioppi, Record, Aug. 10, 2016; Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 10, 2016; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 10, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 10, 2016

  • In another surprising turn of events, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has been subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution in the Bridgegate case. However, lawyers for Bill Baroni don’t want any part of Fulop’s testimony and have asked the court to dismiss Fulop-related evidence in the case. Emails between David Wildstein (the Port Authority executive who has pleaded guilty in the case) and Bill Stepien (Christie’s campaign manager) reveal early efforts, even before Fulop was elected mayor, to win his endorsement of Christie’s reelection. At that time, Fulop, a Democratic councilman, was working for a Port Authority vendor, Foreign Auto Preparation Service, which was seeking a lease extension. Wildstein emailed Stepien, “We have a deal with FAPS. Fulop owes you big time.” Fulop, who did not endorse Christie, has alleged that Christie’s office cancelled meetings with cabinet officials in retaliation.
    Dustin Racioppi, Record, Aug. 10, 2016; Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Aug. 10, 2016

  • The attorneys for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who earned $8.2 million in taxpayers’ money for an investigation into the Bridgegate scandal that cleared governor Christie, are balking at testifying at the upcoming federal trial. Defense lawyers have subpoenaed eight attorneys from the New York firm (five partners and three associates), and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher attorneys are asking the judge to block the request. High profile defense lawyer Michael Critchley says he has questions about memos of interviews conducted during the law firm’s investigation. Federal Judge Susan Wigenton has blasted the firm for not retaining interview notes, but instead producing only summaries of the interviews: “The taxpayers of the state of New Jersey paid millions of dollars to conduct a transparent and thorough investigation. What they got instead was opacity and gamesmanship. They deserve better.”
    Peter J. Sampson, Record, Aug. 8, 2016

  • Security for Gov. Christie’s out-of-state travel from April through June cost $51,000, bringing the total since 2010 to $2 million, the Record learned from a records request. After Christie ended out-of-state travel for his own presidential bid, he took on the task of chief booster for GOP nominee Donald Trump and heads the team preparing for Trump’s transition, should he win. Meanwhile, Politico New Jersey and NJ advance Media reported that Trump closed his NJ campaign headquarters in Edison. Trump advisor Steve Rogers said a ground campaign is in the works and the decisions on a headquarters building “will be decided upon in the future.”
    Salvador Rizzo, Record, Aug. 10, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 12, 2016

  • The Meadowlands mega-mall project, once Xanadu and now called American Dream Meadowlands, got another government boost with approval by a state agency for an $800,000 bond offering. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has authorized a total of $1.15 billion in financing. Public and private financing for the project has grown to $2.7 billion. (Total cost is closer to $5 billion, including $1 billion in prior state investments and previous spending by past and current developers of $1.1 billion.) Developer Triple Five says the project will generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue. The conservative Americans for Prosperity labeled the state’s involvement a “corporate welfare giveaway.” Toni Granato of the NJ Sierra Club, told NJ Spotlight, that “the public will always be on the hook for this mall.”
    John Reitmeyer, NJ Spotlight, Aug. 11, 2016; Linda Moss, Record, Aug. 9, 2016; John Brennan, Record, Aug. 10, 2016

  • The ultimate New Jersey political insider, Jamie Fox, did not enter a plea when he showed up in federal court to face bribery charges, and neither Fox nor his lawyer Michael Critchley had anything to say after the court appearance, leaving political observers wondering if a plea bargain is in the works. Bail was set at $100,000, and Fox had to surrender his passport. The charge of conspiracy to commit bribery (with former Port Authority chairman David Samson) carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison. Samson pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting using his official authority to pressure United Airlines into creating a special flight from the Newark Airport to his vacation home in South Carolina. The feds accuse Fox of teaming with Samson in pressuring United to reinstate the “Chairman’s Flight.” Prosecutors say emails exchanged between Fox, a lobbyist at the time for United, and Samson tell how a Port Authority agenda item (a hanger United wanted at the airport) was bounced off and on the agenda when United balked at reinstating the flight. Fox has been around Soprano State politics for as long as anyone can remember, and he probably knows what has happened behind the scenes (on both sides of the political aisle) for decades. For years he served as chief of staff to Sen. Bob Torricelli, who dropped his reelection bid in the midst of an ethics scandal. Fox was on Gov. Jim Florio’s staff, and first joined Gov. Jim McGreevey’s administration as transportation commissioner, later becoming chief of staff before McGreevey resigned in disgrace. Fox also served as deputy executive director of the Port Authority and as adviser to the Obama/Biden campaign in Florida before agreeing to become Gov. Christie’s transportation commissioner. He was only in that post from September 2014 to October 2015.
    Associated Press, Aug. 3, 2016; Peter J. Sampson, Record, Aug. 3, 2016

  • Senate President Steve Sweeney has accused the New Jersey teachers’ union of trading campaign contributions for votes and called for a bribery investigation by state and federal prosecutors. Sweeney said the New Jersey Education Association has threatened to end campaign contributions to Democrats unless he posts a vote on a constitutional amendment requiring the state to annually fund workers pensions. If the Senate does not act soon, the amendment will not be on the ballot for voter approval in November. The teachers’ union said it has done nothing wrong. But Sweeney told U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman: “The threats clearly cross the line from lobbying to attempted bribery and conspiracy.”
    John C. Ensslin, Record, Aug. 3, 2016

  • A former top aide for Gov. Christie slammed Donald Trump and announced she will be voting for Hillary Clinton. Maria Comella, who crafted Christie’s image as governor and as a presidential candidate, made her stunning announcement to CNN. After Christie lost his bid as a presidential candidate and endorsed Trump, Comella did not return to the Statehouse where she served as deputy chief of staff for communications. Her harsh words for Trump gained national attention: “I’m voting for Hillary Clinton in November, and I’m voting for her because I don’t believe it’s enough to say you aren’t for Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been a demagogue this whole time, preying on people’s anxieties with loose information and salacious rhetoric, drumming up fear and hatred of the ‘other.’ Instead of trying anything remotely like unifying the country, we have a nominee who would rather pick fights because he views it as positive news coverage.”
    Eric Bradner, CNN, Aug. 2, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 2, 2016; Dustin Racioppi, Record, Aug. 2, 2016

  • While lawyers begin to select a jury in the Bridgegate trial and are likely preparing subpoenas for information on Gov. Christie’s once missing cellphone, Christie made his own headlines with a call for an investigation into the emails of the Democrats who spearheaded the legislative probe into the bridge scandal. (A top Christie administration staffer and one of his top executives at the Port Authority have been charged by the feds with closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridget to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. Another Port Authority executive has pleaded guilty in the case.) Christie went after Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski based on an email that was leaked from the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. The email communication between Weinberg and the DNC related to Christie’s endorsement of Trump and had nothing to do with Bridgegate. However, Christie argued if the two communicated on one issue, they could have communicated on others and therefore state resources could have been used for a political attack on him. Wisniewski called Christie’s claim “utter nonsense” and said there had been “zero coordination with the Democratic National Committee in Bridgegate.”
    Dustin Racioppi, Record, Aug. 2, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 2, 2016; David Porter, Associated Press, July 31, 2016

  • A Senate committee is probing the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority in the wake of an investigative report by the New York Times and ProPublica. The authority runs the largest state-based student loan program in the country with loans totaling $1.9 billion, and according to the report, it has “extraordinarily stringent rules that can easily lead to financial ruin” and charges higher interest rates than similar federal programs. Bankruptcy lawyer Daniel Frischberg called it “state-sanctioned loan-sharking.” The news report featured Marcia DeOliveria-Longinetti whose son was murdered. While DeOliveria-Longinetti was notified that her son’s federal college loans were cancelled, the New Jersey authority said it expected her to pay off her son’s state loans.
    Adam Clark, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 2, 2016; Annie Waldman, New York Times, July 3, 2016

  • Three former supervisors at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission will serve jail time for having agency employees do work at private homes when they were on authority time. Kevin Keogh, former superintendent for special services at the agency, was sentenced to five years in state prison for having employees complete renovations at his home and run errands for him. Investigators said employees installed windows, replaced kitchen cabinet doors and installed lattice-material on a deck at Keogh’s home. When it came to errands, employees put up the holiday decorations at his home and ran to Home Depot for landscaping items. Paul Bazela, former foreman of the carpenter’s shop, was sentenced to three years in prison for having employees perform work at Keogh’s home and at the home of former agency commissioner Anthony Ardis. Ardis was sentenced to 90 days in county jail.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, July 26, 2016

  • While Gov. Christie play-acted as his old prosecutor self and put Hillary Clinton on trial at the GOP convention, real federal prosecutors nailed his powerful pals and appointees back home. Few, including the White House, missed the irony of Christie giving an ethics lecture. But it’s nothing new in the Soprano State. Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, whose administration also was riddled with scandal, was hired as an ethics teacher after resigning in disgrace.
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, July 19 and 20, 2016

  • Many believe the Bridgegate scandal swirling around Christie was a factor in his missing out as the vice presidential candidate. (A top Christie administration staffer and one of his top executives at the Port Authority have been charged with closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. Another Port Authority executive has pleaded guilty in the case.) As if that wasn’t enough, just as Christie headed to Cleveland for his mock trial of Clinton, two of his pals and top appointees (and old pals of McGreevey as well) were charged with bribery. Christie’s former Port Authority chairman David Samson (McGreevey’s attorney general) pleaded guilty in the bribery case. He admitted using his official authority to pressure United Airlines into creating a special flight from the Newark Airport to his vacation home in South Carolina. Samson used an agenda item at the Port Authority (a maintenance hanger at the Newark Airport) to push the airline into reinstating the unprofitable route, investigators said.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 14, 2016; Ted Sherman and Mark Mueller, NJ Advance Media, July 14, 2016

  • U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman also charged Christie’s former transportation commissioner (and McGreevey’s), Jamie Fox, a longtime Trenton political insider who was a consultant and lobbyist for United, with conspiracy to commit bribery. The feds charged that Fox teamed with Samson to pressure United into what was called the “Chairman’s Flight” and “Samson Air.” Prosecutors said emails exchanged between Fox and Samson tell how a Port Authority agenda item (the hanger United wanted at the airport) was bounced off and on the agenda when United balked at reinstating the flight. United will pay a $2.25 million penalty for its role in the special flight. Fishman said Samson and Fox knew better: “This kind of case shakes public confidence in our institutions of government when people who are so accomplished, and who have occupied so many positions of public trust, misuse their authority to get something for themselves.” Fox’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, said his client thought the arrangement between United and Samson was “fully vetted.”
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 14, 2016; Ted Sherman and Mark Mueller, NJ Advance Media, July 14, 2016

  • Ironically, one of Christie’s cases as a prosecutor also is believed to have contributed to Donald Trump’s decision not to pick the New Jersey governor as VP candidate. Christie prosecuted McGreevey pal and chief fundraiser Charles Kushner (the father of Trump’s son-in-law) who pleaded guilty to 18 felonies, including tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions, and witness tampering. (After learning that his family was cooperating with federal prosecutors, Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce his sister’s husband, had the encounter video taped, and then sent the tape to his sister, according to prosecutors. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.) Laura Goldman of the Huffington Post reported that Jared Kushner (who is married to Ivanka Trump) was adamant about Christie not getting the VP pick. Like we have always said, you can’t make this stuff up. If you want the background stories on Samson, Fox and Kushner, you can find them all in Chapters 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 9 of The Soprano State.
    Laura Goldman, Huffington Post, July 13, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, July 13, 2016; Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure, The Soprano State, 2008

  • While Christie was off at the convention, the New York Times reported Soprano State drivers are irate about the governor’s order to halt road and bridge construction statewide. With money almost gone from the Transportation Trust Fund, Christie and lawmakers are arguing over an increase in the gas tax and other tax schemes to keep the fund going. The closing of a Route 518 bridge has created headaches for motorists in the Princeton area. The owner of a travel business told a reporter, “We have our own Bridgegate here.”
    Patrick McGeehan and Emma G. Fitzsimmons, New York Times, July 19, 2016

  • While Gov. Christie’s role as a VP candidate dominated the political scene, other New Jersey pols also kept the Soprano State in the forefront of national politics. On the Democratic side, Sen. Booker remained on the VP list, and Atlantic City was the backdrop for a Clinton event focusing on Trump’s multiple casino bankruptcies in the boardwalk city. Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan leads the charge at the GOP convention to change the rules and allow delegates to break from Trump. (Longegan says he will back Trump if the effort fails.) Former Gov. Christie Whitman, long a strident opponent to Trump’s candidacy, is still looking for a third party candidate, even as Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger warns that just like Ralph Nader gave George W. a win in 2000, a third-party candidate would do the same for Trump. After 52 years of attending GOP conventions, former Gov. Tom Kean joins the list of prominent Republicans staying home.
    Jessica Taylor and Barbara Sprunt, NPR, July 12, 2016; Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, July 9, 2016; Alyana Alfaro,, July 12, 2016; Christie Whitman, Star-Ledger, July 13, 2016; Tom Moran, Star-Ledger, July 10, 2016; Mike Kelly, Record, July 13, 2016

  • In the Bridgegate scandal, there was a breakthrough in the “things that are missing” category: the Gov.’s cellphone was found. (It’s the one he was using during the critical time of a legislative investigation.) Behold, it is in the custody of Christie’s personal lawyer, Christopher Wray, the Star-Ledger reported. But now that it is found, the federal judge in the case, Susan Wigenton, has denied a defense request to find out what’s on the phone. The problem, Wigenton said, is that the request for information by lawyers for Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly was too broad. Baroni’s lawyer, Michael Baldassare, said he will try again with a new subpoena when the trial, set to start Sept. 12, begins. (Baroni and Kelly are charged with conspiring to close the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. One former Port Authority official has pleaded guilty in the case.) Defense attorneys are looking for missing text messages between Christie and his incoming chief of staff, Regina Egea, during the legislative investigation.
    Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, July 7 and 8, 2016

  • In Soprano State style, the salary of the director of the Camden Parking Authority has doubled in less than five years to $115,000, $13,000 more than the mayor of Camden. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that director Willie Hunter’s salary got a boost of $18,000 just last week. A former member of the authority board, Hunter started the job in January 2012 at $62,500. The raise for Hunter comes at a time when the authority is offering its 30 union workers a 1 percent raise. Cashiers and maintenance workers earn between $29,000 and $45,000. Karl Walko, president of the workers’ union, Camden County Council 10, called Hunter’s raise “a joke.”
    Allison Steele, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2016

  • Contractor Kevin Gleaton pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy in a scheme at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation that allowed Gleaton to get paid for work he never did. Two companies owned by Gleaton were paid $110,000 for printing and digital marketing work that was never done, the feds said. After getting paid under the bogus invoices, Gleaton then kicked back $97,000 of the money to executives at the authority, federal investigators charged. Gleaton is the sixth person to plead guilty to criminal charges related to the watershed agency, which went under in 2013 and is now under the supervision of the federal bankruptcy court.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 11, 2016; Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, July 11, 2016

  • Even as Gov. Christie’s stock rises inside the Trump campaign, the Bridgegate case, expected to go to trial in September, has some shocking developments. For starters, a cellphone Christie used during the Bridgegate event is missing. Christie said he gave the phone to his lawyers. Federal investigators said they never had it because they relied on Christie’s lawyers to evaluate and submit any relevant evidence from the phone. After the lawyers were done with the phone, they said it was returned to Christie. When asked about the whereabouts of the phone at a news conference, NPR reported that Christie “turned around and walked away.”
    Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, New York Times, June 30, 2016; Paul Berger, Record, June 29, 2016; Matt Katz and Andrea Bernstein, WNYC, June 29 and 30, 2016; Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, June 29, 2016; Tom Moran, Star-Ledger, July 3, 2016

  • Something else is missing in the Bridgegate case: text messages Christie sent to his incoming chief of staff, Regina Egea, at the time she was attending the legislative investigation into the closing of the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington bridge. A dozen text messages are missing from a text exchange that occurred as witnesses said the lane closures, contrary to claims, were not part of a traffic study. (A Christie aide and a Port Authority official have been charged with conspiring to close the lanes to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. One former Port Authority official has pleaded guilty in the case.) Christie and Egea said they deleted the texts and can’t recall what was texted. The feds, who never had the texts, said they could have been deleted before the investigation began.
    Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, June 28, 2016; Matt Katz and Andrea Bernstein, WNYC, June 29, 2016; Tom Moran, Star-Ledger, July 3, 2016

  • Also missing from evidence in the Bridgegate case is the personal email account Christie shared at the time with his wife, Mary Pat. The governor’s lawyers said information from the account was never sent to federal investigators because it was not used for official business and their recent review showed nothing related to the Bridgegate case. However, defense lawyers have brought forth an email from the account that does relate. Christie sent an email to then Port Authority chairman David Samson that said “per our earlier conversation” and forwarded an article about a phone conversation Christie had with the New York governor about the investigation.
    Matt Katz and Andrea Bernstein, WNYC, June 29 and June 30, 2016

  • Former Camden firefighter Shane Streater was sentenced to seven years in prison after a jury found him guilty of collecting $82,000 in disability pension benefits while earning his black belt, teaching jiu jitsue and winning martial arts contests. Acting Attorney General Christopher Porrino called the case one of the most egregious pension fraud cases in recent memory. After Streater was awarded an ordinary disability pension, he appealed, contending that he was entitled to a much more lucrative pension because his disability was work-related. When the appeal was processed, Streater’s martial arts activities surfaced, investigators said.
    Acting Attorney General Christopher Porrino, July 1, 2016

  • A former Lakewood electrical code inspector has been indicted and charged with accepting bribes from a purported contractor in exchange for special treatment. Mitchell Perkins, employed by Lakewood Township, is charged with accepting four payments of $300 each from an undercover agent posing as a contractor. In return, Perkins on at least one occasion approved work that had not been inspected, investigators charged. Government inspectors are supposed to safeguard the public, not line their own pockets, said Acting Attorney General Christopher Porrino
    Acting Attorney General Christopher Porrino, June 29, 2016

  • Gov. Christie’s name is still floating out there as a possible VP candidate, even though a poll shows it would hurt Trump and former Gov. Tom Kean advises against it. Trump told a conservative radio host Christie was “high on the list for something.” The New York Post said that “something,” should Trump win, is likely chief of staff or attorney general. With Christie’s popularity at home at an all-time low, most NJ voters think he endorsed Trump to get that “something” in any future administration. Meanwhile, Christie began a campaign at home to end three-decades of court-ordered preferential school funding for New Jersey’s poorer schools.
    Monmouth University Poll, June 23, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, June 25, 2016; Carl Campanile, Daniel Halper and Bob Fredericks, New York Post, June 23, 2016; Dustin Racioppi, Record, June 21, 2016

  • While all of New Jersey awaits an appellate court decision on whether we can see the names of unindicted co-conspirators in the Bridgegate scandal, emails appear to show Christie was told about the political activities of his administration’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The damning emails are attached to a defense filing on behalf of indicted Bill Baroni. One email reveals the governor was told that his administration had placed the Democratic mayor of Belleville “in the end zone,” just before the mayor endorsed Christie for re-election. (Belleville also ended up with $10 million in Sandy recovery funding for an affordable house project even though it suffered little damage from the storm.) Baroni argues that in order to defend himself, he needs access to the governor’s cell phone records, text messages and emails. Christie disagreed that the email showed his administration was regularly engaged in improper political activity. However, he told reporters, “Everything that goes on in government is political and anybody who tells you differently is just not telling you the truth.” Salon writer Robert Hennelly, in a lengthy overview of the Bridgegate affair, takes another look at the administration-funded report that cleared the governor of wrongdoing. The headline’s conclusion: “The Bridgetate cover-up might be hiding in plain sight.”
    Matt Friedman and Ryan Hutchins, Politico New Jersey, June 14, 2016; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, June 16, 2016; Robert Hennelly, Salon, June 21, 2016

  • Former Senate co-president John Bennett, who served as acting governor for a few days in 2002 after Donald DiFrancesco left, raised some ire when he filed for unemployment while between municipal jobs, NJ Advance Media reported. Bennett said he was entitled because he paid into the system. But Oceanport Councilman Stuart Briskey labeled the filing deplorable. Briskey said Bennett indicated he was retiring when he left his post as Oceanport administrator. Bennett said after the Oceanport stint, he collected unemployment for three weeks before starting a new job as part-time borough administrator for Lavallette at an annual salary of $80,000 for 25 hours a week. (Bennett gets an annual pension of $90,000 in part because of the number of municipalities and boards of education he has served as a lawyer.)
    The Auditor, NJ Advance Media, June 17, 2016

  • Cedar Grove Mayor Joseph Chiusolo resigned in the wake of an investigation that found he violated ethics laws by voting as a councilman for annual budgets that included funding for uniforms supplied by his company. Chiusolo, a councilman for 19 years, voted on yearly budgets since 1998 that listed uniform funding for police and fire departments that went to his company, Turn-Out, according to the investigative report. The Chiusolo ethics report was obtained by the Verona-Cedar Grove Times through an Open Public Records Act request. After the findings were presented to city council, Chiusolo was asked to resign, the newspaper reported.
    Joshua Jongsma, Verona-Cedar Grove Times, June 24, 2016

  • The former executive director of the Jersey City Child Development Centers admitted stealing more than $250,000 in agency funding (intended for underprivileged children) and using the money to increase his own salary and to buy himself a Maserati and a fur coat, federal investigators said. Robert Mays admitted increasing his annual salary from $96,500 to $155,000 after only two months on the job. He also admitted creating bogus board of directors’ minutes to give the impression that the board approved the salary increase. In addition, Mays pleaded guilty to withdrawing funds from an agency bank account to pay for personal expenses, including the 2007 Maserati Quattroporte and the fur coat worth thousands of dollars.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 7, 2016

  • Christopher Thieme, 36, a former candidate for Sussex freeholder, pleaded guilty in federal court to murder for hire. The feds said Thieme tried to hire a hit man to kidnap and kill a woman he met through an internet dating service. When she tried to break it off after two dates, Thieme went looking for someone to kill her. He told an FBI agent posing as a hit man that he wanted the woman kidnapped but kept alive for a few weeks so he could empty her bank accounts and sell her house. He would make the death look like a drug overdose and use some of the proceeds to pay $25,000 for the killing, investigators said he told the undercover agent. Thieme garnered nearly 3,000 votes when he ran for freeholder in 2002. From 2007 to 2014 he served time in state prison on aggravated assault and weapons charges in Middlesex County, the New Jersey Herald reported.
    U.S Attorney Paul Fishman, June 21 and Jan. 5, 2016; Paul Milo, NJ Advance Media, June 22, 2016; New Jersey Herald, Jan. 7, 2016

  • Just to keep you abreast of public salaries in the Soprano State: New Jersey firefighters are the highest paid in the nation, Mark Mueller of the Star-Ledger reported. The average salary in 2015 was $81,590. Ten chiefs and deputy chiefs make more than $200,000 a year. Fifty others make more than $175,000 (the governor’s salary).
    Mark Mueller, NJ Advance Media, June 23, 2016

  • Kean University broke state law and its own policies when it spent $250,000 for a custom-made Chinese conference table that never went out for bid and was on its way to the university before it was approved by the board of trustees, according to state investigators. The conference table, which drew national attention for its cost, was purchased under President Dawood Farahi, who remains at the university. (The school is adamant that it did nothing wrong.) State comptroller Phillip James Degnan issued a report detailing the irregularities, first reported by the Record, but did not recommend any consequences for the university. In what some are calling a slap on the wrist, the comptroller simply said the university should follow the rules in the future. Officials in Union Township, where the university is located, have called for a criminal probe, and they don’t seem to care who does it. They fired off a letter to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Acting Attorney General Robert Loughy and Union County Prosecutor Grace Park.
    Patricia Alex, Record, June 1 and 3, Feb. 13, 2016
  • U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and “John Doe” (and we assume all those listed along with him as co-conspirators in the Bridgegate scandal) are desperate to keep the public from knowing the names of the co-conspirators. The media, those charged in the case, the judge presiding over the case, and the rest of us, are dying to know the names. (Actually, the judge and the defense lawyers have already seen the list.) Whether the list gets released is now in the hands of a three-judge appellate panel. The appellate judges grilled all the parties in the case. Now they are pondering the arguments. No matter how the judges rule, some say the case won’t be over because it will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. We shall see. The feds have charged Gov. Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, a top appointee to the Port Authority, with conspiring to close the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Port Authority appointee David Wildstein has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case. What we want to know is who else conspired, even if their involvement didn’t rise to the level of federal charges.
    Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, June 6, 2016; Paul Berger, Record, June 6, 2016
  • A new Monmouth University poll shows 69 percent of New Jersey voters think Gov. Christie endorsed Donald Trump in an effort to get a job in his administration. (If he gets elected.) And 79 percent of those polled said Christie is more concerned with his own political future than governing New Jersey. At his all-time low, only 26 percent of voters think Christie is doing a good job, a number he also fell to in a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll. Last year, Christie belittled the Monmouth University pollsters when they showed him running way behind in the New Hampshire presidential primary. But the well-regarded polling operation got the last laugh with a A-plus rating from, which does opinion poll analysis. The high mark was given to only five of nearly 300 pollsters.
    Matt Friedman,, June 6, 2016; Auditor, NJ Advance Media, June 4, 2016
  • Only in Jersey City does a councilman who admitted taking a bribe throw a fund-raising birthday party for a councilman who pleaded guilty to assault by auto and a no-show job. (Terrence T. McDonald, who keeps tabs on the city for the Jersey Journal, reported the story.) Former councilman Phil Kenny was only in office 98 days before he resigned and pleaded guilty to taking a $5,000 bribe from a purported developer in an infamous 2009 sting operation. Kenny is throwing a belated birthday fund-raiser for Councilman Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal, who resigned and has admitted to theft by deception and auto assault. The Jersey Journal reported that Ramchal’s city-owned car was seen parked in front of his home or driving around the city when timesheets at the Hudson County Improvement Authority indicated he was working at the authority’s Newark facility. Police said the auto assault charges relate to a crash that occurred after Ramchal, driving a vehicle owned by the Jersey City Incinerator Authority where he was an unpaid commissioner, went through a red light. Police said his blood alcohol was twice the legal limit, the Jersey Journal reported.
    Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, June 3 and May 12, 2016
  • New Jersey’s fiscal condition ranked 48th worst in the nation in an assessment by the free market think tank Mercatus Center. New Jersey came in ahead of only Massachusetts and Connecticut, ranked last. The ranking is based on cash solvency, budget solvency, long-run solvency, service-level solvency and trust-fund solvency. When it came to long-run solvency, New Jersey was dead last, ranking 50th. On budget solvency (whether a state can cover its fiscal year spending using current revenues), New Jersey ranked 49th.
    Mercatus Center, George Mason University, June 1, 2016; Mike Proto,, June 2, 2016
  • A former commissioner (and chief ethics officer) for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, Anthony Ardis, pleaded guilty to having commission carpenters and other skilled workers do work at the home of his mother and girlfriend while the workers were on agency time. A jury convicted Ardis and a former commission shop foreman of the offense, but an appellate court, saying Ardis was entitled to a separate trial, threw out the conviction. Thus, the guilty plea. Prosecutors said the workers used agency vehicles, tools and equipment to tear down sheet rock in the garage of Ardis’ mom and installed a microwave and small wood panels in her kitchen. At the girlfriend’s home, they installed air conditioning units, prosecutors said.
    Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, June 1, 2016
  • The mob’s involvement in the Soprano State’s waste industry has been the subject of numerous investigations by the State Commission of Investigation. Now, the SCI has turned its attention to recycling, and found that “dirt brokers” with criminal ties have recruited truckers to haul contaminated soil and debris across New Jersey. “It should surprise no one that the architects of this toxic trafficking include organized crime associates and convicted criminals,” said Lee Seglem, acting executive director of the SCI. In one case, investigators said dirt and construction debris from the Bronx was trucked to Cliffwood Beach in Old Bridge. In another case, investigators said a South Jersey recycling center for leaves and branches accepted construction debris from Camden and New Brunswick. While trash haulers in New Jersey face background checks and licensing, recycling middlemen are exempt from such scrutiny and are unregulated. The SCI subpoenaed two of the middlemen for a hearing. One came, but pleaded the Fifth Amendment. The other sent a letter doing the same.
    Lee Seglem, SCI, May 25, 2016; S.P. Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, May 25, 2016;
    John C. Ensslin, Record, May 25, 2016
  • Gov. Christie’s popularity continues to tank with about half (49 percent) of New Jersey voters saying they “dislike everything about Gov. Christie,” according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll. Only 26 percent approve of his job performance, the poll showed. New Jersey residents, unhappy with a governor who was absent as he ran for president, are even less happy with his support for Donald Trump, who flew into Lawrenceville for a fund-raiser he said wiped away Christie’s campaign debt. In keeping with the poll numbers, an airplane banner at the location read, “Make New Jersey Great Again. #DUMPCHRISTIETRUMP.”
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, May 24, 2016;
    Dustin Racioppi and Kim Lueddeke, Record, May 20, 2016
  • Who is “John Doe” and who else was involved in the Bridgegate affair? The media and all of the Soprano State want to know. A three-judge panel, Thomas Ambro, Kent Jordan and Anthony Scirica, of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will decide if we get to see the list federal prosecutors developed of those involved, but not indicted. (Ambro, appointed to the Third Circuit by President Bill Clinton and know as a liberal, is a bankruptcy expert. Jordan, a George W. Bush appointee, is a Mormon and former assistant U.S. attorney for Delaware. Scirica, appointed by Ronald Reagan, is a former PA lawmaker, judge and assistant district attorney.) Defense attorneys for the former Christie aides indicted in the case want us to see the list, but federal prosecutors don’t. Federal Judge Susan Wigenton ordered the list of names unsealed. But at the last minute, “John Doe” hired a New York lawyer and appealed. The three judges have already said filings in the case should be unsealed and the court hearing will be in public. Stay tuned. Paul Berger, Record, May 23 and Jan. 12, 2016; Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, May 19 and March 2, 2016; Federal Judicial Center, History of the Federal Judiciary, 2016;
    Casey C. Sullivan,, March 27, 2015;, 2016
  • Former Marlboro Township Mayor Matthew Scannapieco (Chapters 4 and 6), who pleaded guilty to $245,000 in bribes and tax evasion, failed in his appeal of a 25-year sentence for rape. Scannapieco pleaded guilty last year to repeated sexual abuse of a child, rape and unlawful sexual contact. Delaware prosecutors said the 50 to 60 attacks started in 2006 when the girl was 6 and continued until 2008. Delaware Judge Eric Davis gave Scannapieco the maximum sentence. The state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. Scannapieco was sentenced to 21 months in prison for the corruption charges.
    Rob Spahr, NJ Advance Media, May 24, 2016
  • An employee of the Plainfield Board of Education pleaded guilty to filing bogus invoices that bilked the school district out of $19,927. Robert Banks was a carpenter and locksmith on the board of education’s maintenance department from 2007 to 2015 and was responsible for purchasing supplies. Federal investigators said he signed off on bogus invoices from Bayway Lumber, which charged prices that did not include discounts and at times charged for items the board did not receive. In return, Bayway Lumber used some of the profit to purchase $9,000 worth of items for Banks, including a laptop computer, a lawnmower, construction materials, and a dishwasher. Charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, he faces a maximum five years in prison. Robert Dattilo, part owner of Bayway Lumber, pleaded guilty to the same charge.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 25, 2015
  • Just when the list of co-conspirators in the Bridgegate affair was within reach, it was pulled away. An anonymous man (John Doe), whose name is on the list, appealed federal Judge Susan Wigenton’s decision to release the names. Now, a three-member panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case. There will be oral arguments, and the decision could be weeks away. (The Third Circuit Court of Appeals is the same court that finally said Democratic party boss Joe Ferriero had to go off to jail. The three-judge panel will be selected from two-dozen judges, including D. Michael Fisher, a former PA attorney general, Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry and Marjorie Rendell, former PA Gov. Ed Rendell’s wife.) Media organizations say the public has the right to see the list. Defense attorney’s for those indicted in the case already have the list. Interestingly, there is also supposed to be a list of those who “may have had knowledge of the conspiracy … but did not join.” Some speculate that Gov. Christie could be on that list. The feds have charged Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, a top appointee to the Port Authority, with conspiring to close the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Port Authority appointee David Wildstein has already pleaded guilty in the case.
    Paul Berger, Record, May 17, 2016; Paul Mulshine, Star-Ledger, May 15, 2016

  • Gov. Christie’s poll numbers have hit an all-time low with 64 percent of those polled saying they disapprove of his performance. Quinnipiac University said it is the worst in six years for any governor in the nine states that the university surveys. By a 4-to-1 margin, those surveyed did not want to see Christie become Donald Trump’s running mate. The poll follows Christie’s taking on of yet another job for Trump. And no one, including Christie, seems to know how much time it will take. In addition to stumping for Trump, Christie has been appointed to head his transition team. (Presidential nominees are required by law to prepare for a transition to the presidency.) NJ Advance Media asked Christie how much time he will need to spend on his second job, and he said he “can’t say.” John Lehman, who did the job for Sen. John McCain, said it was full-time. Former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, who did it for Mitt Romney, said he put in an eight-hour day. This last round of polling reveals just how New Jersey feels about yet another diversion for Christie from his Statehouse job.
    Quinnipiac University, May 18, 2016; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, May 15, 2016

  • President Obama put on the scarlet robe of Rutgers and told the NJ grads that it was their turn to make the world a better place. Taking a poke at Donald Trump, he declared, “Ignorance is not a virtue.” He said the good ole days weren’t always that good, and that walls don’t solve problems. Repeating a message Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure have taken to NJ colleges and universities, he said change only comes when you vote. Four out of five young people stayed home during the 2014 election, he said. “Politicians care about being elected, and they especially care about being reelected. And if you vote and you elect a majority that represents your views, you will get what you want. And if you opt out, or stop paying attention, you won’t. It’s that simple.”
    Mark Mueller, NJ Advance Media, May 15, 2016

  • After a three-week trial and five hours of deliberation, a jury found Assane Faye, founder, national president and director of the United Security and Police Officers of America, guilty of embezzling union funds and mail fraud. Prosecutors said Faye put an old girlfriend on the payroll for $800 a week (plus expenses and medical coverage) as a bogus union organizer. Paid a total of $244,000 over three and a half years, the woman did no work, could not communicate well in English and for at least half of each year was out of the country at her home in Senegal, prosecutors said. Faye took $180,000 of her salary for his own use, the feds said. He also turned in bogus travel vouchers for trips to Paris, Dubai, China and Milan and managed to collect $7,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits, according to the charges. Truly a Soprano State story.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 10, 2016

  • A fight is now underway over the cell phone Gov. Christie was using during the Bridgegate affair. The defense attorney for Bill Baroni, Michael Baldassare, wants the phone. (Baroni is charged with conspiring to close the Fort Lee lanes of the George Washington Bridge to punish the Fort Lee mayor for failing to endorse Christie for reelection.) Christie says the feds have his phone. The feds say they never had it. A Christie spokesman said the phone was reviewed by administration lawyers, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, (who cleared Christie of any wrongdoing) and any information responsive to government subpoenas was turned over. Federal Judge Susan Wigenton is expected to consider the issue. Wigenton has already been highly critical of the way Gibson Dunn & Crutcher conducted its taxpayer-funded investigation.
    Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, May 3, 2016

  • A former member of the Mount Olive Township school board, Robert Mania, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in a scheme that inflated commissions owed by the school district and then diverted the extra $606,000 to Mania and others. Federal prosecutors said Mania’s share was $371,000. To hide the inflated commissions, investigators said Mania had statements from the district’s health insurance provider, detailing the correct commission rates, sent to his personal post office box.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 21, 2016

  • Peter Barnes went from senator to judge in a week, thereby securing a pension worth 75 percent of his salary. Barnes was confirmed one day before his 60th birthday, allowing him to secure the 10 years needed to qualify for a pension. (Judges in New Jersey have a mandatory retirement age of 70.) Barnes was confirmed by a 34-0 vote in the Senate, one week after Gov. Christie filed his nomination. He was an Assemblyman for 12 years before election to the Senate two years ago. Senate President Steve Sweeney said he didn’t know if the nomination was moved quickly for the pension. But Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said it was clear to her that there was a “rush” to have the hearing because of Barnes’ birthday. As a Superior Court judge, Barnes will earn $165,000. His pension, if he retires at that salary, would be $123,750 a year.
    Salvadore Ruzzo, Record, April 27, 2016

  • Howard Birdsall, former CEO of Birdsall Services Group, was sentenced to four years in prison. Birdsall pleaded guilty to misconduct by a corporate official for his role in a scheme in which more than $1 million in political contributions were illegally made by employees of the firm in violation of the state’s pay-to-play law. State investigators said Birdsall Services Group secured millions of dollars in public contracts that they would not have qualified for under the state’s pay-to-play rules. Shareholders and employees of the firm made contributions of $300 or less, which are not reportable. The contributions were bundled and sent to campaigns and political organizations. The company then reimbursed the employees and shareholders who made the contributions. The goal of the pay-to-play law is to prevent the trading of government contracts for campaign contributions.
    Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, April 22, 2016

  • Chris Christie, once known as the prosecutor who went after the bad guys, is now being tagged with protecting a friend who got into trouble with the Election Law Enforcement Commission. The case against Christie’s powerful Democratic pal Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who was accused of spending campaign money on athletic games, a tuxedo, a gym membership, two trips to Puerto Rico and parking tickets, has been dropped. (ELEC charged that DiVincenzo misused more than $16,000 in campaign money and failed to disclose nearly $72,000 in campaign spending.) ELEC can’t proceed with the case because Christie failed to appoint a Democrat to the ELEC board for nearly five years. The board is supposed to have four members, two from each party. Instead, it has been working with only two, one from each party. The lone Democrat, Supreme Court nominee Walter Timpone, recused himself from the case because DiVincenzo once got a job for his nephew. A judge ruled that the case cannot proceed without a Democrat on the ELEC panel.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, April 25 and 27, 2016;
    Salvador Rizzo, Record, April 26, 2016

  • Christie’s popularity has dropped, again, with only 26 percent of those registered voters polled giving him a good rating, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll. The governor said that poll numbers don’t affect him and his agenda. Those giving Christie a bad rating labeled him dishonest and untrustworthy and said he acted like a bully and does not take care of New Jersey. (Christie’s numbers are now worse than Gov. Jon Corzine’s, whose rating dropped to 31 percent. Gov. Jim Florio, with his huge tax increase, dipped to 17 percent.) And a defense lawyer in the Bridgegate case, Michael Baldassare who represents Bill Baroni, says he wants access to the Christie’s phone to see if there is anything inside that might help in the defense of his client, who is accused of closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge for political reasons. And Christie defended his wife Mary Pat against social media claims that she rolled her eyes when Donald Trump said the only thing Hillary Clinton has going for her is her status as a woman. Christie says he is familiar with Mary Pat’s eye rolls, and this wasn’t one. And Christie was in his usual form when told business leaders that “the animals are at the gate,” referring to Democratic lawmakers who support public sector unions.
    Dustin Racioppi, Record, April 28, 2016;
    Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, April 29, 2016;
    Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, April 28, 2016;
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, April 27, 2016;
    Abbott Koloff, Record, April 27, 2016;
    John C. Ensslin, Record, April 28, 2016;
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, April 27, 2016

  • There will be no jail time for Lawrence Durr, a longtime committeeman, mayor and planning board member in Chesterfield Township. Durr pleaded guilty to filing bogus ethics disclosure forms that failed to disclose his financial relationship to a developer in a deal that gained the former mayor a farm and $372,500. Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy announced a plea deal that will recommend four years of probation and 364 days in county jail, which will be suspended if Durr meets his probation requirements. He also will forfeit $250,000. In 2014, Durr was indicted and originally charged with official misconduct following a 2013 report by Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who said Durr profited by using “political influence and insider knowledge to push a complicated development project through multiple government hurdles.”
    Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, April 19, 2016;
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, June 25, 2014;
    Jan Hefler, Inquirer, June 28, 2014

  • The mob is alive and well in New Jersey. Ten alleged members and associates of the Genovese crime family were indicted and charged with racketeering that prosecutors said brought in millions of dollars from loansharking, unlicensed check cashing, gambling and money laundering, including the laundering of drug money. “This case is a smorgasbord of mob schemes, highlighting the fact that traditional organized crime remains a corrosive presence wherever it can turn a big profit,” said Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy. And Joseph DiNapoli, 80, a ruling boss of the Lucchese crime family, was sentenced to three years in New Jersey state prison after he pleaded guilty to racketeering. DiNapoli controlled the family’s gambling operations and other criminal activities from New York, along with a second member of the family’s ruling panel, Matthew Maddona, 80, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and was sentenced to five years in prison. New Jersey investigators uncovered an international gambling operation that handled billions of dollars in wagers, mainly on sporting events, and used extortion and violence to collect the debts, prosecutors said.
    Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, April 20 and 27, 2016

  • Gov. Christie has nominated Walter Timpone to the state Supreme Court. Timpone, a former federal prosecutor (Chris Christie, chapter 5), is now a commissioner on the Election Law Enforcement Commission. His appointment highlights Christie’s trashing of the commission, which is supposed to have four members, two from each political party. Instead, it only has two. For five years, Christie has not filled the Democratic vacancy, and Republicans in turn have refused to confirm the Republican nominee. If Timpone, a Democrat, goes to the high court, ELEC will be left with one commissioner. ELEC has been unable to rule on a charge that Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo spent campaign money on trips to Puerto Rico, a gym membership and a tuxedo, because Timpone recused himself from the case. Timpone removed himself because he said DiVincenzo helped get his nephew get a county job in 2003.
    Bob Ingle and Michael Symons, Chris Christie, 2012; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, April 15, 2016

  • Bright red billboards, including one in Trenton, attack Gov. Christie for endorsing Donald Trump for president. Proclaiming, “Speak out against racism, sexism and bigotry, don’t stand behind it,” the billboards feature a picture of the smiling governor, standing behind Trump at a political event. And, an article in Mother Jones raises questions about whether Christie’s campaign broke campaign finance rules when it sold its furniture for $22,769 to his leadership political action committee. The sale was made to reduce campaign debt. Mother Jones questioned whether the PAC, which has limits on what it can spend to help Christie, overpaid for the furniture. And, as Atlantic City stays on the brink of bankruptcy, Police Benevolent Association’s Pat Colligan said Christie would rather attack from his bully pulpit that work for compromise. The governor called Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian a liar and refused to meet with him. City council president Marty Small Sr. thereby called Christie an “ignorant piece of (expletive).”And, even though a judge said Christie can saddle taxpayers with the tab for security while he campaigns, it was quickly pointed out that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has reimbursed taxpayers in his state for the cost of using state vehicles for political events.
    JT Aregood,, April 15, 2016; Russ Choma, Mother Jones, April 15, 2016; Dustin Racioppi, Record, April 6, 2016; Pat Colligan, March 31, 2016; The Auditor,, April 15, 2016

  • A tax preparation business in Brick filed fake tax returns for New Jersey inmates, and now the two men involved find themselves going off to prison for a long time. Kamal J. James was convicted by a jury and sentenced to eight years in federal prison. His partner Crystal G. Hawkins was sentenced to four years. Federal prosecutors said the two solicited business from the inmates, having them provide identification information and sign income tax returns. James and Hawkins then filled in fake income information. In addition to jail time, the judge ordered them to pay $570,897 in restitution. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 15, 2016

  • A special division of the state Department of Education (the Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance) has accused Angelia Edwards, president of the Bridgeton School Board, of using school employees to do work at her home. The division said on numerous occasions maintenance workers performed maintenance work at her home during business hours with school-owned equipment. The division is looking for “a Corrective Action Plan” to fix the problem.
    Don E. Woods,, April 16, 2016

  • Finally, political boss Joe Ferriero has reported to a federal prison camp. Ferriero convinced several judges to delay his trip to the big house. A year ago, he was convicted by a jury of racketeering. An appeals court recently denied his request to stay out of jail while he appeals his conviction.
    Peter J. Sampson, Record, April 15, 2016

  • New Jersey has sunk to number 48 among the states when it comes to economic competitiveness, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. The state dropped two slots this year. Only New York and Vermont fared worse. “New Jersey’s high tax burden is weighing down our economy and making our state unaffordable and uncompetitive,” said Erica Jedyak, state director for Americans for Prosperity.
    Mike Proto,, April 12, 2016

  • Some good news for New Jersey. Evesham Township police officer Brian Trockbine saved three lives in 10 days. On March 8 and March 17, he performed CPR on a victim who started breathing again. On March 12, he broke a car window and carried a victim to safety as the vehicle was about to catch fire. The story played everywhere from the New York Post to the Memphis Sun Times.
    Greg Adomaitis,, April 6, 2016

  • Peter Harvey, the controversial former state attorney general, has been selected to serve as federal monitor overseeing reforms inside the Newark police department. It’s another one of those, you can’t make this stuff up, moments in New Jersey. You can check out Harvey’s New Jersey history in Chapter Five of The Soprano State. Harvey, dubbed “see no evil” by Bob Ingle, is no stranger to controversy at the Newark PD. When Joe Santiago was named head of state police by Gov. McGreevey, state troopers expressed serious concerns, saying their sources alleged Santiago, among other things, was friendly with mob figures. State police officers said Harvey refused to accept damaging reports on Santiago or take them to the senate judiciary committee for his confirmation hearing, and troopers said Harvey put an unprecedented burden on the information gathered about Santiago by demanding the identities of the informants and wanting them to take lie detector tests. Questions also were raised about Harvey’s handling of a number of politically sensitive cases, and his meddling in New Jersey boxing got him into ethical trouble. Harvey became the first attorney general sanctioned by the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards when he was fined $1,500 for accepting free ringside seats for his wife and two other guests. When his current appointment as Newark PD monitor is confirmed, Harvey will oversee changes to a police department accused of unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests and the use of excessive force and thefts by police officers. The task will last at least five years.
    Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure, The Soprano State, 2008;
    Paul Fishman, March 30, 2016;
    Katherine Landergan, Politico New York, March 30, 2016;
    Vernal Coleman, NJ Advance Media , March 30, 2016;
    Jonathan Schuppe and John P. Martin, Star-Ledger, Jan. 2, 2005

  • Paul Manafort, the Republican operative in charge of Donald Trump’s convention operations, has a New Jersey story. Manafort helped obtain $42 million in rent subsidies and tax credits for a Cumberland County housing project (of which he was part owner) at a time when the Reagan administration was handing out millions of dollars in federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to well-connected Republicans, New Jersey Advance Media reported. In addition, Manafort’s lobbying firm received $1,000 for each of the 326 apartment units in the project. During congressional hearings in 1989 on the HUD scandal, Manafort testified, “I will stipulate this for purposes of today that you could characterize this as influence peddling.” The committee described the program as a “cash cow which was milked by former HUD officials and the politically well-connected.” Manafort was not charged, but the scandal resulted in more than a dozen convictions.
    Brent Johnson and Jonathan D. Salant, New Jersey Advance Media, April 3, 2016

  • Only in The Soprano State does the governor sue a city housing the state’s only gambling resort. Gov. Christie is suing Atlantic City for the $34 million it owes the city’s school district. Atlantic City is about to go bankrupt, and the governor’s demand could put it over the edge. Christie is offering state aid if lawmakers approve a state takeover of the city. Moody’s downgraded Atlantic City’s credit rating to junk level. Municipalities in New Jersey collect real estate taxes for the school districts and then transfer the money to the districts on a schedule. Atlantic City is behind, and Christie charged that the city is using the money for union contracts instead of education for its kids. Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said the city is on a schedule set by a state monitor. Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto is refusing to post the takeover for a vote.
    Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, April 4, 2016

  • A 25-year veteran of the Newark PD, Capt. Anthony Buono, 60, who earned $93,847 a year, has been indicted along with ex-officer Dino D’Elia and charged with running a scheme that stole personal information on 900 people from a private data base used by cops and then sold the information to third parties for $100 a person, NJ Advance Media reported. Essex County prosecutors accuse Buono of using his police status to access the database and then sharing the information (names, addresses and other info) with D’Elia, who was a private investigator. Buono’s lawyer said his client is innocent and will fight the charges.
    Dan Ivers, NJ Advance Media, April 4, 2016

  • Newark isn’t alone with its police department woes. Plainfield city council unanimously called for an independent investigation into allegations of racism in the department’s discipline of African-American officers. The department also reached settlements with two officers who claimed retaliation for reporting misconduct by other officers, NJ Advance Media reported. Frederick Walz was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant and awarded $80,000 after he claimed he was retaliated against for reporting that a former public safety director sought prostitutes. In his lawsuit, Walz said he discovered a printed e-mail in a police car that showed then public safety director Martin Hellwig solicited prostitution during work hours, NJ Advance Media reported. Union County prosecutors said there was not enough information for criminal charges against Hellwig. The city suspended Hellwig for three days for “misuse of equipment and internet policy.” In another case, the city paid a $27,000 settlement after a claim of retaliation against an officer, who reported another officer kissed a subordinate.
    Marisa Iati, NJ Advance Media, April 4, 2016

  • Landfill materials and Hudson County proved a tempting combo for those wanting to make extra money at the taxpayers’ expense. Federal judge Jose Linares sentenced Gerard Pica, an environmental scientist hired by the Hudson County Improvement Authority, to two years and 11 months in prison and James Castaldo, a broker for waste and construction materials, to four years and three months on extortion charges in connection with the construction of a nine-hole public golf course in Jersey City. Castaldo ran Renda Enterprise, a company that brokered waste and constructions materials. Pica was hired by the authority to help select the contractors supplying soil and fill for the golf course. Together, the feds said, they cooked up a scheme in which companies paid a kickback of cash per cubic yard for material they were paid to bring to the site.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 9, 2015; March 30, 2016

  • Only in The Soprano State does the Easter bunny brawl. No surprise, it was in Jersey City. After the fight, police said the Easter bunny (Kassim Charles) and the father of a one-year-old girl (Juan Jimenez-Gerrero) were charged with assault and disorderly conduct. According to city police, the fight started when the little girl slipped onto the floor after having her picture taken with the Easter bunny at the Newport mall. Her father attacked Easter bunny Charles, who fought back, city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill told the Jersey Journal. Some mall goers watched and others joined in. Morrill said another problem was discovered after the fight: there were outstanding warrants on both men, who were hauled off to Hudson County jail. One observer said fights are normal in Jersey City, but not usually in front of the kids. No surprise, the story was picked up by CNN, USA TODAY and NBC.
    Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, March 21, 2016;
    Pilar Melendez, CNN, March 21, 2016

  • Everyone is poking fun at Chris Christie: cartoonists, the basketball coach at Notre Dame, Donald Trump. The Star-Ledger’s nationally syndicated cartoonist Drew Sheneman drew Christie as an overweight court jester as Trump explained, “I offered you a position in my administration. I never said what position. Now Dance.” Christie raised eyebrows and made headlines again when he participated in a locker room celebration after Notre Dame’s basketball team beat Stephen F. Austin State University. The head coach, Christie’s friend Mike Brey, provided the tournament seats for Christie and his family and was asked if Christie was attending the next round in Philadelphia. Brey quipped, “If Trump will let him.” Even after Christie took the heat for missing a trooper’s funeral to stump for Trump, the candidate couldn’t resist taking a face-to-face swipe at the governor. Campaigning in Ohio against its Gov. Kasich, Trump charged that instead of taking care of Ohio, Kasich lived in New Hampshire during the campaign there. “Even more than Chris Christie, he was there,” Trump said, then added with a wink and a shrug, “I hated to do that, but I had to make my point.”
    Drew Sheneman, Star-Ledger, March 20, 2016;
    Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY, March 20, 2016;
    Alex Griswold, Mediaite, March 20, 2016;
    Sophia Tesfaye, Salon, March 15, 2016

  • Democratic party boss Joe Ferriero’s trip to prison for racketeering, bribery and fraud has been delayed for the third time. A former Pennsylvania politician, now a federal appellate judge, gave him an emergency stay. Third Circuit appeals judge D. Michael Fisher ruled that if Ferriero files a bail request by March 22, he can remain free until his appeal is decided, the Record reported. Fisher is a former Pennsylvania lawmaker, attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate. (Two dozen appellate judges sit on the Third Circuit, including Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry and Marjorie Rendell, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s wife.) Ironically, after giving Ferriero two delays, federal Judge Esther Salas ruled that Ferriero, sentenced to three years, did not meet the standard for staying out of jail while he appealed. A jury of seven men and five women convicted the former Bergen County Democratic Party chief of turning the Democratic organization into a racketeering operation with fraud and bribes (using the mail to distribute the proceeds of bribery). Ferriero is contending that the state bribery law shouldn’t apply to him as an unpaid party official. Salas, however, ruled such conduct is also forbidden in “official and political matters.” Before appellate judge Fisher stepped in, Ferriero was to report to a federal prison camp in Lewisburg, Pa, a location he requested so he can be close to his family. He was originally assigned to a low-security prison in North Carolina.
    Abbott Koloff, Record, March 17, 2016;
    Peter J. Sampson, Record, March 15, Jan. 29 and Feb. 11, 2016 and Dec. 4, 2015;
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 4, 2015

  • The average salary for workers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is more than $100,000 a year, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy. Average overtime for 2015 was $14,924. Average overtime for police was $29,931. The New York Post reported that 170 authority cops are paid more than $200,000 and 36 workers more than $250,000. The highest paid worker was real estate and development chief Michael Francois at $366,698. The employee with the most overtime was chief maintenance supervisor Stephen Olmo, who added $186,846 in overtime to bring his salary to $325,880. The Post reported that Olmo’s overtime meant he earned more than Port Authority executive director Pat Foye, whose salary is $305,111.
    Carl Campanile and Danielle Furfaro, New York Post, March 22, 2016

  • An investigation by WNBC alleges that Paterson Mayor Joe Torres had city employees doing odd jobs at his home, including washing his car and moving a beer cooler for a party. Workers interviewed by WNBC said they were not doing the work on city time, but the news outlet said timesheets showed the workers were being paid by the city at the time. Torres told the Patterson Press, “It’s all false.” If the allegations are true, it won’t be the first in New Jersey. Former shop foreman at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, Paul Bazela, pleaded guilty to having subordinate employees complete renovations at the home of a former commission superintendent while the employees were on agency time. Bazela admitted he had carpenters and other skilled workers perform work at the home of superintendent Kevin Keogh, including installing windows, replacing cabinet doors and constructing lattice under a deck. The workers used agency tools and equipment, according to state prosecutors.
    Fausto Giovanny Pinto, NJ Advance Media, March 18, 2016;
    Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, March 17, 2016

  • Gov. Christie’s out-of-state travel, costing a record $614,000 for security last year, continues to make headlines and boosts New Jersey’s reputation as The Soprano State. After declaring himself in much need of a vacation to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary, reporters spotted him in the owner’s box at a Mets game in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Christie departed on vacation (after spending much of last year out of state campaigning for president) at a time when it looked as if NJ Transit and 11 of its rail unions might strike and at a time when the state-run Newark schools were grappling with lead-contaminated water. (Jeff Tittel of the NJ Sierra Club said some filters on taps had not been changed for years.) After returning from vacation, Christie drew the ire of the troopers’ union when he decided to stump for Trump in North Carolina instead to attending the funeral of a state trooper killed in the line of duty. (Since December, Christie has missed four law enforcement funerals.) Christie instead threw complimentary questions at Trump during an on-stage event, billed as an interview. Ironically, even Trump, while campaigning in Ohio, took a swipe at Christie for spending so much time out of state while campaigning in New Hampshire. But Christie said there would be no reimbursement for any of his out-of state security because the state mandates that troopers accompany him wherever he goes, no matter the reason.
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, March 14, 2016;
    Max Pizarro,, March 9, 2016;
    Jeff Tittel,, March 14, 2016;
    Dustin Racioppi, Record, March 9 and 14, 2016;
    John Currie,, March 8, 2016;
    Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman, New York Times, March 14, 2016;
    John Reitmeyer,, March 9, 2016

  • Federal prosecutors said Christie’s top aides knew they were doing wrong when they closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee because they made up a bogus story to cover their tracks. Former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, lied when they said the lanes were closed for a traffic study, prosecutors said. Baroni and Kelly were indicted and charged with a scheme to close the lanes to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Former Port Authority executive David Wildstein has already pleaded guilty in the scheme. Baroni and Kelly are asking the federal judge to dismiss the charges. They are accused of misusing Port Authority resources.
    Abbott Koloff, Record, March 11, 2016

  • State Sen. Kevin O’Toole has called for an investigation into the hiring of former pastor Michael Barry Blackwell as a consultant for Kean University after the Record reported that Blackwell, who was hired to address charges of racial bias at the university, has a criminal record. The Record reported that Blackwell recently spent time in Essex County jail on a domestic violence charge and pleaded guilty to a bad check charge in Bergen County in 2009. The newspaper also raised questions about Blackwell allegedly being held in federal custody in Tennessee in the late 1990s and about his academic credentials. Blackwell was hired to help with a review of hiring and enrollment at the university in the wake of black ministers from Essex County accusing the school of racial bias.
    Patricia Alex and Abbott Koloff, Record, March 11, 2016;
    Patricia Alex, Record, March 14, 2016

  • Veteran state trooper Acting Sgt. Jaclyn Jiras has filed a whistleblower lawsuit charging that state police reassigned her and denied her a promotion after she flagged applicants who failed parts of their background check. The lawsuit alleges that state police superiors, under pressure to increase diversity in the ranks, approved candidates who had been disqualified for having suspended licenses, criminal affiliations and active warrants. Jiras did background checks for the classes of 2012 and 2013, according to the lawsuit. Those classes were labeled the most diverse in state police history. When the class of 2011 had only five black troopers, the NAACP threatened legal action.
    Anna Merriman and S.P Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, Feb 29, 2016

  • Amazing, even for the Soprano State. Declaring Gov. Christie an embarrassment and a disgrace, Gannett New Jersey newspapers, all six of them, called for Christie to resign as governor. If he refuses, Gannett newspapers said he should be recalled. “We’re disgusted with his endorsement of Donald Trump after he spent months on the campaign trail trashing him, calling him unqualified by temperament and experience to be president.” And Gannett New Jersey said it is tired of Christie neglecting the state. New Jersey residents agreed, as the number of voters who gave him a favorable rating dropped from 33 percent to 27 percent. The Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper, quickly added its call for Christie to resign. Christie’s answer was a lengthy press conference where he said he was “back to work” and had no intention of resigning. He brushed off calls for his resignation as the newspapers’ need to boost circulation. (After spending much of last year out of state campaigning for president, Christie ended his presidential bid on Feb. 10 and then made his stunning endorsement of Trump on Feb. 26.) As for trashing Trump on the campaign trail, Christie said that was Primary politics. He said Trump was the best of the remaining candidates to beat Hillary Clinton and to serve as president. Declaring himself a 14-year friend of Trump, Christie said Trump was “not a bigot,” despite what others say. Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post termed Christie’s endorsement despicable. “No matter how cynical one becomes about politics, it seems never to be enough,” Rubin wrote. “One hopes that with this irresponsible, soulless act, Christie’s career comes to an end.” Former GOP Gov. Christie Whitman told the Star-Ledger she was ashamed that Christie would endorse someone who has “employed the kind of hater-mongering and racism that Trump has.” Christie’s national finance co-chair Meg Whitman called it “an astonishing display of political opportunism.” Christie said he wasn’t being “held hostage” during Trump’s Super Tuesday victory speech. Twitter users mocked his expression as slack-jawed, stony-faced and the face of a hostage. An MSNBC tweet said the caption should read, “What was on Chris Christie’s mind during Trump’s Super Tuesday speech?” (Perhaps this question, asked by Gannett: “How could he endorse someone for president who disagrees with him on virtually every important issue?”) But Christie said armchair psychiatrists should “give it a break.” Meanwhile, questions remain about the cost to taxpayers for Christie’s security when he stumps for Trump. But Christie said that’s just the way it is because he gets security wherever he goes. Again, you can’t make this stuff up.
    Editorial, Gannett New Jersey, March 2, 2016;
    Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, Feb. 26, 2016;
    Nicole Gaouette, CNN, March 2 and 3, 2016;
    Matt Katz, WNYC, March 2, 2016;
    Reena Flores, CBS News, March 2, 2016;
    Christie press conference, March 3, 2016

  • The taxpayer tab for the firms defending Gov. Christie in the Bridgegate scandal has risen to $10 million. The computer forensics firm of Stroz Friedberg has billed $2.3 million for computer software, investigations and data analysis, according to NJ Advance Media. That tab is added to the $8 million in legal fees for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm that cleared Christie. His former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have been indicted and charged with causing a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election in 2013. Port Authority executive David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to the scheme, has implicated Kelly and Baroni.
    Jonathan D. Salant, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 19, 2016;
    S.P Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 11, 2015;
    Thomas Zambito, NJ Advance Media, May 1, 2015

  • Arnaldo Echevarria, of Somerset, a former deportation officer with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been indicted by a federal Grand Jury and charged with demanding cash bribes and sex in exchange for providing seven illegal immigrants with employment papers. Prosecutors said Echevarria accepted $78,000 in cash and demanded and received sex from two of the immigrants, one of whom became pregnant with his child. Echevarria also is charged with employing his girlfriend, an illegal immigrant, at his hair salon in West Orange. (Echevarria promised his employer the salon would not interfere with his work and he would not hire illegals.) He faces a maximum of 115 years in prison.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 22, 2016

  • Victor Coca of West New York was sentenced to a year and seven months in federal prison after he admitted paying a $5,000 bribe to a fire official to get $8.7 million in fines reduced to $5,000. Coca was part owner of a Hudson Avenue building that had fire code violations. Coca also admitted paying a $2,000 bribe to wipe away $14,500 in fines for fire violations at a friend’s building on Bergenline Avenue. The problem for Coca: the fire official was cooperating with the feds, who filmed the cash exchange.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 23, 2016, June 30,2015, May 20, 2014;
    Thomas Zambito, Star-Ledger, May 20, 2014

  • A judge ordered Willis Edwards III, a former Democratic assemblyman, to repay the city of Orange for three years salary as deputy business administrator ($268,750). The problem, according to the judge, was that Edwards was working for the city without the needed approval of City Council, and using the title of mayor’s chief of staff did not remedy the situation. According to Superior Court Judge Christine Farrington, Edwards needed, and did not have, the advice and consent of council to hold the job. The judge said he could keep his salary as acting director up to October 2012, when council failed to approve his permanent appointment. Farmington also pointed out that under cross-examination, Edwards was combative, argumentative and not credible, Max Pizarro of reported.
    Max Pizarro,, Feb. 23, 2016

  • Howard Birdsall, former CEO of Birdsall Services Group, pleaded guilty to his part in using employees to make more than $1 million in illegal campaign contributions that dodged the state’s pay-to-play laws. The contributions were disguised as personal contributions from the employees, and if properly disclosed, would have disqualified the company from public contracts awarded by certain government agencies, prosecutors said. Shareholders and employees of the firm made personal political contributions of $300 or less, which were not reportable. Then multiple checks were bundled at the company and sent to political campaigns and organizations, according to the charges. The employees were then reimbursed by the company, either directly or with bonuses to their salaries. For the six years of the scheme, the company failed to report the contributions, as required, to the Election Law Enforcement Commission or to government agencies, thereby skirting pay-to-play rules aimed at prohibiting the exchange of contracts for political contributions.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Feb. 16, 2016

  • Party boss Joe Ferriero’s trip to prison has been twice delayed by federal Judge Esther Salas, the Record reported. Ferriero, convicted by a jury of turning the Bergen County Democratic organization into a racketeering operation with fraud and bribes, was supposed to surrender on Feb. 2. The judge extended the date to Feb. 16 so she could consider his motion to remain free on bail while he appeals. Now, Salas has extended the date to March 17 so prison officials can consider Ferriero’s request to serve his time at a minimum-security satellite camp at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, (where he can be closer to his family) instead of his assignment to a low-security facility at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina. A jury of seven men and five women spent eight weeks deciding Ferriero, former Bergen County Democratic chief, was guilty of racketeering, using the mail to distribute the proceeds of bribery, and wire fraud. The judge was unmoved by Ferriero’s tears when she sentenced him to two years and 11 months in jail. Prosecutors argue there are no new issues that would allow Ferriero to remain free on appeal. (He would have to raise a substantial question of law or fact that would likely result in the reversal of all three counts of his conviction.) Ferriero’s lawyers argue otherwise. Ferriero, himself, told the judge at his sentencing: “Not for a second did I think I was doing anything wrong.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig said all the more reason for jail time. “It’s clear this defendant needs to be deterred because he has no comprehension that what he did was wrong.”
    Peter J. Sampson, The Record, Jan. 29 and Feb. 11, 2016 and Dec. 4, 2015;
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 4, 2015

  • Judges on a state appellate panel said two security guards with the New Brunswick Parking Authority do have to go to jail for not reporting thefts by their co-workers. A jury convicted Emil Hanna and Emad Naguib in 2013 of watching their co-workers steal parking money. But trial Judge Bradley Ferencz overturned the jury’s conviction because he said reporting the thefts wasn’t part of the defendant’s job description. The appellate panel disagreed. “If security guards handled money, they had a duty not to steal the money and not to allow co-workers to steal it,” the panel wrote. Besides, the panel said the authority’s security manual required guards to report threats to authority property and revenue. Hanna and Naguib now face a minimum sentence of five years in prison.
    Sergio Bichao, Feb. 9, 2016; Sue Epstein, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 28, 2013

  • The head of NJ Working Families has called for Gov. Christie to repay the cost of his out-of-state security detail while he was running for president. Analila Mejia said Christie was a long shot for president and taxpayers have had to foot the bill for his “vanity and ambition.” The security cost for Christie’s 261 days outside New Jersey in 2015 could be more than $1 million, an analysis by WNYC showed. Calculations are difficult because of the way campaign expenses have been reported, according to WNYC, which has been told by the courts that releasing details about Christie’s travels could threaten his safety. The governor is entitled to round-the-clock protection no matter where he is and no matter why he is traveling. Costs for security include hotels, gas, cell phones and $70 per day for meals for each trooper. Christie travels with up to four state troopers from the State Police Executive Protection Unit and at least one officer was assigned to him from the state he was visiting, WNYC reported. New Jersey Watchdog estimated Christie’s travel cost $492,420 in 2014. Three citizen groups, including New Jersey Working Families, have sued Christie over his use of state funds for security while campaigning for president. They want the money returned.
    Rob Duffey,, Feb. 10, 2016;
    Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 7, 2016;
    Matt Katz, WNYC, Jan. 7, 2016;
    Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey, Aug. 21, 2015

  • Edward O’Rourke, former operator of the New Brunswick and Milltown public drinking water systems, was sentenced to three years in jail for submitting bogus water testing results (intended to make sure the water was safe to drink) to the state Department of Environmental Protection. O’Rourke pleaded guilty to corruption of public resources and violations of the Safe Water Drinking Act. State prosecutors said he submitted false test results on more than 200 water samples from April 2010 to December 2012 to cover up tests that were never done, were not take at the proper location or within the proper time frame, or that the lab was not certified to perform. “O’Rourke exhibited a remarkable lack of concern for the health of the people of these two communities,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Feb. 8, 2016

  • A Toms River doctor has been indicted and charged with accepting $25,000 in bribes for referring his patients to certain laboratories for blood and DNA testing. Vincent Destasio is charged with receiving payments from two sales representatives, Daniel Gilman and Kenneth Robberson, who were partners operating a medical marketing company named PROMED. The two salesmen shared their commission with Destasio when he referred patients to certain testing facilities, federal prosecutors charged.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 11, 2016

  • In Soprano State style, former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for a jobs-for-cash scheme, was let out of jail after serving only two years and three months. Three judges were supposed to make a unanimous decision about his release to an Intensive Supervision Program. Only one showed up, and in five minutes Judge John McNeill decided on Spicuzzo’s release, according to Brian Amaral of NJ Advance Media. McNeill (a retired judge on “recall,” according to New Jersey Law Journal) didn’t ask any questions about Spicuzzo’s crimes and didn’t need specifics on his supporters. “I think the gentleman will be a prime participant in this program,” the judge said. (The NJ Supreme Court ruled last year that the recall system allowing retired judges to work for a per diem is constitutional.) Perhaps Judge McNeill could have reviewed this comment from Acting Attorney General John Hoffman when Spicuzzo was sentenced in 2013: “Sheriff Spicuzzo’s decades as a political power broker in Middlesex County corrupted him to the point that he viewed jobs in the sheriff’s office as personal assets he could sell for his own enrichment.” In July, Spicuzzo, who has health issues, was denied parole because the state parole board said he still would not take responsibility for his crime and continued to blame others. In 2013, Spicuzzo pleaded guilty to taking a $25,000 bribe in exchange for promoting an employee. Sheriff for 30 years and county Democratic Party chief for 16, Spicuzzo was accused by prosecutors of collecting $112,000 in bribes in exchange for positions or promotions in the sheriff’s office.
    Brian Amaral, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 1, 2016;
    Sue Epstein and Brian Amaral, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 18, 2015;
    Mike Deak,, July 24, 2015;
    Thomas Zambito, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 20, 2013;
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Sept. 20, 2013;
    New Jersey Law Journal, Feb. 14, 2014;
    State v. Buckner,, July 30, 2015

  • The head bookkeeper for the state Division of Developmental Disabilities has been charged with stealing nearly $300,000 from the state by submitting bogus invoices for disability services for nine years. Suzanne Eyman of Bordentown was charged along with her husband Stephen Muller. Prosecutors said Eyman created a fake vendor, named Suzanne Muller, who purportedly provided cared for someone with special needs. Eyman submitted fake vouchers generating 100 state Treasury checks that were either mailed to the accused or deposited into their personal bank accounts, according to the charges. “This is an especially egregious case of public corruption, both because of the amount of money allegedly stolen and the manner in which Eyman is alleged to have shamelessly exploited her critical role in the billing process for services for people with disabilities,” prosecutor Elie Honig said.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 27, 2016

  • Bloomfield Township Councilman Elias Chalet, arrested in November, has been indicted on charges that he took a $15,000 bribe for a promise that the township would buy a certain commercial property. He also is charged with tampering with the evidence after some of the money disappeared. Prosecutors said when the cops moved in, Chalet stayed in the bathroom of his locked office for 45 minutes, and $5,000 in bribe money was nowhere to be found. State police were alerted after Chalet told the business owner that the purchase of his property would only happen if the bribe money were paid, investigators said. Prosecutors charge that first $10,000 and then $5,000 was paid to Chalet at his real estate office, and the meetings were recorded.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 29, 2016 and Nov. 18, 2015

  • A former senior payroll clerk for the state Department of Human Services, Laquanda Tate, was sentenced to 364 days in county jail after she admitted using her state computer to make fake motor vehicle insurance cards for herself and to sell to others. Tate also admitted creating fake documents to get public assistance (food stamps and rental aid) for bogus childcare expenses.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 29, 2016 and Oct. 2, 2015

  • Mops for the governor, Trump’s old debt and bad stats for 2015 dominate the Soprano State news. The mop stuff is wacky enough to keep the Soprano State in the spotlight. Residents are raising money to buy Gov. Christie mops because the governor got smart when someone asked why he had returned to New Hampshire to campaign for president when there was storm flooding in New Jersey. “Do you want me to go down there with a mop?” he asked. In retrospect, it might not have been a bad idea.
    Nolan D. McCaskill,, Jan. 27, 2016

  • When the Washington Post decided to remind voters about Donald Trump’s casino history in New Jersey and how bad debt caused the failure of the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, he threatened to sue. The saga runs from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s. Trump promised regulators he wouldn’t use junk bonds, and ended up using them anyway. In 1991, Trump’s Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy, followed by Trump’s Castle and Plaza casinos in 1992. In an interview with the Post, Trump emphasized that it was not a personal bankruptcy and cited a downturn in the gambling industry in Atlantic City and a bad economy in 1990. “This was not personal,” he said. “This was a corporate deal. If you write this one, I’m suing you.” As for the junk bonds, he said he had “the prerogative” to change his mind.
    Robert O’Harrow Jr., Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2016

  • The Soprano State stats for last year, whether its taxes or crime or transit delays, are dismal. Already paying the highest property taxes in the nation, in 2015 New Jersey homeowners watched taxes increase the fastest in four years, according to an exclusive report by Michael Symons of Gannett New Jersey. The average local tax bill rose to $8,352, an increase of 2.4 percent. The increase occurred despite a 2 percent cap imposed five years ago and despite Gov. Christie’s campaign claim that taxes are growing at the slowest in 20 years.
    Michael Symons, Gannett New Jersey, Jan. 8, 2016

  • In 2015, homicides jumped 4 percent in New Jersey, climbing from 361 in 2014 to 375 in 2015, according to NJ Advance Media. Newark accounted for 28 percent of the homicides, jumping from 93 to 105. In November and December alone, there were 25 homicides in Newark. More encouraging, homicides in Trenton, Patterson and Camden went down.
    Dan Ivers, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 1, 2016

  • United Van Lines’ annual study of who moves where again revealed: New Jersey is the top state for those moving out. In 2015, 67 percent of New Jersey “relocations” were exits. USA Today flagged the stat in its front page “USA Snapshots.” New York was close behind, with 65 percent outbound. In 2014, the stats were much the same, with New Jersey number one at 65 percent. If you are wondering which state has the most inbound, it’s Oregon, followed by South Carolina and Vermont.
    United Van Lines 39th Annual National Movers Study, Jan. 1, 2016

  • New Jersey’s commuter trains break down four times more than the national average, Bloomberg reported. None of the news is good for commuters: New Jersey’s commuters have one of the longest average commutes, NJ Transit has the nation’s second largest ridership, and riders have the most headaches (NJ Transit had its worst record in four years for break downs.), according to 2014 figures recently released by the National Transit Database. At the same time, prices for riding the rails increased. (NJ Transit bus and rail fares when up an average of 9 percent in October.) Like governors throughout the country, Christie diverted funding intended for equipment to operating costs.
    Elise Young, BloombergBusiness, Jan. 19, 2016

  • On the arrest front: John Parisi, of Atlantic City and cousin to Lucchese mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo, was sentenced to two years and six months in federal prison for conspiring with Scarfo and others to control a Texas financial group and then loot the company of its funds. According to investigators, Parisi managed a family trust and limited liability company for Scarfo as part of the scheme. Parisi also admitted helping Scarfo’s then-fiancée file a false mortgage loan application for a house in Egg Harbor Township, the feds said. The scheme sent Scarfo to federal prison for 30 years. Parisi joins him for a short time.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 19, 2016

  • The year continues in Soprano State style with a top mob capo headed to prison for his role in a multibillion dollar gambling operation, a corporate executive headed to jail for a campaign contribution scheme, a cop behind bars because he thought he could collect a disability pension and work at the same time, and a Paulsboro man headed the same way for collecting his dead father’s social security for 29 years. Consumers got some bad news too with the state accusing Advance Auto and Pep Boys of scanning items at a higher price than the posted selling price, and pet shops throughout the state being cited for failing to give buyers the information they need to make sure their new pets are healthy.

  • Ralph Perna, the top New Jersey capo for the Lucchese crime family, was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in a gambling enterprise that transacted $2.2 billion in wagers for sporting events in just 15 months. The wagers were placed on password-protected websites, and a Costa Rican wire room recorded the bets and results, investigators said. But when it came to collection, the operation used old-fashioned threats and violence, the prosecutors said. Also sentenced were Perna’s sons, John and Joseph (10 years each). The three Pernas were among six top members of the Lucchese crime family who pleaded guilty to the gambling scheme. (For more on the Lucchese family see Chapter 8.) Acting Attorney General John Hoffman said the gambling operation proves “traditional organized crime remains a corrosive presence in New Jersey.”
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 7, 2016

  • Scott MacFadden, former chief administrative officer of Birdsall Services Group, pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme that violated the state’s pay-to-play law by disguising the corporation’s illegal political contributions as personal contributions from the firm’s employees. Investigators said the firm reimbursed MacFadden for $30,000 in political contributions. The Birdsall scheme continued for six years and hid hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions that would have disqualified the company from public contracts awarded by certain government agencies, prosecutors said.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 6, 2016

  • Former Waldwick cop John Marion was sentenced to 364 days in prison for stealing $321,000 from the state’s pension plan by collecting disability payments while working as a Georgia cop. Marion collected $3,614 a month in disability payments from 2008 to 2015. Except for five months in 2010, he had been working since 2009, investigators said. After his sentencing, he was taken right to jail.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 8, 2016

  • Nicholas Severino Jr. of Paulsboro, was sentenced to three years in prison for collecting his father’s Social Security benefits for 29 years after his death. The payments amounted to $243,000, and the feds want their money back in restitution. Investigators said Severino’s father worked a second job with a false name and a second Social Security number, and that’s the identity Severino Jr. used to illegally collect the benefits.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 8, 2015

  • The state Division of Consumer Affairs filed civil complaints against Advance Auto and Pep Boys accusing both of selling auto parts that were scanned at a higher price that was posted as the selling price. The Division also cited pet shops throughout the state for failing to label the cages of dogs and cats with the information that buyers need to make sure the pets are healthy. The state said consumers have the right to pay the price posted for merchandise, and those looking for a new pet have the right to know its breeding history and medical background.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 4 and 8, 2016

  • The Soprano State kicked off 2016 in style with Gov. Christie tagged as a truant, the mob dabbling in drugs and prostitution, bribery at a conservation agency, murder-for-hire in Patterson and a fight after a Bloomfield council meeting. Christie spent 72 percent of 2015 traveling outside of New Jersey, that’s 261 partial or full days. Campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination cost him at home, with 62 percent of registered voters giving him a bad grade for performance, and nationally, with the likes of the Wall Street Journal giving him negative press. And things are not likely to get any better. “Most of the rest of January, I think I’ll be home to pick up new clothes and then go someplace else,” he said at an interview in New Hampshire where he spent 56 days last year and held 40 town-hall meetings. As for the notion that a governor should step down when running for president? Christie says ‘no.’ But that didn’t stop him from telling U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, another GOP candidate, to stay in Washington and cast more Senate votes.
    Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2016

  • Anthony Stango, of Brick, an associate of the DeCavalcante mob family, was sentenced to six years in federal prison after he admitted running an illegal drug operation that sold a total of 1,915 grams of cocaine on eight occasions to an undercover cop. Stango also admitted making plans to set up a prostitution operation in New Jersey and to having a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, something illegal for a convicted felon. Stango was arrested in March 2015 along with nine members of the DeCavalcante family. The feds said the mob family has engaged in a litany of crimes, including fraud, drugs, prostitution, gambling, sale of stolen goods, murder, assault and extortion. You can check out the homegrown “Jersey family” in Chapter Eight.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 5, 2016

  • A former high-ranking employee of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. admitted his role in a $956,948 kickback scheme. Donald Bernard Sr. of West Orange teamed with former executive director Linda Watkins Brashear in accepting bribes and kickbacks from contractors in return for awarding contracts for work that either was not done or had an inflated price. (Brashear already pleaded guilty to the nearly $1 million scheme.) Giacomo “Jack” DeRosa also pleaded guilty to laundering a portion of the $85,000 he paid Bernard in return for roofing work for DeRosa’s company, according to investigators.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 5, 2016; Dec. 21, 2015

  • Christopher Thieme, 35, of Newton, has been charged by the feds with murder-for-hire and attempted kidnapping. Investigators said he met with an FBI agent, who was posing as a hitman, and explained that once the victim (a Paterson woman he met through an online dating service) was kidnapped, he planned to empty her bank accounts and sell her home to pay for the kidnapping and murder. Thieme faces a maximum of 40 years in prison.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 5, 2016

  • Bloomfield Councilman Joseph Lopez used a council meeting to call for the resignation of another councilman, Elias Chalet, who is charged with taking a $15,000 bribe in return for promising a businessman that the township would buy his commercial property. According to, that’s what prompted a parking lot fight after the meeting when Lopez encountered four members of the Chalet family. Lopez claims he was threatened, intimidated and harassed in the parking lot by the family. Daniel Chalet claims Lopez punched him in the face and said he intends to press charges. Lopez, on the other hand, said he never touched Chalet. Bloomfield cops, whose station is next to the parking lot, are left to sort it out.
    Alyana Alfaro,, Jan. 5, 2016