- Former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine is in a great deal of hot water. And it could get deeper, and hotter. Corzine told federal lawmakers that he “would never intend to direct or have segregated funds moved” when asked about the $1.2 billion in client funds missing at MF Global Holdings Ltd., a commodity brokerage. In addition, Corzine said, “I simply do not know where the money is, or why the accounts have not been reconciled to date.” He said he did not knowingly authorize the moving of funds from the accounts of clients, many of them farmers and ranchers. MF Global filed for bankruptcy Oct. 31 after buying $6.3 billion in bonds issued by European nations heavily in debt. Corzine resigned as its chairman and chief executive officer on Nov. 4. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department are investigating the missing money.
Raju Chebium, Gannett Washington Bureau, Dec. 15, 2011
Silla Brush and Lorraine Woellert, Bloomberg, Dec. 9, 2011.
- In New Jersey, you can’t separate the mob from trash. For the third time in four decades, the State Commission of Investigation has laid it out for the state to see. In the 1980s, reforms were put in place to keep the mob out of the waste hauling business in the Garden State, but three decades later, the SCI said a trash truck could be driven through the loopholes. Other states, like New York, get it. The SCI said 30 criminals, banned from trash work in New York, found work across state lines in New Jersey. “That the Commission today must repeat some of the same general findings and recommendations is a testament to the price of warnings ignored, opportunities lost, and legislative intent undermined,” a new SCI report said. The new warning by the SCI also indicates New Jersey has left the recycling industry and disposal of contaminated soil and demolition debris vulnerable to the same corruption. State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation; Statehouse Bureau Staff, Star-Ledger; Tom Johnson and John Mooney, njspotlight.com, Dec. 7, 2011
- Criminal rings operating at five motor vehicle agencies and using six motor vehicle clerks and 13 runners or middlemen sold 40 bogus drivers licenses to 21 customers, some of them illegal residents, at a cost of $2,500 to $7,000 per license, the state attorney general charged. The customers did not have the six points of identification required for a New Jersey driver’s license, so the criminal rings provided what they needed for a price, authorities said. All 40 persons are charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and computer criminal activity. Many are charged with bribery. This is how the attorney general said it worked: The middlemen filled out the license application and brought the customer to the clerk where the license was issued without the necessary identifications. The middlemen collected the payments and split the money with the clerks. “We are talking about a combination of criminal profiteering and public corruption that I think is truly alarming,” said then Attorney General Paula Dow. Then again, this is New Jersey.
Attorney General Paula Dow; Christopher Baxter, Star-Ledger, Dec. 6, 2011
- A sex scandal cost the commander of the New Jersey National Guard, Maj. Gen. Glenn Rieth, his job. Rieth, who is married, was seen in his office touching one of his aides, a married woman. Rieth, according to the Associated Press, reported the incident to Gov. Christie and told him it was being reported to the Army. “General Rieth did the right thing by stepping down to address this as a personal matter,” Christie said. Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, appointed Rieth to the commander post in 2002. Christie, a longtime friend, reappointed Rieth.
Associated Press, Dec. 2, 2011
- The federal investigation into U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is closed. “After review and consideration of the matter transferred to me, I have decided to close the file,” U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of Eastern Pennsylvania wrote in a letter to Menendez’s lawyer. The case centered on a rental deal between Menendez and a nonprofit organization. As landlord for the nonprofit, Menendez collected more than $300,000 in rent while as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he helped the agency paying the rent get federal grants. The federal probe was an issue during Menendez’s re-election bid in 2006, but he won by eight percentage points. The case was transferred to Philadelphia after Paul Fishman was named U.S. attorney for New Jersey and recused himself from the case because Menendez backed Fishman for the prosecutor’s post. The public clearing of Menendez was an unusual move by federal prosecutors, who rarely write such letters.
Mark Mueller, Star-Ledger, Oct. 23, 2011
- The feds cleared Joe Doria, former commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs and former mayor of Bayonne. “Based on the evidence of which we are currently aware, no charges will be brought by this office regarding the circumstances that led to the search,” Assistant U.S Attorney James Nobile wrote in a letter to Doria’s attorney. Once again, such letters are rare. Doria resigned his commissioner post in 2009 after the FBI raided his home as part of a corruption sting that resulted in the arrest of 44 public officials, rabbis and others. The undercover operative in the probe, Solomon Dwek, testified that he paid bribes to a middleman, Jack Shaw, with the understanding that the money would be passed to Doria. Shaw, a political operative arrested in the raid who had agreed to cooperate with authorities, died in his home shortly after the arrests. The Star-Ledger reported that before he died, Shaw said he did not give Dwek’s money to Doria.
Ted Sherman, Matt Friedman, Star-Ledger, Oct. 7, 2011
- A former fiscal analyst with the New Jersey Department of Labor, Sharon Caldwell, has been indicted and charged with using state funds to pay her rent. In her job as an analyst, Caldwell wrote checks from a checking account for the state’s disability insurance program. She is charged with writing three checks from the account to her landlord for a West State Street apartment in Trenton. “This defendant was entrusted with access to a state checking account, but we allege that she flagrantly breached that trust by stealing from the account,” said Criminal Justice Director Stephen Taylor.
Attorney General Paula Dow, Oct. 5, 2011
- State police arrested Marie Munn, president of the Elizabeth Board of Education, and charged her with lying to get federally funded free lunches for her two children. Munn faces charges of theft by deception and tampering with public records. State police said that on five occasions from 2006 to 2011, Munn falsified information on school lunch applications, stealing $3,946 in free lunches intended for poor children. On at least one occasion, Munn, who works for a nonprofit organization, falsified her own salary and omitted her husband’s salary, according to the charges. “We will not tolerate this type of abuse of a publicly funded assistance program by school district insiders,” said Attorney General Paula Dow. Munn, arrested with two others, labeled the issue a misunderstanding and said she repaid $2,682.
Attorney General Paula Dow, Sept. 19, 2011
Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, Sept. 19, 2011
- How many times can you say, only in New Jersey? Well, on Sept. 11, you could add to the count. Washington Township New Jersey unveiled a memorial on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack. A 200-pound piece of steel from the World Trade Center was placed on a brick platform with a small granite marker to its side. But the problem was that the marker, instead of honoring those who died, listed the names of Washington Township public officials. Mayor Samir Elbassiouny said he did not recall who decided on the writing on the marker, but that it was simply a signature by the memorial committee. Retired township police officer Dennis Ryan said the granite maker’s words made him sick. The marker has been removed for a more appropriate dedication.
Phillip Molnar Express-Times, Sept. 14, 2011
- A federal judge sentenced Andrew McCrosson Jr., former campaign treasurer for Congressman Frank LoBiondo, to 2 1/2 years in jail for stealing nearly a half million dollars from the congressman’s campaign funds. McCrosson wrote checks to himself for a total of $458,000 and used the money to pay a federal tax lien, a home mortgage, college tuition for his children and living expenses, according to the feds. McCrosson, who did the part-time treasurer’s job from his home, embezzled the money over a period of 15 years. But that’s not all he was busy doing. Since 1989, McCrosson has been elected and appointed to a variety of public and political offices in New Jersey. He was a committeman and mayor in Upper Township, city administrator in Ventnor, business administrator in Trenton and chairman of the Republican Party in Sommers Point. U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas sentenced McCrosson to less than the 46 to 57 months in federal sentencing guidelines but ordered him to pay back the $458,000.
U.S Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 7, 2011
Lynda Cohen, Press of Atlantic City, March 5, 2011
- The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of ex-Jersey City deputy mayor Leona Beldini, a former burlesque queen sentenced to three years in prison for taking $20,000 in bribes from a purported developer working for the feds. The appellate panel ruled that the appeal of the 76-year-old Beldini had no merit. Three weeks later, the Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of former Sen. Wayne Bryant and R. Michael Gallagher, former dean of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Bryant was convicted of accepting a bribe, in the form of a low-show job at the university, in exchange for using his Senate post to bring millions of dollars in funding to the school. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Gallagher, who served an 18-month sentence, was convicted of rigging the hiring process to create the job for Bryant.
Jason Grant, Star-Ledger, Sept. 6, 2011
George Anastasia, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 26, 2011
- A state grand jury indicted former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo, along with two men who worked for him in the sheriff’s office, and charged them with a jobs-for-cash scheme. The grand jury accused Spicuzzo of taking a total of $112,000 in bribes from people seeking positions or promotions in the sheriff’s office. Spicuzzo, who served as sheriff for 30 years, was arrested on the charges in March. After his arrest, he resigned his posts as Middlesex County Democratic Party chairman and as commissioner on the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. The indictment alleges that between 1996 and 2008, Spicuzzo demanded bribes from eight people in return for appointing them as sheriff’s investigators or promoting them. The bribes, paid by seven people, ranged from $5,000 to $25,000, according to the indictment .
Attorney General Paula Dow, Aug. 19, 2011
- Anthony Jones, the driver for ex-Perth Amboy mayor Joe Vas, pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme with Vas to rig a public housing lottery. Jones admitted he provided false financial information to qualify for the home. Vas, who is serving a federal and state prison term on corruption charges, admitted rigging the lottery. Jones was able to buy the home after Vas arranged for an unnamed co-conspirator to pretend to draw the winner from the names of 40 qualifiers, but instead the co-conspirator selected a concealed and folded card with Jones’ name. “This was a case of shameless cronyism and abuse of power, “ said state Attorney General Paula Dow. This, is New Jersey.
Tom Hester Sr., newjerseynewsroom.com, August 18, 2011
- It’s as if New Jersey couldn’t stand not having a similar scandal of its own. Louis Magazzu ended his political career the same way Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York did. Magazzu, a Cumberland County freeholder who recently stepped down as county Democratic chairman, apparently sent nude pictures of himself to a woman during an online relationship. The pictures ended up on a Millville website. Magazzu is married, but separated from his wife. What is particularly Soprano State-like are comments by the Democratic co-chairmen of Cumberland County. Robert Balicki disagreed with Magazzu’s decision to resign as freeholder. “Nobody has even made an ethics complaint against him,” Balicki told the Courier-Post. Co-chair Douglas Long and Balicki said the issue should have gone to the county ethics committee. Long contended Magazzu was “set up” by the woman and the website operator.
Joseph P. Smith, Courier-Post, Aug. 3, 2011
- Steve Perskie has been a political figure in New Jersey for a long time. You can find him in Chapter 9 of The Soprano State. He was an assemblyman, a senator, author of the law that brought gambling to New Jersey, chief of staff to Gov. Jim Florio and a judge. After retiring from his judgeship, he has been censured by the state Supreme Court for belatedly recusing himself as a judge in a case involving his former campaign treasurer. Even after Perksie removed himself as the judge in the case, he sat in the courtroom during the trial and spoke to one of the attorneys. Perskie also was accused of lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his actions. But the high court said it did not have “clear and convincing” evidence that he lied. In a statement issued through his attorney, Perskie said that while relying on memory, some of the statements he made to the committee were wrong. He said it was unintended error.
MaryAnn Spoto, Star-Ledger, Aug. 1, 2011, March 25, 2011
- Over the years, New Jersey has been the brunt of jokes about voting fraud. Material for the jokes is always fresh. Angel Colon of Newark recently pleaded guilty to submitting fraudulent absentee ballots while he was working for the 2007 campaign of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex. “Colon admitted that he fraudulently submitted messenger ballots on behalf of voters without their knowledge, and we know that in at least one instance, it resulted in a voter being turned away at a polling place,” said Stephen Taylor, state criminal justice director. At the time of that election, such ballots, known as messenger ballots, were for homebound voters, who could authorize someone to bring the ballot to them for voting and then return the ballot to the county.
Tom Hester Sr., newjerseynewsroom.com, July 29, 2011
- The former tax collector in Secaucus has been sentenced to seven years in jail for stealing money from the taxes he collected. Alan Bartolozzi admitted taking $75,000 in tax money in 2008 and 2009. An investigation showed he doctored computer records to hide the theft. While Bartolozzi denied taking the full $777,000 the state contends he stole from taxpayers, he did admit to taking $500 from the Secaucus Public Employees Association. His three-year sentence for that theft will be served at the same time he does the seven years.
Stephanie Akin and Marlene Naanes, northjersey.com, July 28, 2011.
- The South Jersey Port Corp., which operates the Camden port on the Delaware River, handed out perks that boggle the mind. And Gov. Chris Christie told them to stop it. Responding to Christie’s order, the entity ended 40 years of allowing employees to trade vacation and sick days for cash and of handing out bonuses for attendance. If an employee showed up for work no more than 30 minutes late for two consecutive months, the bonus was a day’s pay. Employees who simply come to work as scheduled are not entitled to a bonus, said Deborah Gramiccioni, the state monitor for authorities. The perks ended for non-union employees and are expected to end for union employees when new contracts are struck. The port corporation also is expected to end a practice of rewarding outdoor workers with a TV if they have no accidents for four years. In addition, Kevin Castagnola, acting executive director of the agency, recently angered Christie by turning in expenses for two restaurant dinners totaling $1,710, including a bar bill of $198. (The state no longer pays for drinks.) The dinners were to discuss two of the ports key commodities, cocoa beans and plywood. Castagnola ended up paying the bar bill out of his own pocket. More background on the port corporation can be found in Chapter 6 of The Soprano State.
Eileen Stilwell, Courier-Post, July 28, 2011
- After a two-week trial, a New Jersey jury stepped up and said former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was guilty of taking a $10,000 bribe. “With every opportunity to walk away from the table, Elwell instead walked away with the cash,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. In May 2009, Elwell and two others met with Solomon Dwek, who offered Elwell $10,000 for his help with securing Secaucus approvals for development. Elwell later accepted the cash through an intermediary. Dwek, a purported developer, was working with the feds. Elwell was among the 44 arrested in a federal corruption sweep on July 23, 2009.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 6, 2011
- A Georgia investigation revealed widespread and systematic cheating on test scores in the Atlanta public school system. Cheating occurred at 44 schools and involved at least 178 teachers and principals. Atlanta’s school superintendent since 1999 was Beverly Hall, who arrived in Atlanta after heading the troubled Newark school system. She left the Atlanta job at the end of June. The investigation showed test score cheating started as early as 2001 and warnings were raised at the end of 2005. Yet investigators found that Hall’s administration punished whistle-blowers, hid or manipulated information and illegally altered documents. The superintendent “emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics,” investigators reported. In another New Jersey connection, Atlanta school board member Khaatim Sheerer El resigned his seat on the board in the wake of the report on the cheating scandal. Officials in Atlanta and Newark said he is not implicated in the cheating. El is chief of staff for the Foundation of Newark’s Future and will oversee the spending of a $200 million Facebook grant.
Kim Severson, New York Times, July 5, 2011
David Giambusso, Star-Ledger, July 14, 2011
- Unprecedented reforms in the medical benefit and retirement plans for government workers were passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Christie. The political coalition of Republicans and key Democrats reformed a system the governor labeled “unsustainable.” Government workers in New Jersey enjoyed benefits not available to most private sector workers, and while those benefits raged on, the state reduced its contributions and healthcare costs soared. That’s how New Jersey got to the unsustainable point. Health care plans for a half million public workers will be determined by a state panel of union workers and state managers. Increased health care contributions will be phased in until collective bargaining resumes in four years. Public workers, teachers, police and firefighters will pay more for pensions and health benefits. Retirees will not get a cost of living increase until the funds are stable (until at least 2040). The state will be required to make its annual pension payment or unions can sue.
The Soprano State is rife with abuses to the benefit programs for public employees. Record reporters recently revealed that former Bergen County Democratic Chair Joe Ferriero got free health benefits from a public sewer agency for nine months after his conviction on federal fraud charges. Ferriero was the in-house lawyer for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners until he took a leave of absence in September 2008. But for nine months after his October 2009 conviction, he received the free benefits. (The conviction was tossed out after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of the fraud law.) After the Record investigation, the sewerage authority sent Ferriero a $4,911 bill for the health care coverage it said he wrongfully received. The dental and eye plan that covered Ferriero, along with 500 other authority workers, is administered by Local 1158 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Clifton under a verbal agreement made 30 years ago. The agreement gives the union a 25 percent administrative fee each time an employee visits a dentist or optometrist.
An appellate court ruled that former Irvington Mayor Michael Steele has to give up all the money in the pension plan he was enrolled in when he took $120,000 in kickbacks. Steele’s lawyer wanted him only to give up the pension money for the four years when he was taking the kickbacks. A Superior Court judge agreed with Steele’s lawyer, but the appellate panel disagreed. Steele will lose all the money that went into the Teacher Pension and Annuity Fund since 1991.
Statehouse Bureau, Star-Ledger, June 24, June 17, 2011
Jeff Pillets and Peter J. Sampson, Record, June 20, 2011
MaryAnn Spoto, Star-Ledger, May 20, 2011
- Stories about corruption and waste in the state corrections system continue. State Comptroller Matthew Boxer found the state Corrections Department’s monitoring of halfway houses, run by private companies, was costing taxpayers money and jeopardizing public safety. Boxer found the state overpaid the operators of 10 of 20 halfway houses nearly $600,000 between 2004 and 2010 and did not punish mistakes that led to escapes. Six inmates escaped after workers failed to put them in a secured area during transport. (There were 201 escapes in the 15 months between January 2008 and March 2009.) Boxer rightfully said that the state needs to look at the companies running the halfway houses and the way it awards those contracts.
A federal grand jury indicted Lydell Sherrer, who served as both an assistant commissioner and deputy commissioner at the Department of Corrections, and charged him with attempted extortion and solicitation of $52,500 in bribes. He already had been charged with two counts of bribery. The feds say Sherrer received or asked for money in return for jobs, job transfers and help with a lawsuit filed by an employee. “Public sector jobs should not be for sale,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
Joelle Farrell, Inquirer, June 16, 2011
State Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer, June 15, 2011
Chris Megerian, Star-Ledger, June 9, 2011
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 9, 2011
- There seems no way to explain why governor after governor doesn’t get it: a significant number of hardworking taxpayers don’t want to see the helicopters they pay for used for personal trips. After all the angst former Gov. McGreevey went through, that should have been a message that was loud and clear. Nevertheless, Gov. Christie, like many others before him, thought it was OK to take the state chopper to his son’s baseball game and then to meet Republicans who want him to run for president. He has paid for the trip, and one other to a baseball game, but still doesn’t see what’s wrong with it. (The state GOP paid for the trip from the baseball game to Princeton where the party members were waiting.) State Police top cop Rick Fuentes said it was OK because the chopper would have been in the air anyway for training. And, once again, when people want to know who travels in the chopper with the Gov, the records had the names blackened out.
Statehouse Bureau, Star-Ledger, June 1, 2011
Catalina Camia, USA Today, June 2, 2011
Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, June 15, 2011
- While Rutgers University students endure tuition hikes and employees at the university suffer a salary freeze, it was not surprising when news, that the retiring university president will earn $335,000 as a professor, upset a lot of people. Richard McCormick earns $550,000 as year as president of the university, and his contract, struck in 2002, says when he retires he gets to earn no less than the highest paid professor at the university. Ralph Izzo, chair of the university’s Board of Governors, said McCormick’s teaching of American political history will be worth the money. Things got heated at a meeting of the Board of Governors with some holding up blown-up copies of a dollar bill to protest the professor’s salary for McCormick. Things turned ugly when the board would not allow student leaders from the Student Assembly to speak about the university budget and tuition. The students missed a deadline to register to speak. Some said it was because the agenda went out late. In answer to the protest, the board had security usher people out of the room and maintenance workers build a temporary wall to keep the board separated from the objectors. Like Bob Ingle said in his blog, you can’t make this stuff up. Asemblyman Domenick DiCicco, R-Gloucester-Camden, is drafting a bill that would cap public employee salaries at $175,000, the same as the governor, except for physicians. DiCicco, like others, questioned the $335,000 cost of one professor.
Kelly Heyboer, Star-Ledger, June 1, 2011 and June 14, 2011
Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, June 15, 2011
Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco, June 2, 2011
- It is another one of those events that must secure New Jersey as The Soprano State in the minds of people across the country. The new Union City cultural center has been named after William Musto. The deceased Musto, who died at age 88 in 2006, was a former New Jersey Assembly member, senator, mayor and convicted felon. This is what the New York Times said about him in 2006: “He was so popular in his hometown that the day after he was sentenced to prison in 1982 for helping mobsters and contractors pocket public money designated for schools, voters re-elected him anyway. His supporters insisted he was framed.” Only in New Jersey after you get convicted of racketeering do you get re-elected and then have buildings named for you.
Jersey Journal, June 1, 2011
Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, March 1, 2006
- It’s the best hope for reforming New Jersey’s culture of corruption: the next generation. The Soprano State authors have been saying that to college and university students throughout the state. And there are some living examples of those who are giving it a try. Ted Johnson, an 18-year-old Woodbury High School senior, positioned himself at the legal distance from the polls and campaigned for a seat on the Woodbury school board. Sitting under tree in a lawn chair, Johnson opened a copy of The Soprano State. “I hope I’m not like that,” he said of the corruption inside the cover. “I don’t want to be arrogant,” he told a reporter for the Goucester County Times. That’s a start. With his grassroots campaign, Johnson was the top vote getter in the Woodbury elections. An athlete, a member of the student government and drama club, Johnson plans to attend Rutgers University in the Fall. He has been the student representative on the school board for two years and has some good ideas for the school district. He thinks the board should look into shared services with the city, should push for financial concessions from all school employees, not just teachers and should encourage people to volunteer services to schools. Johnson is joined by Donald Coughlan, 18, another high school senior headed to Rutgers, who was the top vote getter for the board of education at Clearview Regional School District, Mantua. His goals are more transparency and more accountability for board decisions. In a state with a culture of corruption, that’s the place to begin. We hope these two serve as the spark for reform.
Rob Scott, Cloucester County Times, May 1, 2011.
- Voters in the Toms River School District were heard loud and clear when they voted in three “Clean Slate” candidates. The three grabbed seats on the Toms River Regional Board of Education by running a campaign focused on ending the “Ritacco Era.” Michael Ritacco retired after the feds charged him with taking between $1 million and $2 million in bribes from the school district’s insurance broker. The new slate, Ben Giovine, Loreen Torrone and Alexander Pavliv promised transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. Torrone lost her seat on the school board in 2009 after voting against Ritacco’s contract.
Chelsea Michels, Asbury Park Press, April 28, 2011.
- In New Jersey, nothing is sacred when it comes to thievery. Shaunette Moody was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and her husband Alexander Moody was sentenced to six years for their part in a scheme to steal more than half a million dollars in federally subsidized funds from the New Jersey City University Student Government Organization. Between 2007 and 2010, the two stole 275 checks that were fraudulently signed and made payable to the Moodys and others, according to the feds. Some of the stolen money was used for entertainment and gambling in Atlantic City. In addition to the prison time, the Moodys must pay $515,106 in restitution.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 26, 2011.
- A former Guttenberg councilman and former cop, Vincent Tabbachino, pleaded guilty to laundering $125,000, money he believed Solomon Dwek needed to wash because it had been earned by manufacturing fake designer handbags. The problem was Dwek himself was a fake businessman working for the feds. Tabbachino was among the 44 nabbed in the infamous federal law enforcement sweep in the summer of 2009. Prior to pleading guilty to money laundering, Tabbachino was convicted of attempted extortion and bribery for offering and agreeing to give a bribe to a New Jersey mayor.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 25, 2011
Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, April 25, 2011.
- This is what the New York Post had to say about Jim McGreevey’s chances of becoming a priest: “Heaven can wait.” and “Don’t call him Father Jim just yet.” The Post reported that it was McGreevey’s behavior during his divorce, not his being gay that gave the Episcopal Church pause. The Post also reported that the church was worried it was being used. After resigning as governor, McGreevey entered the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan and earned a master’s degree in divinity. He lives with his partner, a real estate executive, in Plainfield and had been working at Integrity House, a mental-health and drug-addiction treatment center in Newark, according to the Post.
Chuck Bennett and Josh Margolin, New York Post, April 25, 2011.
- Senate President Steve Sweeney inserted a provision in a public health care reform bill that would prevent a state insurance program, which saved towns and school districts millions of dollars, from accepting new members. The problem with this move, in addition to costing towns and school districts more money, is that it would benefit private insurance companies that were losing business to the state program, according to the New York Times. The Times said one of those companies losing business, Conner Strong, is run by George Norcross, South Jersey’s political boss, a Sweeney supporter and childhood friend. Sweeney said he inserted the provision because the state program was losing money. But the New York Times said research showed that was not the case. By denying the program new members, the Sweeney provision could, however, kill the state program, the Times reported. Sweeney said he spoke to Norcross about the moratorium, but it was not inserted into the bill at Norcross’ behest. A week after the Times story, Sweeney told State Street Wire that he was pulling the moratorium out of the reform bill.
David Halbfinger, New York Times, April 19, 2011
Politickernj.com staff, April 28, 2011.
- The state spent more than $3 million this year on clothing allowances for white-collar workers who are not mandated to wear uniforms. Comptroller Matthew Boxer called it “absurd.” The practice has been underway for years, but the amount per year for each employee went from $650 to $700 under the union contract Gov. Corzine negotiated with the Communications Workers of America. Nearly half of the white-collar workers who receive the annual $700 payment do not wear a uniform or other specialized work clothing. A manager at the Department of Transportation told auditors that the $700 is considered a bonus. In 2010, DOT paid the allowance to 49 white-collar workers required to wear a uniform and 839 who were not. The state paid those at DOT who were not required to wear a uniform nearly $575,000. The comptroller is recommending ending clothing allowances for workers who do not wear uniforms. Now that’s a novel idea.
Michael Symons, Asbury Park Press, April 13, 2011.
- Former Assemblyman and former Perth Amboy Mayor Joe Vas was sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison and eight years in state prison. He will serve the sentences at the same time. The federal sentence was levied after a federal jury convicted Vas of using his office to misappropriate $360,000 in affordable housing funds. Vas purchased a building for $660,000, sold it for $950,000 and promised the contractor who bought the property $360,000 in affordable housing funds. Vas then shepherded redevelopment funds for the contractor through the process at city hall. The jury also found Vas guilty of lying to the feds and of election fraud for a scheme in which conduit donors gave cash to people who then wrote checks to Vas’ campaign fund. The state sentence was doled out after he pleaded guilty in state court to money laundering, theft and a pattern of official misconduct. The state charged Vas with billing Perth Amboy for $5,000 in clothing, athletic shoes and other personal items and for conspiring to rig a lottery that gave a city employee the chance to buy a house built through a federal program for first-time home buyers.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 12, 2011
Tom Haydon, Star-Ledger, April 15, 2011.
- Federal Judge Jose Linares sentenced Mariano Vega, the former president of Jersey City’s city council, to two and a half years in prison for agreeing to accept $30,000 in bribes. Vega admitted that while he was president of the city council and a candidate for re-election, he agreed to accept cash and illicit campaign contributions from Solomon Dwek, a purported developer, in exchange for future assistance for Dwek’s real estate projects. Linares ordered Vega to repay the $20,000 in bribes that he had received at the time of his arrest in the summer of 2009.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 11, 2011.
- After a three-day trial and three hours of deliberation, a jury cleared cardiologist Joseph Campbell of participating in a kickback scheme at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The jury said Campbell had a valid relationship with the university. The civil case was part of a federal investigation into allegations that cardiologists were given faculty contracts that required them to do little work in exchange for referring patients to a failing cardiac program. Two doctors pleaded guilty and number of others entered into civil settlements.
Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, March 25, 2011.
- Former Sen. Joe Coniglio was released from federal prison after federal Judge Dennis Cavanaugh reduced his sentence from 30 months to 20 months. The sentence reduction resulted from a federal appellate court tossing Coniglio’s conviction on five counts of mail fraud, but upholding an extortion conviction. Coniglio served 16 months at a federal prison camp in Pennsylvania before he was allowed to return home to complete his sentence under electronic monitoring. Federal prosecutors charged Coniglio, a plumber, with using his Senate post to channel money to the Hackensack University Medical Center in exchange for a $5,000-a-month consulting job. The federal appellate court ruling came in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that limited the use of the federal fraud law in the prosecution of public corruption.
Associated Press, March 25, 2011.
- Albert Manzo resigned from the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission after Gov. Christie suspended him. Manzo’s problem was a high-profile wife and home. His wife, Caroline Manzo, is a star on the reality show “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and their Franklin Lakes home is sometimes her backdrop. Manzo qualified for his commission job by listing his address as Patterson, nine miles south, where he owns the Brownstone restaurant. Christie said “Do you really believe he’s sleeping on a cot at the Brownstone in Patterson?” Manzo said he was sleeping in an apartment in his restaurant, but he resigned anyway.
CBS/Associated Press, March 22, 2011
Associated Press, March 17, 2011.
- State Attorney General Paula Dow charged Kenneth Disko, an engineer who oversaw construction projects for three school districts, with submitting fraudulent quotes and recommending approval of fraudulently bid contracts in exchange for more than $80,000 in kickbacks from contractors. “We allege that this engineer corrupted the contracting process in three school districts where he worked, taking more than $80,000 in kickbacks from contractors who overcharged the districts for school repairs and renovations,” Dow said. Westfield School District business administrator Robert Berman also was charged with accepting more than $13,000 worth of window glass and doors installed at his home by Metropolitan Metal Window Company in return for recommending that the Westfield Board of Education appoint Metropolitan as its contractor of record. “These defendants allegedly cheated the taxpayers who fund these districts, as well as the students who might have benefitted from the thousands of dollars that were misappropriated,” Dow said.
Attorney General Paula Dow, March 9, 2011.
- Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo has been charged with giving employees positions and promotions in his department in exchange for bribes. State Attorney General Paula Dow charged Spicuzzo with taking up to $25,000 from new hires for investigator positions. “This is an outrageous case of abuse of power and public office,” said Dow. “Sheriff Spicuzzo allegedly introduced young recruits to a career in law enforcement by demanding that they pay him bribes of up to $25,000.” Spicuzzo, county sheriff for 28 years, was chairman of the Middlesex County Democrats since 1994. After his arrest, Spicuzzo resigned as chairman and stepped down from his post as a commissioner of the New Jersey Sport and Exposition Authority, an appointment Gov. Christie decried when former Gov. Corzine named Spicuzzo to the slot. This isn’t Spicuzzo’s first scandal. Middlesex County recently paid $850,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him and top officers by five female sheriff’s officers. Spicuzzo and the other defendants were dropped from the suit, leaving just the sheriff’s department. What that meant is the county (taxpayers) footed the bill for the settlement. Also arrested in the state probe of Spicuzzo was Paul Lucarelli, a sheriff’s officer charged with collecting a bribe of $25,000 from someone wanting to be a sheriff’s investigator and conveying that bribe to Spicuzzo. Dow accused Lucarelli of being Spicuzzo’s “bag man.”
Asbury Park Press, March 7, 2011
Attorney General Paula Dow, March 7, 14, 2011
Gene Racz and Ken Serrano, Home News Tribune, Feb. 2, 2011.
- Atlantic City took $2.2 million it saved by laying off 60 cops and 30 firefighters and used the money toward the $7.1 million it spend on accumulated sick and vacation days for retiring city workers, most of them public safety workers. A deputy fire chief got $272,000 in unused sick and vacation days. Three others got more than $200,000. Twelve got at least $100,000.
The rush to retire may have been prompted by the notion that New Jersey would cap local government payouts at $15,000, something that should have happened long ago. Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, told the Atlantic City Press, “I don’t know how you tell people who have worked their whole career under the assumption that they can build up their terminal leave that they’re going from $300,00 to $15,000.” But this is the problem: taxpayers can’t afford it any more.
Michael Clark and Lynda Cohen, Press of Atlantic City, March 7, 2011.
- Andrew McCrosson, former campaign treasurer for Congressman Frank LoBiondo, pleaded guilty in federal court to embezzling $450,000 from the congressman’s election accounts. McCrosson admitted that for 15 years he wrote checks to himself from the campaign accounts and spent the money on a tax lien, a mortgage, living expenses and college tuition for his kids. McCrosson, 59, who lives in Egg Harbor Township, faces a maximum of 20 years in jail on a wire fraud charge and a maximum five years on a charge of embezzlement. The campaign treasurer post was a part-time job, and until last November, McCrosson served as business administrator for the city of Trenton. Trentonian columnist L. A. Parker wonders whether McCrosson will sing to the feds for a lighter sentence. “He could broker a feathery landing plus reduced time for inside information regarding Trenton politics,” Parker wrote.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, March 4, 2011
L.A. Parker, Trentonian, March 8, 2011.
- A federal appeals court agreed that the charge of extortion conspiracy, filed by the feds against Ronald and Louis Manzo, can be tossed. The two brothers were among the 44 rounded up in a corruption sting in 2009. Louis Manzo, a former state assemblyman, made an unsuccessful bid for Jersey City mayor in 2009 in a campaign where his brother served as adviser. The two were charged with taking money from a federal informant posing as a developer who wanted help with project approvals. The brothers successfully argued before the courts that the law applies to public officials and neither was in office at the time. The Manzos still face lesser charges of bribery and mail fraud. They also can be found in The Soprano State, Chapter 2.
Associated Press, Feb. 17, 2011;
- A privately funded audit of the Newark Public Schools revealed that the district has almost twice as many administrators per student than the state average and that only 22 percent of the students entering high school graduate after four years. “We should all be here motivated by a sense of moral outrage,” said state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. Change, promised long ago, needs to accompany the outrage.
David Giambusso, Star-Ledger, Feb. 5, 2011.
- Three top managers at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners have been charged with using agency employees to make repairs and improvements to the managers’ homes when the employees were supposed to be doing commission work. Charged were Kevin Keogh, Chester Mazza and Anthony Ardis, the commission’s ethics officer. The arrests follow Gov. Christie’s firing of six of the commission’s seven board members. The agency’s chief financial officer then resigned, 11 employees were fired, and state police took over security at the agency’s Newark facility. State police moved in after it was discovered that a small hole had been drilled into the office of the executive director allowing anyone in a storeroom below to eavesdrop on conversations. (Even in New Jersey, where you may think you have seen it all, that’s new.) With a state investigation continuing, Christie fired 71 employees of the agency and tried to get lawmakers to pass a law giving him veto power over the commission’s minutes.
Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, Feb. 1, 2, 8, 2011.
- Just one day after he announced a bid for re-election, Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith was indicted on charges of insurance fraud and filing a false police report. The indictment accuses Smith of leaving a bar early on Christmas day, crashing his car into a parked car and then driving home. The next day, according to Union County prosecutors, Smith moved his car into the street during a blizzard and told both police and his insurance company that a snowplow could have caused the damage to his car. Prosecutors, however, contend that Smith’s car left a trail of automotive fluids from the crash to his garage.
Ryan Hutchins, Star-Ledger, Jan. 26, 2011.
- Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, has introduced a Senate bill that would abolish the Waterfront Commission and turn its duties over to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Introduced in October 2010, the bill states that “the waterfront commission, despite changes in the industry since the days of Marlon Brando when it was necessary to drive out organized crime’s influences, has over –regulated businesses at the port.” The bill drew support from Thomas Leonardis, president of the Newark Local of the International Longshoremen’s Association. Three months after the bill was introduced, Leonardis was arrested and charged with extorting ILA members. Nabbing more than a dozen from New Jersey in a larger sweep, the feds also arrested what they indentified as a soldier and three associates of the Genovese family, including former ILA Local president Albert Cernadas, charged with conspiring with high-ranking members of the ILA to collect tribute payments from New Jersey port workers at Christmas. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said, “organized crime still has a grip on the New Jersey waterfront,” and thanked the Waterfront Commission for its part in the investigation. Even after the arrests, Lesniak defended his bill to politickernj.com. “I just want better supervision,” he said.
Max Pizarro and Timothy J. Carroll, politickernj.com, Jan. 21, 2011
- Federal Judge Susan Wigenton sentenced Raymond Geneske, the former municipal chairman of the Perth Amboy Democratic Party and longtime adviser to former Mayor Joe Vas, to two years probation, and that sends the message that cooperating pays off. The feds have been using cooperating witnesses, along with taped conversations, to great advantage of late. Geneske, also a former teacher to Vas, provided testimony for the feds in the Vas case. Vas and Geneske were convicted of an illegal scheme that took money from a developer, had other people write checks to the Vas for Congress political campaign, and then used the developer’s money to reimburse those people, thereby skirting federal contribution limits and reporting requirements. Judge Wigenton also denied a Vas request for a new trial. Convicted of misappropriating affordable housing funds, lying to the feds and of the campaign fund violations, Vas is expected to be sentenced in February.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 24, 2011
Tom Haydon, Star-Ledger, Jan. 10, 2011
- James Peyton, a 73-year-old field investigator with the state Department of Labor, is headed to jail for three years and six months. The feds say Peyton raked in bribes of up to $8,000 per quarter between 2006 and 2009. Of course, he did not report the income from the bribes on his income tax, and the IRS did not like that either. Peyton’s job was to audit the books and records of the operators of temp agencies. In return for the bribes, he prepared tax forms that understated the amount of tax owed to the state by the temp agencies. Peyton pleaded guilty a year ago. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman. Victor Lessoff of the IRS said, “Today’s sentence should send a message that using your position to solicit bribes and not pay the tax on the illegal profits will not be tolerated. “ Even in New Jersey.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 21, 2011
- Eight hundred federal agents participated in an unprecedented assault on the seven mob families of New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Attorney General Eric Holder called it the “largest single day operation against La Cosa Nostra.” The feds arrested 91 members and associates of seven organized crime families, including members of the New Jersey-based Decavalcante family, and 36 others, a total of 127, on charges ranging from murder to racketeering and extortion. The arrests included a made member and associates of the Genovese family, charged with conspiring with high ranking members of the Newark local of the International Longshoremen’s Association to collect “tribute” payments from New Jersey port workers at Christmas each year. The workers had to give up part of their holiday bonuses for mob kickbacks, according to the feds. New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said, “According to the charges unsealed today, organized crime still has a grip on the New Jersey waterfront. Paying tribute to the mob is not an acceptable cost of doing business in New Jersey.” Charged in the indictment was Albert Cernadas Sr., “The Bull,” former president of the ILA local, who had been previously charged and arrested in the tribute scheme. (Cernadas was the ILA official who invited Gov. McGreevey to a free stay in Puerto Rico for an ILA convention during the investigation into the early release from NJ prison of Genovese capo Angelo Prisco.) One of the men arrested and charged with extortion, Thomas Leonardis, current president of the ILA local, complained during legislative hearings last year that the industry was being wrongly accused of mob influence. Bringing along a cargo hook, no longer used on the docks, he contended that the image of a mobbed-up Union was as outdated as the hook. Michael Ward, special agent in charge of the Newark Division of the FBI disagreed. He said after the arrest of Leonardis and others, “It’s become almost cliché to link organized crime to New Jersey, with oft-repeated comments about the “Soprano State’ and bodies allegedly buried in the Meadowlands. Today’s arrests will serve as a stark reminder that organized crime continues to operate in New Jersey through corruption, extortion, racketeering and violence.” The 16 indictments, covering the La Cosa Nostra area from New Jersey to New York to New England, charged such high-ranking mobsters as Luigi Manocchio, 83, former boss of the New England La Cosa Nostra, and Andrew Russo, 76, street boss of the Colombo family, and the entire leadership of the Colombo family not in prison. The indictments are based on hundreds of hours of recorded conversations, and the charges read like gruesome scenes from “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos,” telling of one underboss murdered in the passenger seat of a car outside his home, another man shot in the face and one in the chest in a murder outside a bar, another shot in the back of the head and left on the side of the road in Queens. In New England, the indictments charge two decades of illegal activity involving local pornographic bookstores and nightclubs in Providence. In addition to murder and labor racketeering, the indictments talk about loan sharking, arson, narcotics trafficking, robbery, illegal gambling, perjury and racketeering in general, including the possession of contraband cigarettes (that’s the New Jersey family.) In the case of New Jersey’s home-grown Decavalcante crime family, the indictment names Jerry Balzano and Joseph Collina, identified by the feds as soldiers and associates with the family, and charges them with dealing in contraband cigarettes and stolen tax refund checks. Balzano also was charged, in a Florida incident, with threatening to injure someone from North Carolina to collect a debt.
Eastern NY U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, Jan. 20, 2011
NJ U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 20, 2011
William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, Jan. 20, 2011
Ted Sherman and Steve Strunsky, Star-Ledger, Jan 20. 2011.
- Camden’s problems have always been heartbreaking. And that hasn’t changed. The money problems there and the layoff of police and firefighters are sure to grab national attention. There were 168 police and 67 firefighters laid off, joined by 115 in civilians. The Camden budget gap is $26.5 million. With the city citing the average police superior officer costing $212,000 in annual salary and benefits and the average police officer and firefighter costing $140,000, Camden Mayor Dana Redd asked for union concessions. The unions said no. Without a solution, once again, it will be the citizens of Camden who continue to suffer.
Lucas Murray, Courier-Post, Jan. 19, 2010
- The Soprano State’s Chapter 7, Speaking Authoritatively: No Oversight, starts like this: “New Jersey’s government authorities are perhaps the biggest boondoggles and burying grounds for deadwood and unemployed relations.” Another agency can be added to the list, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. Ted Sherman of the Star-Ledger reported that the $46.4 million payroll lists the children and spouses of commissioners, mayors, and the friends and relatives of mayors. The median salary has increased nearly 30 percent over the past five years. Eighty-five of the 567 employees make more than $100,000. Three employees earn more than $200,000. Lucrative no-bid contracts have benefitted the towns of some commissioners, with many of the commissioners serving as elected or appointed officials in their towns. The communities, like Newark and Jersey City, served by the sewerage agency pay millions of dollars, funded by residential, commercial and industrial customers. Those customers may not be happy with the example of Kenneth Pengitore, who was the GOP mayor of Haledon when he became a commissioner at the agency. His son, daughter and daughter-in-law quickly joined the payroll. Then his fellow commissioners hired Pengitore as their chief financial officer at a salary of $143,943, now $163,869. Reporter Sherman said Pengitore did not return telephone calls seeking comment. (But Gov. Christie responded. He moved to oust six of the seven commissioners.)
Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, Jan. 16, 2011