The Soprano State The Soprano State

Update

2014

  • Sixty years after On the Waterfront (filmed in and based on the Hoboken docks) made New Jersey’s mob-connected union bosses and crime-fighting waterfront commission national viewing, the scenario continues. A Genovese crime family soldier and two crime family associates, including a former president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, pleaded guilty to a scheme that for three decades used violence and threats to extort Christmas-time tribute payments from dock workers, according to federal prosecutors. Genovese family soldier Stephen Depiro and two Genovese family associates, Albert Cernadas, former president of ILA Local 1235, and Nunzio LaGrasso, former vice president of ILA Local 1478, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Since 2005, Depiro managed the Genovese family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront, according to the feds. In addition to conspiring to collect the tribute payments, Depiro controlled a sports betting operation, the feds said. The racketeering charges could land the three in prison for up to 20 years. In the long-running federal case, Thomas Leonardis, former president of ILA Local 1235, was sentenced to a year and 10 months in jail after admitting that he conspired to extort the tribute payments from longshoremen on the New Jersey piers. Other longshoremen have been sentenced in the case. Federal and state prosecutors have continually thanked the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor for its help, even as Sen. Ray Lesniak is looking to end New Jersey’s role in the commission because he says things have changed, and it is no longer needed.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 9 & 19, 2014

  • In lawsuits filed by three veteran State Police sergeants, Lt. Col. Raymond Guidetti has been accused of punishing troopers by manipulating promotions. While other states promote troopers based on interviews and written and oral exams, New Jersey uses one of the most subjective systems for trooper promotions in the country, a Star-Ledger investigation showed. The state Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the promotional system, but no changes have been made to date, the Ledger reported. State police supervisors rank troopers on a scale of 1 to 100 with the colonel making the final decision followed by a review by the attorney general. The three lawsuits accuse Guidetti of altering rankings to punish those who spoke out against him or Capt. Ronald Hampton. Det. Sgt. John Pizzuro, a trooper for 19 years, alleged he was number one on the promotion list for lieutenant, but was lowered by Guidetti and Hampton because he refused to sign a nominating petition for Christie during his first run for governor.
    Christopher Baxter, Star-Ledger, Dec. 31, 2014

  • In more negative news for state troopers, Acting Sgt. Glenn Mannino, a trooper for nearly 27 years, pleaded guilty to falsifying state police audits that were supposed to disclose just who accessed the state’s criminal justice database, the Star-Ledger reported. As a punishment, Mannino’s pension was lowered by a third to $55,000. (He quit the force and is permanently barred from state employment.) Mannino lied about visiting police agencies he was supposed to be monitoring and fabricated the audit reports, the Ledger reported.
    Christopher Baxter, Star-Ledger, Dec. 29, 2014

  • And if that wasn’t enough, a state trooper was caught posing as a press photographer in order to photograph protestors at one of Christie’s town hall events.  State police said it was in the interest of security for the governor. A review by Acting Attorney General John Hoffman revealed that while the practice of police posing as media personnel is not forbidden, it is discouraged. The trooper apparently had permission from his supervisor to pose as a photographer, and was not cited for misconduct. The key here is that this apparently was not an undercover operation to catch a criminal. It was undercover surveillance at a public town hall meeting. Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Bergen County, called the maneuver “Nixonian.”
    Christopher Baxter, Star-Ledger, Dec. 14, 2014

  • In the multiple decades that Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure have been journalists, we have seen it happen over and over again:  public officials, making good money, who throw it all away for illegal freebies they can afford. Perth Amboy Police Chief Ben Ruiz has been charged with using the police department mechanic to repair his personal vehicles and the vehicle of a friend. Ruiz had been a cop for 26 years and a chief for two. He earned $161,000 and just got a $2,700 raise.
    Anthony G. Attrino, Star-Ledger, Dec. 16, 201

  • On the firefighting side, Michael Petrella, former treasurer of the Seaville Fire Company, pleaded guilty to stealing $19,000 from fire company funds. The plea deal is expected to land Petrella in jail for one day less than a year. Petrella admitted that between 2010 and 2013, he used fire company money to reimburse himself for personal expenses, including beer and diapers. Seaville’s former chief Eugene Spiegel and his son Jacob Spiegel also have been indicted and charged with stealing from the volunteer company. The chief is accused of taking $44,000, his son, $1,275.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Sept., 24 & Dec. 18, 2014; Jeff Goldman, Star-Ledger, Dec. 19, 2014

  • Former Monmouth County fire chief Vincent Falci has been accused in a lawsuit filed by the state of defrauding 182 investors with the sale of $5.4 million in unregistered securities. Falci ran investment companies and is accused of telling investors that their money would be used for tax lien certificates and instead using the money to buy five homes for himself and his wife. “Contrary to Falci’s representations to investors, Bureau of Securities’ investigators allege that not more than three percent of investors’ hard-earned monies were invested in tax lien certificates,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. Falci’s lawyer, Peter Bennett, said Falci “unequivocally denies the allegations that he deceived investors.”
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Sept. 25, 2014; Brent Johnson, Star-Ledger, Sept. 25, 2014

  • Donald Bernard Sr., manager of special projects at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp., and Giacomo (Jack) DeRosa, a Clinton Township contractor, have been indicted by the feds and charged with a bribery scheme. Federal investigators charge that Bernard accepted $730,000 in kickbacks from DeRosa and other contractors. To cover the contractors’ kickback costs, Bernard helped them submit false invoices for work that was never done, the feds said.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 15, 2014

  • William Mowell, former assistant executive director and engineer for the East Orange Water Commission, was sentenced to three years in jail after admitting that he falsified water tests to hide elevated levels of tetrachlorethene (an industrial solvent) in the drinking water. Mowell admitted taking water samples for testing after contaminated wells had been turned off knowing the test results would not represent the amount of the contaminant when the wells were turned back on. Investigators said Mowell and Harry Mansmann, the now deceased former executive director of the water commission, were trying to avoid the need for an expensive water purification system. “By hiding elevated levels of a potential carcinogen, Mowell put financial concerns ahead of the health of tens of thousands of customers who drink the water supplied by the system,” said Elie Honig, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. The agency, which supplies water to East Orange and South Orange, is planning to install the purification system. Meanwhile, environmental officials said the water supplied by the commission is safe.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Dec. 12, 2014

  • The former business administrator for the Knowlton Board of Education, Kevin Mulligan, was sentenced to three years in jail for embezzling $70,000 from the school district. Mulligan, 34 and only in the job for six months, admitted that he wrote himself checks from the school district bank accounts. Mulligan, who paid the district’s bills and did its payroll, wrote four checks to himself but recorded them as having been written to approved vendors.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Dec. 12, 2014

  • Just to show that nothing ever changes in The Soprano State: For the seventh year in a row, half of New Jersey’s residents said they would like to move out of the state at some point. Slightly more than half, 54 percent, cited taxes as the reason. New Jersey continues to have the highest property taxes in the nation. The average property tax bill statewide was $7,988 in 2013, with the average bill in Essex and Bergen counties reaching nearly $11,000. Nearly a third of the residents who earn more than $100,000 a year said they are very likely to leave, according to a Monmouth University and Asbury Park Press poll. “We should be concerned that higher income residents are more prone to leave and that many will do so before they retire,” said Patrick Murray, poll director. “This would leave behind a depleted tax based coupled with a population in need of greater support. If these indications come to fruition, the affordability anxieties that are driving people out of the state now will only get worse.”
    Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll, Nov. 10, 2014; Brent Johnson, Star-Ledger, March 21, 2014

  • This is another “only in New Jersey” story: A federal grand jury indicted Antonio Pimenta and charged him with a $1 million bank fraud conspiracy, including bribing a mortgage officer to complete a mortgage on a home even though it had exploded earlier in the day after vagrants apparently hit a gas line while stealing pipes for resale. The mortgage conspiracy involved using fake documents to obtain mortgages on properties in low-income areas of New Jersey and then dividing up the mortgage money among those involved, the feds said. Pimenta also is charged with using a construction company to build houses that were then sold to straw buyers with fraudulent mortgage loans. In the case in Irvington, Pimenta and others closed on a fradulent mortgage loan even after the house was obliterated by an explosion, investigators said. The deal was accomplished after Pimenta paid the bank’s closing agent a $50,000 cash bribe, according to the indictment.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 7, 2014; Robert D. McFadden, New York Times, Oct. 20, 2007

  • Here’s another story for Sen. Ray Lesniak, who thinks things are fine on the New Jersey waterfront: A federal judge sentenced Donald Olesky, the director of maintenance at Maher Terminals at Port Elizabeth, to a year in prison for taking more than $100,000 in bribes in return for demolition and construction contracts at the container ship facility. Olesky pleaded guilty to manipulating the bidding process over a 10-year period to ensure that projects were awarded to contractors who paid him the cash bribes.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 7, 2014

  • Landscaper Raymond Rapuano pleaded guilty to paying bribes to a New Jersey Transit employee to obtain landscaping contracts. The feds said Rapuano first paid a $3,500 bribe, and then in April 2012 agreed to give NJ Transit employees 13 percent of any work he was awarded and paid another $2,000 bribe.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 5, 2014

  • Giovanni Arena was sentenced to five years and 10 months in federal prison for another New Jersey-style scam. It took a jury less than four hours to convict Arena on 15 counts of mail fraud, eight counts of money laundering, three counts of failure to file income tax returns and one count of tampering with a witness. After convincing an investor to spend $1.2 million on a South Jersey pizza place, Arena instead laundered the money and used it to buy a Maserati coupe and a Chevy Camaro and to gamble in Atlantic City. The jury learned that he lost more than $700,000 at the casinos and watched a video of him using $81,000 in cash at a black jack table. The feds said he also failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income to the IRS and threatened the victim investor, telling him to lie to federal investigators: “You better not put me in trouble because if you put me in trouble, I’ll put you in trouble,” Arena told the investor who thought he bought a pizza shop.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 5, 2014, Nov. 27, 2013

  • This is another story proving nothing is sacred in New Jersey: Barbara Lieberman, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, pleaded guilty to defrauding elderly clients of millions of dollars. Under a plea agreement, the state will recommend 10 years in prison, forfeiture of $3 million and a BMW, which will be used for restitution, and the loss of her law license. Lieberman was arrested in March along with Jan Van Holt, owner of a company that offered in-home services for seniors. Investigators said Lieberman gave seminars to senior citizens on legal issues and targeted elderly clients with substantial assets who did not have any family. The two women referred clients to each other and took control of the finances of their victims by either forging or falsely obtaining a power of attorney, investigators said. The money taken from clients was used to pay Lieberman’s six-figure credit card bills and allegedly for Van Holt’s Mercedes and Florida condo, according to investigators. “Some of her victims were forced into nursing facilities by these thefts because they no longer could afford to live in their homes,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. Van Holt still faces the pending charges.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Nov. 3, 2014

  • Here is a very special New Jersey double dipping: Former Piscataway teacher John Brishcar was indicted and charged with fraudulently collecting $245,000 in disability pension payments from New Jersey while he was teaching full-time in Virginia. A former middle school science teacher in Piscataway, Brishcar applied for disability retirement in 2003 by claiming he was unable to work because of “prolonged stress and chronic back pain.” The application was approved, based on medical records submitted by Brishcar and an independent medical exam. Investigators said Brishcar began substitute teaching in West Virginia prior to applying for disability in New Jersey and began full-time teaching in Virginia in 2005.
    Acting Attorney General Paul Hoffman, Oct. 30, 2014

  • A four-year investigation into mail-ballot fraud and the indictment of former Patterson Councilman Rigo Rodriguez and his wife, Lissett Rodriguez, ended without prosecution. The couple simply agreed never to hold public office or a public job in New Jersey. The two said they were innocent, and if they complete a PreTrial Intervention program, their arrest records will be expunged after probation. Rigo Rodriguez, who owns an auto parts store, will still be able to bid on public contracts. Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, termed the court agreement’s punishment “really very serious.” If convicted, however, the two could have faced up to 10 years in prison. Thirteen co-defendants also entered the PreTrial Intervention program. Rigo and Lissett were charged with conspiring to have campaign workers illegally act as messengers and bearers for vote-by-mail applications and mail-in ballots when voters had not designated them to handle the applications or ballots. The two also were charged with telling campaign volunteers and voters how to answer questions from investigators and advising some to provide false information.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 29, 2014; March 6, 2014

  • It’s clearly a Soprano State story: a government project that leaves NJ Transit owing a reputed mobster’s family $8 million for land for a tunnel that isn’t going to be built. The Record reported that land owned for years by convicted and jailed mob boss Carmine Franco, and then deeded to his wife and sister-in-law, was condemned by NJ Transit in 2009 when it was likely worth less than $1 million. The 1.89-acre plot in Weehawken, Union City and Hoboken, was part of the train tunnel project cancelled by Gov. Christie. The problem is that since the condemnation process was started, the area has changed from an industrial site to a prime location for luxury condos. The issue was taken to court, and a Hudson County jury ordered NJ Transit to pay the Franco family $8.1 million. In addition, an estimated $2 million will be needed to clean up contamination at the site. In the hope of getting out of the high price tag for something it no longer needs for a tunnel, NJ Transit continues to spend money on legal fees to fight the jury’s decision. Carmine Franco, known by his Genovese associates as “Papa Smurf,” admitted orchestrating a Mafia scheme to control North Jersey’s garbage business with threats and intimidation, the Record reported. Twice banned for life from the trash industry, he still managed to align the Genovese, Gambino and Lucchese families to control the waste industry, according to the feds. He is in federal prison serving a one-year sentence.
    Christopher Maag, The Record, Oct. 21, 2014

  • New Jersey’s Acting Attorney General John Hoffman and the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor teamed for an investigation that charged 11 alleged members and associates of the Genovese organized crime family with a multimillion dollar racketeering scheme that involved loan sharking, sports gambling, unlicensed check cashing, laundering of drug money,  and tax fraud. Investigators said the scheme generated “tribute” payments that went up the Genovese chain of command. “We charge that this crew of the Genovese crime family was up to many of the Mafia’s old tricks in New Jersey,” said Hoffman.  Waterfront Commissioner Michael Murphy of New Jersey said, “This case presents yet another instance of the Waterfront Commission’s concerted efforts with its law enforcement partners to disrupt the influence of organized crime in the metropolitan area.” All this at a time when Sen. Ray Lesniak is leading the charge to pull New Jersey out of the commission because “the commission’s usefulness is dramatically changed from 50 years ago, when mob influence on the port invaded all operations.”
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 21, 2014; Larry McShane, New York Daily News, Oct. 16, 2014;  Joseph Bonney, JOC.com, Sept. 21, 2014

  • Lesniak may need to take note of this news about the waterfront: Three longshoremen were sentenced to prison for extortion conspiracy after pleading guilty to extorting Christmas tribute payments from dockworkers. Former president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1235, Vincent Aulisi, was sentenced to a year and six months in federal prison. Robert Ruiz, a former delegate of  ILA Local 1235, was sentenced to a year and eight months. Longshoreman Julio Porrao was sentenced to a year and a day. The feds said the three, along with the Genovese crime family, forced tribute payments from union members by using actual or threatened force, violence and fear. The payments were extorted in December when longshoremen were given year-end compensation from a special fund. Charges in the case are still pending against Stephen Depiro, identified by the feds as a soldier in the Genovese crime family charged with racketeering conspiracy. Federal investigators said Depiro managed the Genovese family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront, including extortion of the tribute payments from port workers with ILA locals 1, 1235 and 1478, for three decades. Two other Genovese family associates charged in the case are former ILA Local 1235 president Albert Cernadas and former vice president of ILA Local 1478 Nunzio LaGrasso, according to the indictment.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Oct. 8, 15 and 22, 2014

  • It’s the “only in New Jersey stuff” that keeps the state in the national news. Associated Press reported that the Latin engraving on a wall at the new Moorestown library mistakenly said, “We second-guess all.”  The motto was intended to read ”We confirm all things twice.” But that wasn’t the only mistake. The Roman numeral date next to the phrase said 1653 instead of 1853, the date the friends of the library group first formed. To explain the glitch, Eyewitness News contacted a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania who said the phase was in a pseudo-Latin called “dog Latin” that converts each English word into a Latin word without considering the meaning of the whole. The architect said the mistakes will be fixed at no cost. Mayor Chris Chiacchio said a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t have the courage to correct it.
    Associated Press, Oct. 6, 2014; CBS Philadelphia, Oct. 7, 2014

  • The roundup of doctors in New Jersey continues. The state Attorney General’s Office arrested six physicians and a chiropractor and charged them with taking $200,000 in money, gift cards and construction services in return for medical test referrals to Diagnostic Imaging Associates. The seven are charged with making more than 20,000 referrals between 2008 and 2013 with charges to private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid totaling millions of dollars. Arrested were Alexander G. Salerno, Simon B. Santos-Arias, Michael L. Gross, James W. Cahill, William M. Steck Sr., Alan P. Epstein and Guillermo A. Munoz. Two more doctors pleaded guilty in the federal probe of bribes for medical referrals to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services. Eugene DeSimone admitted accepting $1,500 in cash each month from August 2010 to March 2013 for referring blood samples to BLS. Douglas Bienstock admitted getting $2,500 a month for referrals. The two generated $1.6 million in business for the lab. These two pleas in the federal investigation into Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services bring the total to 31 guilty pleas, including 20 doctors.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 16, 2014; U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 16, 2014

  • The last active case in the famous federal sting that nabbed 46 politicians, political operatives, rabbis and a dealer in kidneys, is closed after five years. Jersey City council candidate LaVern Webb-Washington pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud and was sentenced by Judge Jose Linares to 18 months probation. While a candidate for public office, Webb-Washington took a portion of $15,000 in cash from purported developer Solomon Dwek in return for a promise that, once elected, she would help ease his development project through zoning. She lost the election. Of the 46 arrested in the case, the Star-Ledger reported that 34 pleaded guilty, four were convicted at trial, one died just after his arrest, two were acquitted, and charges were dropped against four. One (a cash runner in the money laundering part of the case) is a fugitive.
    Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, Oct. 5, 2014

  • Reality TV star from “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Teresa Giudice was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison and her husband, Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice, was sentenced to 41 months. Both pleaded guilty. They also were ordered to forfeit $414, 588. The feds said Teresa obtained a mortgage in 2005 based on a false loan application. Four years later, she concealed income when filing for bankruptcy, federal investigators said. Joe also admitted failing to report $1 million in income to the IRS and was advised that he faces deportation.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Oct. 2, 2014

  • New Jersey scams have been famous since Colonial times. This year, the creativity of those charged with theft continues. The owner of a wood product company, Nicholas Vene, of Holmdel, pleaded guilty to mail fraud after admitting stealing $100,000 worth of water from the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority. The feds said from 2007 to 2012, Vene and others diverted  water that should have been flowing to a water meter to an unmetered pipe. And the feds arrested a Franklinville man, Robert Armstrong, and charged him will mailing fake invoices for non-existent workbooks to more than 70,000 schools throughout the country, stealing $300,000. In response to phony invoices, schools sent money to Armstrong’s company, Scholastic School Supplies, federal investigators said. And this: Carlos Quirola-Ordonez of New Milford, was one of two men indicted and charged with conspiring to sell seven stolen firearms believed to have been smuggled out of Iraq and once having been owned by the family of Sadam Hussein. The firearms, worth up to $350,000, were kept in Florida before being shipped to New Jersey for a look-see by potential buyers. One was a .45 ACP pistol with gold leaf and inlays, engraved with the initials QS, the feds said.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 26, Oct. 16 and 20, 2014

  • Time for an update on the sorry state of fiscal affairs in New Jersey: The state’s credit rating has suffered its eighth downgrade since Christie became governor, the most of any New Jersey administration. Standard & Poor’s cited Christie’s handling of the state’s pension system when lowering the rate one step to an A. The rating agency said the state is not paying enough into the pension fund to keep it solvent. Christie, however, said he doesn’t pay attention to what the credit-rating houses have to say. Yet his own commission, charged with looking into the pension problem, said the unfunded liability for pensions and health benefits is $90 billion, $37 billion for pensions and $53 billion for retirees health benefits. The pension liability alone is equal to $12,000 for each New Jersey household. Only three states, Illinois, Kentucky and Connecticut have worse pension fund shortfalls. The commission blamed investment losses for the problem, but said the state “made the situation much worse” by cutting back on the amount it should be putting into the funds. And when it comes to managing the state pension fund, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission alleging that firms handpicked to managed the pension funds are political contributors to Christie and the Republicans. Fortune magazine labeled the complaint “full of holes.” But at the same time, Fortune reported that New Jersey sold its share in a venture capital fund after Pando published a report questioning the state’s $15 million investment with General Catalyst, four months after its executive in residence Charlie Baker (a Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate) made a $10,000 contribution to the NJ GOP. (General Catalyst and Baker said their actions were legal and did not violate the state’s pay-to-play rules.) While shortchanging its pension obligations, New Jersey has found other ways to spend taypayers’ money. To date, the law firm Christie hired to handle his side of the George Washington Bridge scandal has cost taxpayers $7.3 million. Local government is no better. Asbury Park paid retiring police chief Mark Kinmon $84,629 for 135 unused sick days and 28 unused vacation days. But that’s no record. Middletown police chief Robert Oches received $249,333 for his unused time, and Bayonne police Chief Ralph Scianni took home $444,450.
    Michael Symons, Asbury Park Press, Sept. 25, 2014; NJ AFL-CIO, Sept. 12, 2014; Dan Primack, Fortune, Sept. 15, 2014; Bob Fredericks, New York Post, Aug. 30, 2014; Ashley Peskoe, NJ.com, Sept. 4, 2014

  • Nothing ever changes. That’s the one sure thing in New Jersey politics. Jamie Fox, a major Democratic operative who was chief of staff for Gov. McGreevey and Sen. Bob Torricelli, is returning to Trenton as transportation commissioner for Republican Gov. Christie.  The governor’s need to polish his image by reaching across the political aisle is what most pundits surmise is happening. Also, Christie may need someone tough to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund and perhaps institute a gas tax. It is interesting to recall what John Sullivan of the New York Times wrote in December 2002 when Fox was hired as McGreevey’s chief of staff: “Fox will bring to the job not only a defined set of political survival skills and a reputation for discipline but also a sharply honed scalpel.” Sullivan quoted a long-time acquaintance of Fox: “Jamie is completely honest, but he can play rough.” To say that Fox has been around the block would be an understatement. He worked for the NJ Democratic Assembly and Senate and Sen. Frank Lautenberg and was deputy chief of staff for Gov. Florio (Chapter 2) before becoming Torricelli’s (Chapter 5) longtime chief of staff. McGreevey (Chapter 2) first hired him as transportation commissioner and then moved him to chief of staff. When McGreevey resigned, Fox (Chapter 7) was appointed deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He left the Port Authority in 2007 and became an adviser to the Obama/Biden campaign in 2008. Between political jobs he is a consultant.
    Chase Brush, politickernj.com, Sept. 25, 2014; John Sullivan, New York Times, Dec. 1, 2002

  • The two men who helped Trenton Mayor Tony Mack take bribes for a parking garage are joining him in jail. Federal Judge Michael Shipp sentenced Joseph “Jo Jo” Giorgianni to six years and six months in prison and Charles Hall to four years. Giorgianni and Hall both pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort bribes and to narcotics distribution. Mack, his brother Ralphiel Mack, Hall and Giorgianni conspired to take $119,000 in cash and valuables (actually accepting $54,000) in bribes for Mack’s help with the development of the Trenton parking garage. The problem for the four was that the people accepting the bribes were working with the feds. Tony Mack was sentenced to four years and 10 months. Ralphiel Mack was sentenced to two years and six months.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 26, 2014

  • Reality TV star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, first known for MTV’s  “The Jersey Shore,” and his brother and manager Marc Sorrentino have run into big trouble with the IRS. The Sorrentinos were indicted and charged with not paying the taxes they should on $8.9 million Michael received from promotions and appearances. Federal investigators say the two conspired to defraud the U.S and filed false tax returns for 2010 through 2012. “The brothers allegedly also claimed costly clothes and cars as business expenses and funneled company money into personal accounts,” said U.S Attorney Paul Fishman. The Sorrentinos are not the only reality TV stars to run into trouble with the feds. Teresa Giudice of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and her husband Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bankruptcy fraud. The two used false income to get a mortgage and four years later concealed income to file for bankruptcy.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 24, 2014, March 4, 2014

  • A NJ Transit supervisor admitted taking $70,000 in bribes in return for steering maintenance and custodial work to certain vendors. William Talerico, who supervised stations for six years on the North Jersey Coast Line and Northeast Corridor, accepted the cash and other valuables for himself and as an intermediary for another supervisor, federal investigators said. Talerico’s plea follows that of Donna Schiereck, a NJ Transit employee for 20 years and a supervisor for only four months, who admitted agreeing to accept an $8,000 bribe, plus a power wash for her home, in exchange for a snow removal contract.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 23 and May 13, 2014; Thomas Zambito, NJ.com, Sept. 23, 2014

  • The former manager of the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, Georgios Spyropoulos, was sentenced to eight years in jail for hiring a hit man to murder his uncle by marriage, Alexandro Sgourdos, who co-owned the diner. Spyropoulos pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. He admitted hiring a hit man (an undercover cop) to threaten the uncle for information that could be used to rob him, and then to kill him. “Spyropoulos went to great lengths to ensure his uncle would be murdered, providing the hit man with a gun, a down payment, photos of his uncle and even a Google map to the uncle’s house,” said Elie Honig, director of criminal justice at the state attorney general’s office.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Sept. 19, 2014

  • Juries are one of the heroes in The Soprano State. They have the final say after investigators do their work. In the case of Andrew Lucas, former mayor of Manalapan, it took the jury only three hours, following a two-week trial. The jury convicted Lucas on all 11 counts of an indictment charging him with wire fraud, an illegal money transaction, loan application fraud, lying to the IRS, identity theft, obstructing a grand jury investigation and falsifying records in a federal probe. Investigators charged that Lucas used falsified tax returns and a false claim of $210,000 in cash when applying for a bank loan to finance a 97-acre Manalapan farm. Lucas, who was an investment adviser, convinced a client to invest $250,000 in a company that did not exist at the time. Lucas then used the client’s money to purchase the farm. When the feds started investigating, he gave them a fabricated document to back up his story, investigators said.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 18 and Feb. 7, 2014

  • Former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, sentenced to two years in prison for taking a $25,000 bribe, has been disbarred. Cammarano became a poster boy for Soprano State corruption in 2009. While a mayoral candidate promising zero tolerance for corruption, he took a $15,000 bribe from an undercover operative posing as a developer, and then took another $10,000 after becoming mayor. He was arrested 23 days after taking office. Supreme Court Associate Justice Barry Albin wrote: “An elected official who sells his office, who offers favored treatment to a private developer in exchange for money, betrays a solemn public trust.” A state disciplinary board only wanted to suspend the law license. The state Office of Attorney Ethics called for disbarment. The high court agreed. “OAE and the Supreme Court got it right,” Bob Ingle wrote for Politics Patrol.
    Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, Sept. 17, 2014; U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Aug. 5, 2010

  • The former business administrator for the Knowlton Township Board of Education pleaded guilty to embezzling $70,000 from the school district. Kevin Mulligan, 34, only worked for the school district for six months. But he admitted that from July to December 2013, he wrote himself checks from the school district bank accounts. Mulligan, who paid the district’s bills and did its payroll, wrote four checks to himself, but recorded the checks in the district’s computers as having been written to approved vendors, including checks purportedly written to a heating oil supplier, an electrical contractor, a book publisher and the employee benefit fund. Investigators said Mulligan used signature stamps for the checks that needed to be signed by the school board president and its treasurer.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Sept. 12, 2014

  • A cop with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who tried to alert superiors to the danger of closing Fort Lee lanes at the George Washington bridge in September 2013 was told by a supervisor to “shut up,” according to investigation documents obtained by the Record. Eleven Port Authority cops have given information to lawmakers investigating the lane closures. The concerned cop was Steve Pisciotta, who usually was the first to arrive at the bridge in the morning and had worked at the bridge for five years, according to his lawyer. He used his radio to voice his concerns, and was told by Deputy Inspector Darcy Licorish to “shut up” and not to discuss the lane closures over the radio, the Record reported. A police sergeant and Police Lt. Thomas Michaels then visited Pisciotta and told him his radio communication has been inappropriate, his lawyer said.
    Shawn Boburg, Record, Sept. 3, 2014

  • Add one more probe to the list of investigations into the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the wake of the scandal surrounding the closure of lanes at the George Washington Bridge. The Manhattan District Attorney is probing a $25 million settlement between the Port Authority and American Stevedoring Inc. The Port Authority approved the deal while David Samson was its chairman, and the agreement was kept secret. The behind-closed-doors agreement wiped away $15 million in unpaid rent at docks in Brooklyn and Newark and gave $10 million to cover debts, according to the Bergen Record. The agreement required American Stevedoring Inc. to leave the Port Authority’s seaport terminals where it had unloaded cargo from ships and had not paid its rent for three years. The company is owned by Sabato “Sal” Catucci, who federal prosecutors describe in court papers as a mob associate (an allegation denied by the company), the Record reported. Of the settlement, which the company said was pushed by the Authority, $2.3 million went to American Maritime Services for labor it provided to American Stevedoring. Catucci’s brother, Ronald, is vice president at American Maritime Services. In 2012, Ronald Catucci signed an agreement with the Waterfront Commission to hire a monitor to clean up alleged corruption and mob influence at the firm, the Record reported. The Record noted that neither Catucci has ever been charged with a crime.
    Shawn Boburg, The Record, Aug. 26, 2014

  • The taxpayers of New Jersey have now paid $6.5 million to the law firm Gov. Christie hired to represent him in the Bridgegate scandal. The payments went to Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the firm that produced the report that Christie used to say he was clear of any wrongdoing. The Record had this tidbit for taxpayers to ponder: in March, 59 people at the firm worked on the case and charged $2.49 million. If that isn’t upsetting enough: one lawyer billed 342 hours (an average of 11 hours a day).  And this particular lawyer graduated from law school two years ago.
    Michael Phillis, The Record, Aug. 15, 2014

  • A construction and maintenance technician with the state Department of Transportation was sentenced for falsifying his time sheets to the tune of $14,000 in overtime. The judge ordered Kyle Rounsaville to pay back the money, to serve three years probation and to spend six months in county jail. Rounsaville’s job was to inspect DOT construction sites, but investigators said he routinely put in for overtime when he never went to the job sites and stole 300 in overtime. Investigators also said to avoid detection, he purchased a GPS jammer to interfere with the GPS tracker in his state car.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Aug. 8, 2014

  • An Atlantic City inspector pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison for accepting bribes from a taxi operator. Logan Holt Jr., an inspector with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, admitted taking an $800 bribe in return for appearing in court to request the dismissal of two tickets issued by another inspector for cab safety violations. “Holt selfishly and callously put his wallet ahead of the public’s safety by allowing taxi operators to skirt requirements regarding the operating condition of their cabs,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. Investigators said Holt also accepted bribes from owners and operators of several “stress therapy” and massage businesses in return for not enforcing their regulations.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Aug. 7, 2014

  • Nothing is sacred in New Jersey. Not even drinking water. The former assistant executive director and engineer for the East Orange Water Commission, William Mowell, pleaded guilty to falsifying water tests to hide elevated levels of the contaminant tetrachlorethene (PERC) in drinking water. PERC is an industrial solvent used for dry cleaning and is classified as a probable carcinogen. Mowell admitted taking water samples for testing after contaminated wells had been turned off for several days knowing the test results would not accurately represent the amount of contaminant in the drinking water supply when the wells were turned back on. Investigators said Mowell and another high-ranking official at the authority were trying to avoid the need for an expensive water purifying plant. In the wake of the investigation, state environmental officials are testing the water supply, and said it is safe. But plans are under way for the purification system.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, July 25, 2014

  • The Genovese crime family in New Jersey has kept up with the times, teaming a computerized sports betting operation with old-style collection methods. John Breheney, a reputed associate of the Genovese family, was sentenced to three years and two months in jail after pleading guilty to racketeering, collection of illegal debt and tax evasion. According to the feds, Breheney worked with a Genovese capo and crew as an electronic bookie who used an offshore Web site to track bets on sporting events. Associates of the mob crew, like Breheney, were the “bookies” who gave bettors a username and password to access the Web site. Losses were converted to debts, collected by threats of violence. Breheney was arrested in 2012 with a dozen others involved in the scheme. Ten also pleaded guilty in the racketeering conspiracy, including Joseph Graziano, the owner of the Web site, Beteagle.com in Costa Rica.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Aug. 5, 2014; Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, Aug. 5, 2014

  • If Chris Christie thinks his fallen image as a reformer is only noticed in New Jersey, he can think again. The International Business Times told the world that Gov. Christie doesn’t want anyone to know who pays for his out-of-state travel. New Jersey Watchdog reporter Mark Lagerkvist wanted to see the records and sued when Christie said, “no,” to an open records request. The IBT noted that when Christie took office, he pledged accountability and transparency and signed an executive order saying the governor should not receive anything of monetary value intended to influence his public duties. In court, Christie used a 1979 letter from a Democratic governor to argue that the governor could waive the rule requiring records be kept for state employee trips paid for by third parties. Judge Mary Jacobson, ruling the open records request was too broad, dismissed the case. Lagerkvist said the ruling means the public is now in the dark on who paid for Christie’s 60 unofficial trips out of the state. The New Jersey Law Journal reported that there are at least 22 open-records lawsuits filed against the Christie administration. So much for accountability and transparency.
    David Sirota, International Business Times, Aug. 1, 2014; Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey Watchdog, July 30, 2014

  •  A developer of three affordable housing projects in Trenton pleaded guilty to lying on bank applications and diverting money from the Southwest Village II project (52 affordable housing units) for his personal use. Robert Kahan, of Florida, diverted substantial portions of the project’s $6.4 million construction loan for his personal use and for his other development projects, according to the feds. Investigators said he diverted $343,354 from the project for the down payment on a Florida condo.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 29, 2014

  • The assistant division administrator for the state division of the Federal Highway Administration was arrested by the feds and charged with a scheme that allowed the company he operated to garner federal grant money he oversaw as a public official.  According to the feds, Lawrence Cullari managed to win about $130,000 in contracts for the consulting and engineering company owned by his then-wife. Cullari arranged for a company owned by his then-father-in-law to submit the bids to Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. But the company Cullari operated prepared the bids, did the work and garnered most of the money, investigators charged. Cullari also is charged with failing to disclose the earnings on financial disclosure reports.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 23, 2014; Kelly Heyboer, Star-Ledger, July 29, 2014

  • Complaints about the Newark police department have been around for a long time. When Newark’s former top cop Joe Santiago (chapter 5 of The Soprano State) was brought in by Jim McGreevey to head state police, the state police union raised concerns. In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department began its probe, and now New Jersey has another first. Newark will be the first municipal police department in state history and the 13th in the nation to have a federal monitor overseeing it. Here’s why: The Justice Department found the police department engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests and a disproportionate number of stops and arrests of blacks. It found unreasonable use of force, theft of property and money by officers, and inadequate misconduct investigations, supervision and training. The police department agreed to address the problems under the oversight of the federally appointed monitor and the federal courts. James Stewart Jr., head of the Newark police union, told the Star-Ledger: “I came to the job in 1995. I think that was the last training I received. If we have bad habits, I could see it being rampant throughout the department because it just goes from one class to the next.” The investigation began eight months after the American Civil Liberties Union, citing 418 allegations from January 2008 to June 2010, asked the feds to intervene. The ACLU cited 26 citizen lawsuits alleging excessive force, false arrests, unlawful searches and other improper conduct. The federal monitor will stay in place until the Justice Department believes that the Newark Police Department has cleaned up its act. “Under today’s agreement, Newark Police officials are taking the first in a series of important steps to restore public trust in their department and ensure both the safety and civil rights of Newark residents,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
    Attorney General Eric Holder, July 22, 2014; Thomas Zambito, Star-Ledger, July 22, 2014; David Gialanella, New Jersey Law Journal, July 22, 2014

  • After a six-week bench trial, Brian Brady, once the third-highest ranking officer in the state Human Services police (also a former Sparta councilman and mayor) was convicted of misusing police databases. Found guilty of official misconduct and computer theft, Brady, who was suspended, must now give up his job and is permanently barred from public employment. (Human Services police work at developmental centers and psychiatric hospitals and protect offices and case workers for the Division of Youth and Family Services.)  Investigators said Brady directed a subordinate employee to use the FBI’s National Crime Information Center datatbase to conduct background checks on members of his minor league baseball team. He also directed subordinates to use police and state databases to do a background check on a home health aide he was considering hiring for his mother.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, July 22, 2014

  • Like all good New Jersey tales, this features a diner, a parking lot, and an attempted murder.  Georgios Spyropoulos, former manager of the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, pleaded guilty to attempting to hire a hit man to murder his uncle by marriage, Alexandro Sgourdos, who co-owned the diner and the Tick Tock Diner in Manhattan. “This was an intricate plot driven by greed and jealousy,” said NJ Top Cop Rick Fuentes. “Spyropoulos wanted a family member tortured and ultimately killed, and he went to great lengths to make that happen.” According to prosecutors, Spyropoulos asked the hit man (an undercover cop) to kill his uncle and to torture him first, if necessary, to obtain the combination to the safe at the Manhattan diner. The price for the hit was $20,000. Investigators said Spyropoulos and the purported hit man met in the parking lot of the Home Depot in Clifton and Spyropoulos gave the undercover cop a revolver for the killing, two photos of the uncle, a map to the uncle’s home and a $3,000 down payment for the job.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, July 14, 2014

  • The news report by NBC 4 New York’s I-Team, citing $330,000 in spending by the Newark public schools on takeout food and catering, just adds to the decades of negative reports on a distressed system taken over in 1995 by the state of New Jersey. A lengthy New Yorker article in May explained how former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Gov. Christie and $100 million from Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg tried to make it better, and the turmoil, mistakes and roadblocks that hindered those efforts. The bottom line is always the same. It’s the students who suffer. With a $42 million budget gap facing the school district, it is hard to imagine how $22,000 a month over 15 months in catering and takeout food helps. A school spokeswoman said the food was used to “encourage parent involvement and to recognize students for their achievements.” The president of the Newark teachers’ union labeled it “outrageous.”
    NBC I-Team, July 16, 2014; Dale Russakoff, The New Yorker, May 19, 2014

  • This, too, is vintage New Jersey. Suffering from negative publicity related to, among other things, a federal criminal investigation into politically connected economic development projects, the Delaware River Port Authority hired a politically connected consultant to polish its image. The hiring, just before the 4th of July, gave Philadephia’s KYW Newsradio a hot news item to tell holiday travelers already annoyed with the DRPA, the bi-state agency that operates four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey. For $7,500 a month for at least two months, the authority hired David La Torre, a specialist in crisis communications who also has the troubled Penn State University among his clients. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, La Torre contributed $15,100 to the political campaigns of Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett  (former DRPA chair) and Lt. Gov. Jim Crawley (DRPA chair) and $3,500 to Democrat Eugene DePasquale, PA auditor general and DRPA board member.
    KYW Newsradio; Paul Nussbaum, Inquirer, July 4, 2014

  • After a six-month trial and two weeks of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women convicted reputed Lucchese crime family member Nicodemo S. Scarfo (son of former Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. Scarfo) of racketeering conspiracy and other charges that could send the younger Scarfo to jail for 30 years to life. (You will find both Scarfos in Chapter 9 of The Soprano State.) Scarfo associate Salvatore Pelullo and two Texas mortgage company employees also were convicted of a scheme that the feds said took over a Texas financial company and defrauded shareholders of $12 million. “Nicodemo Scarfo, Salvatore Pelullo and their cohorts used threats of physical and economic harm to take over a publicly traded financial firm, then callously and systematically looted the company out of millions of dollars to buy luxury items for themselves,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. Investigators said Scarfo and Pelullo used the money to buy an $850,000 yacht, a luxury home for Scarfo, a Bentley for Pelullo and thousands of dollars in jewelry for Scarfo’s wife. Prosecutors will try to recover some of the $12 million, and the  jury ordered the forfeiture of the yacht.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 3, 2014; Julia Terruso and Michael Boren, Inquirer, July 5, 2014

  • Politicians will be politicians. Even those you vote for don’t always do what you expect them to do. But one thing is expected. We expect even a New Jersey politician to understand our common humanity. The pain felt by the parents of the children shot at the Sandy Hook elementary school is a pain felt by us all. It’s a void that can never be filled for those parents and for the nation. President Obama said it was the worst day of his presidency. Even if you hate his politics, you know he gets it. Even if Gov. Christie forever disagrees with the gun control measures put forth by those parents, he should never have refused to meet with them.
    Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, July 3, 2014; Matt Arco, NJ.com, July 7, 2014

  • Former Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, convicted of extortion, bribery and fraud, is now jailed at a federal prison in West Virginia. He was sentenced to four years and 10 months. The former mayor and his brother, Ralphiel Mack, were convicted of a scheme to accept $119,000 in bribes in exchange for the mayor’s help with the construction of a parking garage on city property. The purported developers of the property were working with the FBI. Ralphiel Mack, convicted of bribery and extortion, was sentenced to two years and six months in jail. He reported to federal prison in Ohio. The brothers have filed appeals of their convictions. Meanwhile, an audit of Trenton city finances for fiscal year 2013 revealed that Tony Mack set up a secret bank account. Auditors said the account was set up without the approval of city council or the city’s finance department and is one of a number of improper actions and mismanagement of finances and records during Mack’s tenure, according to the Trenton Times.
    Associated Press, June 27, 2014; Jenna Pizzi, Trenton Times, June 17 and June 25, 2014

  • Lawrence Durr, a longtime committeeman, mayor and planning board member in Chesterfield Township, Burlington County, has been indicted and charged with official misconduct. State investigators charged Durr with using his official positions to help an undisclosed deal with a developer that gained the former mayor a farm and $372,500. “In return for a farm he long coveted and a huge profit, he took several official actions to help this developer that never would have passed muster if their relationship was publicly known,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. The indictment follows a 2013 report by then state Comptroller Matthew Boxer who said Durr profited by using “political influence and insider knowledge to push a complicated development project through multiple government hurdles.” Durr’s lawyer, James Gerrow Jr., said the indictment reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of local government in New Jersey and how the farmland preservation program works.
    Jan Hefler, Inquirer, June 28, 2014; Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, June 25, 2014

  • Once again, charges are filed as the result of an audit by former Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who found widespread abuse in the federal school lunch program in New Jersey. State investigators charged six public employees with stealing money from the federally funded free lunch program by filing false applications for their children. “It’s reprehensible that public employees, whose own salaries are paid by taxpayers, would lie about their income in order to steal tax dollars and exploit a program intended to provide nutritious meals to disadvantaged children,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. The six women are accused of stealing more than a total of $10,000 from the program. Charged were Nona Daily, a teacher’s aide; Jessica Davila, a postal clerk; Tiajuana McShan, a training supervisor at a developmental center; Helen Allen, a senior food service handler at a developmental center; Janet Hubert, a family service worker; Theresa Gunter, a nurse at a facility formerly run by Burlington County. The attorney general said there are more prosecutions to come. Elizabeth School Board President Marie Munn was convicted of stealing from the program. A judge sentenced her to three years probation and 300 hours of community service in the school lunch program.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, June 23, 2014; Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, June 23, 2014

  • A Hopewell woman pleaded guilty to paying $671,000 in bribes to a Veterans Affairs official in return for more than $6 million in contracts. Donna Doremus admitted paying the bribes and admitted to lying to the VA when she claimed one of her companies was owned by a disabled veteran. A former VA supervisor, Jarod Machinga, also of Hopewell, pleaded guilty to the scheme that directed the contracts to Doremus in return for the bribes. Doremus also pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return. Federal investigators said she claimed some of the bribe payments and other personal expenditures were business expenses. In addition to facing a maximum penalty of more than 15 years in jail, the feds say she owes the IRS $250,000.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 10, 201

  • This is a bad one, even for New Jersey.  Randy Poulson, a 42-year-old from Gloucester County, is charged with scamming homeowners who couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages. Federal investigators said Poulson told more than 25 homeowners facing foreclosure that he would pay their mortgages if the houses were sold to him. Once he owned the homes, the feds said, the original owners were forced out and renters moved in, but Poulson failed to pay the mortgages, and the foreclosures proceeded. Investigators said Poulson then used the properties as fake security in a scheme that enticed 50 private investors into his companies, which purportedly bought and sold real estate. Poulson is charged with using the investments for personal expenses and to repay previous investors in what the feds called a Ponzi scheme. Some of the money went to hair salons, the Disney Store, Wawa and rent-to-own payments for a Ventnor beach house, the feds charged.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 9 and May 14, 2014

  • The number of medical scams has been amazing. But once again, this one stands out. The feds charged a Morris County couple, Nita and Kirtish Patel, with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. The two owned and operated Biosound Medical Services and Heart Solutions. The Biosound company did mobile diagnostic testing, including ultrasounds, echocardiograms and nerve conduction studies, and was approved by Medicare. Biosound technicians traveled to physicians offices in New Jersey and New York to conduct the testing, and the company was responsible for sending the tests to a specialist for interpretation.  Here is the kicker: according to the charges, half of the diagnostic reports had a photocopied signature from a physician when no physician had seen the test results. Investigators charged that Kirtish Patel interpreted the results himself and Nita Patel would either photocopy or electronically cut and paste a physician’s signature onto the report.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 9, 2014

  • New Jersey doctors who took kickbacks for test referrals are going to jail. Maryam Jafari was sentenced to one year and nine months in jail for taking more than $2,000 in cash payments for referring patients to Orange Community MRI LLC for MRIs and CAT scans. Jafari, who practiced in Newark, was convicted after a three-week trial. Pediatrician Chikezie Onyenso of Morris County was sentenced to one year and eight months in jail for taking both cash and rental payments in return for sending diagnostic testing referrals to Orange MRI. While thousands of dollars of cash in envelopes were exchanged for MRI and CAT scan referrals, a $25,000 kickback for ultrasound referrals was disguised as rental payments for a fake lease, the feds said. Along with Onyenso, 18 defendants, including 16 doctors, have been convicted in connection with the investigation of MRI Orange.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 12, 2014 and June 5, 2014

  • The FBI charged North Bergen contractor Victor Coca with paying $7,000 in bribes to a West New York fire official to wipe way $8 million in fines for buildings with fire code violations. (The fire official was cooperating with the feds.) According to the charges, Coca paid a $5,000 bribe to reduce the $8.7 million he owed to a mere $5,000. He also is charged with paying a $2,000 bribe to wipe away $14,500 in fines owned for a building owned by a friend. Cocoa’s lawyer, Zak Aljaludi, called the charges ridiculous. But investigators said they have video surveillance showing envelopes with cash being handed off to the fire official.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 20, 2014; Thomas Zambito, Star-Ledger, May 20, 2014

  • The Federal Election Commission used its “prosecutorial discretion” to dismiss charges that former Congressman Rob Andrews used $30,000 in campaign funds for a luxury family trip to a Scotland wedding. The dismissal drew the ire of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the nonprofit that filed the complaint against Andrews. “Surely, thieves everywhere would appreciate a law enforcement policy under which all charges are dropped if, once caught, a wrongdoer simply returns the money,” CREW leader Melanie Sloan said. Andrews repaid the money and has joined a Philadelphia law firm. The wedding expenses and other questionable spending also were under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. But that, too, was dropped when Andrews resigned his congressional post in February. He denied any wrongdoing and said his resignation was not related to the investigations. Andrews, who came out of the Democratic machine of boss George Norcross, resigned in his 24th year in Congress.
    Jonathan Tamari, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5, 2014; Feb. 4, 20144

  • After a jury spent five days on a trial that convicted former Elizabeth School Board President Marie Munn of stealing from the federal school lunch program intended for those who can’t afford it, a judge sentenced her to three years probation and 300 hours of community service. Judge Robert Mega recommended that the service be in the school lunch program. But that’s only 37eight-hour days, and you have to wonder if that’s enough of a deterrent to end the widespread abuse that former state Comptroller Matthew Boxer found in the federal school lunch program in New Jersey. Those in the know were filing applications, realizing that no one was checking, and reaped benefits they did not deserve. In Munn’s case, prosecutors said she filed false applications for her children over a five-year period and received $2,649 in benefits she did not qualify for. A human resources administrator for a nonprofit, Munn said she mistakenly omitted the income of her husband, who worked for the New York Times and was the owner and head coach of a semi-pro football team, the Star-Ledger reported. Munn and her husband exceed the federal household income limit for the lunch program by as much as $100,000, prosecutors said.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, May 30, and March 27, 2014; Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, May 31, 2014

  • Chris Christie gave an average raise of 23 percent to 27 staffers, all but four of them responsible for his image (communications, scheduling, advance and briefing). The cost to taxpayers: $338,000. The Bergen Record pointed out that the raises come at the same time Christie is withholding more than $2.4 billion from the state pension fund and delaying a property-tax relief program. The timing of the raises to the governor’s staff also coincided with the governor’s nixing of a 5 percent increase for staff at the Pinelands commission, which he labeled a disregard for fiscal realities. No wonder the governor’s office fought the release of the salary data. The Record twice filed an information request under the state’s Open Public Records Act and was twice denied. Only a lawsuit pried the information out for the public to see.  Christie’s answer to the raises: “People who take on more responsibility deserve more pay.” No doubt that polishing Christie’s image is a heavy lift these days, but the raises did nothing to lighten the job.
    Melissa Hayes, Record, May 29, 2014; Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, June 2, 2014

  • Maplewood lawyer Brian Kapalin, a former Essex County prosecutor for 20 years, and corrections officer Stephon Solomon were charged by the feds with taking bribes for smuggling marijuana into a federal unit inside the Essex County prison. Another corrections officer, Channel Lespinasse, along with Solomon and six others, also were charged with taking bribes to smuggle cellphones into the prison. “According to the complaints, the defendants operated (a) contraband marketplace within the walls of the Essex County Correctional Facility,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. Kapalin, who left the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in 2003, was referred to as “Unc” in the surveillance recordings by the feds. According to the charges, Kapalin smuggled marijuana into the prison by wrapping it inside a white t-shirt and giving it to an inmate, who was cooperating with the feds, during a visit at the attorney conference room inside the prison. Family and friends of inmates used Western Union money transfers to pay for the contraband smuggled into the prison, the feds said.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 28, 2014; Thomas Zambito, Star-Ledger, May 28,2014

  • Continuing to look into medical scams, federal authorities reached a $435,640 settlement with Somerset Medical Center. For seven years, the medical center paid a cardiology practice, Medicor Cardiology, more than market value for leased space at the same time the cardiology practice was referring large numbers of patients to the hospital, according to federal prosecutors. “Making inflated rental payments to induce referrals is no better than slipping a doctor an envelope stuffed with cash,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. The settlement is the result of claims filed by two whistleblowers, a physician and an administrator, former employees at the hospital. Under federal law, the whistleblowers get a share of the money recovered. Good way to keep the whistles blowing.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 30, 2014

  • Trenton Mayor Tony Mack was sentenced to four years and 10 months in federal prison for extortion, bribery and fraud. His brother, Ralphiel Mack, also convicted of extortion and bribery, was sentenced to two years and six months in jail. The Macks were charged in connection with a scheme to accept $119,000 in bribes in exchange for the mayor’s help with the construction of a parking garage on city property. The glitch: the purported developers were working with the feds and the Macks were recorded. “This investigation brought to light the unsavory underworld of secret meetings with convicted felons, the calculated use of buffers and bagmen, and bribe payments associated with inside deals to give away the city’s treasures, its property,” said FBI Agent Aaron Ford. Welcome to The Soprano State. Per usual, code words were used. The feds said in an attempt to conceal the corruption, the code word for a cash payment was “Uncle Remus.”
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 15, 2014

  • Two Lakewood men were the most recent arrests in connection with a kidnapping and torture scheme in which wives paid a kidnap team to convince husbands to provide the “get” needed for an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman to divorce her husband. David Aryeh Epstein (son of rabbi Mendel Epstein, previously charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping along with nine others) and Chaim Baruch Rubin were charged with kidnapping a reluctant Jewish husband and using a stun gun on his fingers and genitals. The feds charged that after staying for a late meeting with Rubin, the victim walked to his car and was attacked by a group of men, bound with duct tape and zip ties, put in a van, beaten and shocked with the stun gun until he agreed to the divorce. Afterward, the victim was thrown from the van and treated at an emergency room for broken ribs, a bruised spine and other injuries, according to the feds. The two new arrests follow the guilty plea of David Wax, also of Lakewood, who faces life in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he kidnapped and threatened to bury an Israeli man alive if he did not agree to a divorce. Wax, wearing a cowboy hat, put the victim in a body bag and threatened to bury him in the Poconos. Wax lured the victim to his home under the pretense of working on Talmudic books, but when the victim arrived, he was blindfolded, handcuffed, bound and assaulted by Wax and others before supplying the “get,” the feds said. The victim’s wife paid Wax $100,00. Half the money went to those who helped, the feds said.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 6 and May 15, 2014; Stephanie Loder, Asbury Park Press, May 15, 2014; Bill Hutchinson, New York Daily News, May 6, 2014

  • Three former officials with the International Longshoremen’s Association pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort Christmas tributes from the members of ILA Local 1235. Vincent Aulisis, president of the Local from 2006 to 2007, Thomas Leonardis, president of the union from 2008 through 2011, and Robert Ruiz, a union delegate from 2007 through 2010, pleaded guilty to a scheme that used actual and threatened force, violence and fear to collect payments from New Jersey port workers at Christmas each year. As part of an assault on the mob in three states, the feds arrested the ILA officials in 2011 and charged that associates of the Genovese crime family were conspiring with high-ranking members of the ILA to collect the tribute payments. Charges are still pending against eight defendants, including a racketeering conspiracy charge against Stephen Depiro, a soldier in the Genovese family, who, according to the feds, managed the Genovese family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront, including the nearly three-decades of extortion of port workers in the ILA. Charges also are pending against Genovese family associate Albert Cernadas, president of ILA Local 1235 from 1981 to 2006. (As told in Chapter eight of The Soprano State, 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.)
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 13, 2014 and Jan. 20, 2011

  • Donna Schiereck, a former NJ Transit supervisor, pleaded guilty to agreeing to accept an $8,000 bribe, plus a power wash for her home, in exchange for arranging an NJ Transit snow removal contract for a Lakewood company. Schiereck, who worked for NJ Transit for more than 20 years, had only been a supervisor for four months. The feds recorded a telephone call between Schiereck and an undercover operative in which she said she was owed the money, and the power wash, for the contract.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 13, 2014 and Nov. 21, 2013; Dan Radel, Asbury Park Press, Nov. 22, 2013

  • Only in The Soprano State do these stories keep coming back. Jeffrey Frett, a former Camden cop, was in the news again, trying once more to get a state disability pension, New Jersey Watchdog reported. Frett wanted a pension to compensate for injuries he said he suffered in a work-related accident in 2008. The state pension board for police and firefighters unanimously turned him down. No surprise. Frett is better know for his 2010 botched attempt to get disability payments by having his wife shoot him in the leg. The plan was to have his wife shoot him while he was on patrol and then escape as an unidentified assailant. Instead, she hit his pant leg instead of his leg, and police caught her fleeing the scene. Frett lost his job, but never went to jail. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was given probation. Maybe that’s why he thought he would try again.
    Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey Watchdog, April 30, 2014; CBS Philadelphia, May 6, 2014

  • A former Essex County sheriff’s officer, a 25-year law enforcement veteran collecting a pension, was sentenced to a year and three months in jail for using threats of mob violence to collect a debt. According to investigators, John Balsamo and two others made the victim believe his $50,000 debt was owned to a member of organized crime and that the bogus mobster, the “Old Man,” wanted to beat him.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 13, 2014; Jason Grant, Star-Ledger, May 17, 2012

  • State trooper William Carvounis, a member of Gov. Christie’s security detail, was arrested in Pennsylvania and charged with shoplifting at Cabela’s in Hamburg, Pa., New Jersey Watchdog reported. He concealed $267 worth of items, according to published reports. A Berks County judge sentenced him a $150 fine, court costs, and a stint in a pre-trial intervention program. He has been suspended from the security detail. But once his STOPLIFT rehab class is done, his shoplifting record will be erased.
    Jeff Goldman, Star-Ledger, April 7, 2014; Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey Watchdog, April 7, 2014

  • When Jersey City council candidate Lavern Webb-Washington pleaded guilty to keeping what was supposed to be campaign money for herself, she became the final note in the famous federal sting operation of 2009. The story went worldwide when 44 were arrested on corruption and money laundering charges, including three mayors, two lawmakers, five rabbis and a man who trafficked in kidneys. Webb-Washington took cash contributions from Solomon Dwek, who was working undercover for the feds. She didn’t report the campaign contribution and used $1,000 of the money for herself, the feds said. The charge is a misdemeanor. Webb-Washington escaped a far more serious charge of extortion conspiracy, which she pleaded guilty to in 2009 after she was charged with accepting $15,000 from Dwek in return for her support for his purported development project. But her sentence of a year and a day was thrown out after a federal court ruled that the federal law against officials accepting cash for favors did not apply to candidates. The 2009 arrests were a success for federal corruption busters. Of those arrested, 33 pleaded guilty and four were convicted by trial. Two were acquitted, charges were dismissed against four, and one died.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 28, 2014; Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, April 28, 2014

  • You’ll find similar stories in The Soprano State. Rahway candidate for mayor, James Devine, was convicted in municipal court of shoplifting. Judge Cassandra Corbett said Devine concealed two bags of prewashed lettuce, a protein supplement and hair conditioner so that he wouldn’t have to pay ShopRite $20 for the goods. He was fined $200. The judge said Devine concealed the items in a Pathmark shopping bag. Devine, who said he put the items in the bag because his hands were full, said the ruling was “ludicrous” and he would appeal.
    MaryAnn Spoto, Star-Ledger, April 28, 2014

  • Ashokkumar Babaria, the owner and operator of the diagnostic testing center Orange Community MRI LLC, was sentenced to three years and 10 months in jail for overseeing a $2 million scheme that paid bribes to doctors in return for patient test referrals. Between 2008 and 2011, Orange  MRI took in $2 million in revenue from Medicare and Medicaid for tests preformed on patients who were referred by doctors getting kickbacks for their referrals, the feds said. The investigation into Orange MRI has resulted in the conviction of 17 people. But Orange MRI wasn’t the only one preying on vulnerable patients. Twenty-six people, including 15 doctors, have pleaded guilty in connection with a bribery scheme involving Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services of Parsippany and taking in more than $100 million in payments from Medicare and private insurance companies. The 26th defendant was Wayne Lajewski, a Madison physician who admitted accepting bribes of $2,000 per month in exchange for test referrals. Lajewski admitted accepting the monthly bribe for two years in return for referring patient blood specimens to Biodiagnostic Laboratory, which was paid $850,000 for the tests.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 24 and April 9, 2014

  • Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has issued his own subpoena for records at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The subpoena asked for correspondence among current and former authority officials and the Christie administration on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, the PATH transportation hub in lower Manhattan and other projects in New Jersey, according to the Wall Street Journal which said Vance is looking for conflicts of interest. Three days after the Wall Street Journal report, Anthony Sartor, a New Jersey appointed commissioner at the Port Authority for 15 years and longtime chairman of the subcommittee overseeing the World Trade Center rebuilding, resigned. Sartor said he was looking to depart from the post for some time. (He can be found in Chapter 2 of The Soprano State, which notes that he came to the media’s attention when Donald DiFrancesco became acting governor. DiFrancesco was besieged with questions about a previous $150,000 loan from his longtime friend Sartor, who had landed a $3 million contract for the state’s new auto emissions program.) In an exclusive by the New York Daily News, Sartor has come under new media attention with a story that says he tried to intervene on behalf of one of his engineering firm’s clients in an effort to allow a crane, deemed unsafe in New York, to be used at a Port Authority project in Hoboken. Sartor’s intervention was brought to the attention of Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, who said Port Authority engineers were told to ignore Sartor’s intervention, the newspaper said. Sartor’s slot on the Port Authority remains vacant. Christie appointed 69-year-old John Degnan, New Jersey attorney general from 1978-1981, to replace Port Authority Chairman David Samson, who resigned in the wake of the scandals surrounding the Port Authority.
    Ted Mann and Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2014; Greg B. Smith, New York Daily News, April 27, 2014; Michael Symons, Asbury Park Press, April 29, 2014

  • New Jersey Watchdog took a look at state government salaries and found 250 New Jersey officials earn more than $175,000, the amount of the governor’s salary. The top salary of $261,323 went to James Weinstein, who just left as executive director of NJ Transit. Michele Brown, CEO of the Economic Development Authority, and John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Authority, both earn $225,000. In the Department of Human Services, the medical director of the Division of Mental Services earns $216,924. Seventeen psychiatrists at state mental institutions earn $215,078. Of the 250 state employees with a higher salary than the governor, six are Supreme Court justices, 37 appellate court judges, 12 authority executives, 194 physicians and one is the director of investments at Treasury. New Jersey Watchdog noted that in addition to a $175,000 salary, the governor receives a $95,000 annual allowance for entertainment and other expenses, has use of both the governor’s mansion in Princeton and a home at Island Beach State Park, and has round-the-clock security and transportation.
    New Jersey Watchdog, April 2, 2014

  • Cumberland County GOP chairman Bob Greco was arrested and charged with stealing $149,000. Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor charged Greco, owner and administrator of the East Creek Manor Rehabilitation Center, with stealing from the bank account of a patient at the center and using the funds for the center’s and Greco’s own expenses. Taylor said Greco convinced the patient to sign a power of attorney that gave the rehab administrator control of the patient’s account. Greco called the arrest a gross, personal misunderstanding and said he would be exonerated. Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo called for Greco to step down as GOP chairman. Two Republican freeholders, Tom Sheppard and James Sauro disagreed. “It’s amazing the things you can be accused of by anybody, for anything, “ Sauro said.
    Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor; Daily Journal, April 1, 2014

  • The federal investigation into the Meadowlands EnCap golf and housing project has fizzled and died. William Gauger, a founder of the project, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and was sentenced to one year of probation and a $5,000 fine. The other 10 criminal charges against Gauger were dismissed. In the plea agreement with the feds, Gauger admitted to submitting a bogus expense report to Cherokee Investment Services for reimbursement of a $299 plane ticket. The flight was canceled because of snow and Gauger got a refund from the airline.  The charges that were dropped were tied to allegations that Gauger was part of a much bigger scheme to deprive Cherokee of his “honest services.” Another indictment tied to the EnCap fiasco also failed when former Sen. Wayne Bryant was acquitted of fraud charges. The judge said prosecutors did not prove that the $100,000 EnCap paid to Bryant’s law firm “for little of no work” was tied to Bryant’s support for the project as a lawmaker. New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, a lawyer for EnCap before becoming a federal prosecutor, had to turn the EnCap probes over to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
    John Brennan, The Record, March 31, 2014 and Oct. 1, 2014

  • In the wake of a federal probe, David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, resigned. In addition to investigating the Port Authority’s closing of Fort Lee lanes at the George Washington Bridge last Fall, the feds have subpoenaed authority records related to any contracts awarded to the clients of Samson’s law firm, the New York Times reported. The subpoenas include records related to two bridge projects that Samson voted to award to companies with ties to his law firm, the New York Times said. Samson’s resignation came the same day a report, paid for by the Governor’s Office, cleared Gov. Christie of any involvement in the lane closures and said no evidence was found to support Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno tied Zimmer’s support for a real estate development to Sandy aid for Hoboken. The report, which the New York Times said cost taxpayers at least $1 million, raised more questions than it answered. Key players, Bridget Kelly, David Wildstein, Bill Stepien, Bill Baroni, Dawn Zimmer and David Samson were not interviewed. Bob Ingle summed it all up: “If it doesn’t answer basic questions, you have to ask: What value is it?”
    Kate Zernike, New York Times, March 28, 2014; Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, March 30, 2014

  • After a five-day trial, a Union County jury convicted former Elizabeth School Board President Marie Munn of stealing from the school district’s free lunch program. Prosecutors said Munn filed false applications for her two children for the free lunch program, with one or both children receiving the benefit, intended for children who cannot afford lunch, for five years. Munn and her husband exceeded the federal household income limit for the program by as much as $100,000 and her children received $2,649 in benefits they did not qualify for. “It is shameful that a school board president in an Abbott district would steal from a program designed to help disadvantaged school children,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. Munn admitted that she failed to include her husband’s salary on the application. She blamed the omission on misunderstandings and financial complications.
    Attorney General John Hoffman, March 27, 2014; Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger, March 27 and 28, 2014

  • Only in New Jersey (again). Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, a former teacher currently on leave as principal of Newark’s Central High School, is proud of an endorsement from former Newark Mayor Sharpe James. Baraka defended the criminal record of James, who was convicted of fraud in 2008 and served 18 months in jail.  A jury found James guilty of steering city land to his mistress, who purchased the properties for $46,000 and resold them for $600,000. Baraka gave politickerNJ.com’s Mark Bonamo this read on the conviction: “No money exchanged hands, there was no bribery. I didn’t see how we [sic] was convicted of the things that I went to court and saw. If Sharpe did some other things, he wasn’t charged for those things. But what he was charged for in court, I don’t see the result of what happened to him meeting whatever they charged him with.”
    David Giambusso, Star Ledger, March 25, 2014; Mark Bonamo, Back Room, politicerNJ.com, March 25, 2014

  • Even school bus transportation isn’t sacred in New Jersey. A state judge sentenced Michelle Pumilia to five years in prison without parole for authorizing more than a half million dollars in school district money to bogus bus companies. Pumilia, the former transportation manager for Hazlet and Piscataway townships, admitted that she signed off on purchase orders in the two school districts authorizing checks for the fictitious bus companies. The theft in Piscataway totaled $336,570, and in Hazlet, $229,202. The investigation showed that no bus services were provided for the money paid to the bogus companies. Pumilia also stole another $7,040 by writing a check to her mother under a program intended to pay for transportation for private school students. Most of the checks to the bogus bus companies were deposited into a joint account Pumilia shared with her mother, Virginia Lisay. The charges against Lisay have been dropped, according to investigators. Pumilia was caught after an employee of the Piscataway School District discovered suspicious invoices at the district, investigators said.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, March 21, 2014

  • In the case of Angel Colon, justice was finally served. In 2011, Colon admitted submitting fraudulent absentee ballots while he was working for the 2007 campaign of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex. Colon submitted ballots on behalf of homebound voters without their knowledge, investigators said. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors said Colon was supposed to get three years in prison. Instead, Superior Court Judge Thomas Sumners, saying prison time would be a serious injustice, gave him five years probation. But an appellate court disagreed with the judge, saying the crime required prison time. Sumners has now sentenced Colon to three years in state prison. “To safeguard fair and honest elections, we need to deliver a clear deterrent message that election tampering is a serious crime,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. “This sentence accomplishes that.”
    Attorney General John Hoffman, March 20, 2014; Christopher Baxter, Star-Ledger, March 20, 2014, Tom Hester Sr., newjerseynewsroom.com, July 29, 2011

  • How can it be that the same names repeatedly surface in the Soprano State? The Delaware River Port Authority did a national search for a new CEO that attracted 45 applicants. Five applicants were interviewed. The job went to John Hanson, who was serving as acting CEO, and was deemed “uniquely qualified” by the authority’s labor committee because he had participated in DRPA matters in the past. You can find Hanson in Chapter 6 of The Soprano State where it is noted that even though he was a Republican leader he landed the job as CFO at the DRPA where Democrat Jeffrey Nash headed the NJ delegation.
    Courier Post, March 19, 2014

  • Just when you think you’ve seen the worst of it, one more thing crops up. The New York Times reports that pieces of steel from the World Trade Center ruins were used as gifts to curry favor with New Jersey mayors whose endorsement would help Gov. Chris Christie politically. The delivery of the ruined steel was spearheaded by Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, according to the New York Times. Baroni is a key figure in the scandal surrounding the Fort Lee lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Another Christie appointee at the Port Authority, its chairman David Samson, is under scrutiny by the feds. Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to the authority for records related to two bridge projects that Samson voted to award to companies with ties to his law firm, according to the New York Times. The feds are looking for records related to the bidding and selection process and potential conflicts of interest between Samson’s public actions and his law firm’s ties to those doing business with the authority, the NY Times said. In addition to the bridge projects, the feds are seeking documents related to any contracts awarded to the clients of Samson’s law firm, Wolff & Samson, the NY Times reported.
    William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, March 18, 2014; Kate Zernike and Matt Flegenheimer, New York Times, March 11, 2014

  • The state police troop commander who admitted stealing $55,000 from a troopers’ Health & Welfare Fund didn’t get jail time. Superior Court Judge Donald Volkert Jr. sentenced retired Acting Major Michael Mattia to two years probation and ordered him to make restitution for the money that he stole. Mattia faced 364 days in jail, but the judge said he will only serve the time if the money is not repaid. It’s the kind of sentence that makes you wonder what’s up with the judicial system. Why some get time, and others get no time. When Mattia retired in 2013, it was discovered that the fund, used for scholarships and other trooper benefits, only had $26 in its account. Investigators said Mattia, a 25-year state police veteran, diverted the funds to his own personal bank account or to cash.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, March 14, 2014, Feb. 11, 2014; Christopher Baxter, Star-Ledger, Feb. 11, 2014

  • After a two-week trial, a jury convicted a former commissioner (and chief ethics officer) for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and a former commission shop foreman (and mayor of Northvale) of directing employees to do repair work at private homes while the workers were on commission time. Anthony Ardis, a former commissioner who later served as clerk to the Board of Commissioners, director of management services and ethics officer, was convicted along with Paul Bazela, former foreman of the commission carpenter shop and Northvale mayor. State investigators said Bazela, at the direction of Ardis and former supervisor Kevin Keogh, ordered carpenters and other skilled workers to complete repairs at the homes of Ardis’ mother and girlfriend and at the home of Keogh while the employees were on duty at the commission. The workers used commission vehicles, tools and equipment. Keogh, who investigators said had workers perform numerous repairs at his home during their regular shifts, pleaded guilty in June 2012 to conspiracy and official misconduct.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, March 10, 2014

  • Patterson Councilman Rigo Rodriguez and his wife, Lissette Rodriguez, have been indicted on charges that they engaged in mail-in ballot fraud in the 2010 election and tampered with witnesses in an investigation by state police. Rodriguez and his wife are charged with conspiring to have campaign workers illegally act as messengers and bearers for vote-by-mail applications and mail-in ballots when they had not been designated by voters to handle the applications or ballots. Rodriguez and his wife also are charged with telling campaign volunteers and voters how to answer questions from investigators and advising some to provide false information. 
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, March 6, 2014

  • In addition to Bridgegate, New Jersey scams have been getting plenty of national attention. First, the Academy Awards where American Hustle (based on an FBI sting with a fake sheik that nabbed a Camden mayor and a U.S senator and congressman from New Jersey) was among the nominees for best picture. Next, a real-life courtroom where two reality TV stars from “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Teresa Giudice and her husband Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bankruptcy fraud. The feds said Teresa obtained a $361,250 mortgage in 2005 based on a loan application indicating she made $15,000 a month when she actually was unemployed.  Four years later, when the two filed for bankruptcy, they did the opposite and concealed income, including the money Teresa earned from the television show, according to investigators. Joe also admitted failing to report nearly $1 million in income to the IRS between 2004 and 2008.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, March 4, 2014

  • The New Jersey Working Families Alliance has filed an ethics complaint against David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority, accusing him of violating the state’s Conflicts of Interest Law by using his position at the authority to benefit clients of his law firm, Wolff & Samson. The complaint states that in 2012, the Port Authority reduced the cost NJ Transit (a Wolff & Samson client) paid to lease a parking lot in North Bergen from $900,000 a year to $1. Samson voted on the lease and later said he intended to recuse himself. In 2013, the Port Authority voted to take over the struggling Atlantic City Airport, operated by the South Jersey Transportation Authority where Wolff & Samson was bond counsel. In 2012, Samson voted for a $256 million renovation at the PATH station in Harrison. A quarter mile away, a developer, represented by Wolff & Samson, plans to convert three industrial buildings into apartments and build a parking garage. Angelo Genova, Samson’s lawyer, said they look forward to rebutting “each and every” concern in the complaint. The entire cast of characters can be found in The Soprano State, including Samson, Genova and the ethics commission. Samson was a pal of Jim McGreevey, who named him attorney general, and now Christie, who put him at the Port Authority.  Nothing ever changes.
    Steven Weissman, New Jersey Working Families Alliance, March 3, 2014; Steve Strunsky, Star-Ledger, March 3, 2014

  • The longtime Democratic Party chairman of Woodland Park, Michael Kazmark, was sentenced to two years in prison for bribing two people he thought were IRS agents. Kazmark admitted paying $18,500 to two undercover agents. Kazmark owed the IRS $98,000 and paid the bribes to try to reduce the amount he owed and to delay the payment.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 28, 2014

  • Former Trenton Mayor Tony Mack walked back and forth between the federal courthouse and City Hall  during his corruption trial and didn’t want to leave office even after his conviction on six counts of extortion, bribery and fraud. But a judge didn’t buy Mack’s appeal to stay until after he is sentenced. Judge Mary Jacobson ordered him removed from office. Mack also loses the taxpayer-funded portion of his pension, but can keep the contributions he made to the retirement plan.
    Associated Press, Feb. 26, 2014

  • A senior accountant for Bayonne’s Department of Community Development pleaded guilty to bribery, theft of federal funds, conducting an illegal gambling operation and filing a false tax return. Working for a department that received federal funds for grants to low-income families to rehab their homes, Anselmo Crisonino took $65,000 in bribes from Joseph Arrigo, the owner of a contracting company, the feds said. In return, Crisonino provided his assistance in awarding $426,000 in federal grant money to Arrigo, according to investigators. Crisonino also admitted running a north Jersey gambling business through a Web site.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 20, 2014

  • Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye has ordered an investigation into whether Port Authority police played a role in lane closings at the George Washington Bridge. Questions have been raised about whether officers were used to tell motorists waiting in line to blame Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. The Record reported that frustrated motorist were told by Port Authority police to call the mayor’s office to complain. Foye has requested that the top cop at the authority, Michael Fedorko, not be involved in the investigation, according to the Record. Fedorko has been embroiled in a controversy over whether or not cheating by an officer on a promotional exam was adequately investigated and over Fedorko’s granting field promotions to his two chauffeurs. Fedorko can be found in The Soprano State (Chapter 9) where he served on the Casino Control Commission, the agency charged with keeping the mob out of New Jersey’s gaming industry. According to one state gaming enforcement officer, Fedorko had a “see no evil” approach to Interstate company’s contacts with organized crime even though its affiliates had been banned from doing business in New York. Fedorko said any of the company’s mob ties were “innocent.”
    Shawn Boburg, The Record, Feb. 16, 2014; Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, Feb. 17, 2014

  • The Jersey Journal is trying to figure out why former Gov. Jim McGreevey has two Jersey City jobs. Does nothing ever change in New Jersey? (We are sorry to keep repeating the question.) McGreevey resigned in disgrace after announcing that he was gay and it was revealed that he had hired the object of his affections, Golan Cipel, as his unqualified security adviser. (See Chapter 2) At a salary of $110,000, McGreevey is now back on the public payroll in Jersey City as executive director of the city’s nonprofit Employment & Training Program. The program made headlines this week by hiring Eugene McKnight, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison for racketeering and tampering with evidence in a $4 million welfare fraud scheme. McGreevey said McKnight, who was released in 2000, is specially qualified for the prisoner reentry division of the employment program. The Jersey Journal also reported that McGreevey has been hired as a Jersey City tax abatement officer dealing with projects that promise jobs in return for tax relief. The Journal reported that the move may mean the training program still pays McGreevey’s salary, but the official city title gives him access to compliance records. Here’s a good question by the Journal’s Earl Morgan: “You have to wonder who is actually filling McGreevey’s other post at the employment and training program when he is at his job in the city.”
    Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Feb. 12, 2014; Earl Morgan, Jersey Journal, Feb. 12, 2014; Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Sept. 5, 2013

  • The retired state police major who commanded troopers in northern Jersey pleaded guilty to stealing money from his troopers’ health and welfare fund. Under a plea bargain, retired Acting Major Michael Mattia, who investigators said stole $55,000, will likely serve 364 days in county jail. He will be barred from public employment and public office in New Jersey. When Mattia retired in 2013, it was discovered that the fund, used for scholarships and other trooper benefits, only had $26 in its account. Investigators said Mattia diverted the funds to his personal bank account or to cash. Mattia was a 25-year veteran of state police.
    Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Feb. 11, 2014; Christopher Baxter, Star-Ledger, Feb. 11, 2014

  • Former Camden County Sen. Wayne Bryant (Chapter 4) has been disbarred for life. Bryant served 40 months in jail after his conviction on charges of bribery and fraud. A jury found that Bryant, former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, steered $10 million in state funding to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in return for a university low-work job that boosted his pension. Bryant, through various government jobs, was eligible for an $83,700 pension that was revoked in 2010.
    Peter Sampson, Bergen Record, Feb. 10, 2014; Charles Toutant, New Jersey Law Journal, Feb. 7, 2014

  • After seven hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Trenton Mayor Tony Mack on all six counts of extortion, bribery and fraud. Ralphiel Mack, his brother, was convicted on three charges of extortion and bribery. The brothers were caught in an FBI sting where cooperating witnesses posed as developers of a Trenton parking garage. Those convicted promised Tony Mack’s help with the project in return for cash. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Tony Mack “sold out” the people of Trenton. The FBI did the legwork in this case, but others share the credit. “We are grateful to the members of the jury for their service,” Fishman said. There are few heroes in The Soprano State, but the juries who have stepped up, in this and other tough cases, against powerful politicians can be counted among the few. Without juries doing the right thing, prosecutors’ work is wasted. Tony Mack kept his job at City Hall throughout the trial. While Mack’s lawyer, Mark Davis, bemoaned the jury’s verdict, the state Attorney General’s Office moved to oust Mack, disqualify him from public office and revoke his pension and retirement benefits.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 7, 2014; Jenna Pizzi, Trenton Times, Feb. 7, 2014; Alex Zdan, Trenton Times, Feb. 10, 2014

  • The feds arrested former Manalapan Mayor Andrew Lucas and charged him with falsifying his tax returns, loan application fraud, falsifying records in a federal probe and identity theft in connection with the purchase of a 97-acre Manalapan farm. Investigators charge that Lucas used falsified tax returns and a false claim of $210,000 in cash when he applied for a bank loan to finance the farm purchase. Lucas, who owned Lucas Capital Advisors, was an investment advisor for a number of clients, and according to the charges, he convinced a client to invest $250,000 in a company that did not exist at the time. According to the charges, after registering the company under the name of a relative (who knew nothing about the registration), Lucas then used the client’s money to purchase the farm. According to the indictment, when the feds began investigating, Lucas provided investigators with a fabricated letter from the relative. (The Asbury Par Press reported that Lucas received more than $1 million in public money from state, county and local governments to preserve the property as farmland.) He pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 7, 2014; Kathleen Hopkins, Asbury Park Press, Feb. 10, 2014

  • Anthony Cardinalle, who co-owns the property where the strip club that served as the set for “The Sopranos” Bada Bing go-go bar is located and who previously had an interest in the club, is playing out his own version of the real life Sopranos. (It should be noted here that we got a call one day to do a book signing at the strip club, but declined the invite.) Cardinalle, identified by the feds as an associate of the Genovese crime family, was arrested in 2013 along with 31 others on charges of racketeering and extortion. The feds accused Cardinalle and the others of trying to take over legitimate trash businesses by threatening economic harm and violence. Under a plea agreement that could reduce his jail time, Cardinalle, who faces 40 years in prison, is cooperating with the feds in the organized crime probe. The Web site GangLandNews.com was the first to report that he was “singing like a canary.”
    Haley Draznin, CNN, Feb. 7, 2014; Rich Calder, New York Post, Feb. 6, 2014

  • Congressman Rob Andrews resigned in his 24th year in Washington. Indentified in Chapter 3 as having come out of the Democratic machine of South Jersey political boss George Norcross, the veteran congressman replaced Jim Florio in 1990 when Florio made his successful bid for governor. Andrews, who now moves to a Philadelphia law firm, said the ongoing investigation into his use of campaign funds for a family trip to Scotland played no role in his decision to resign. The House ethics committee is looking into the use of $30,000 in campaign funds for flights, a luxury hotel and other expenses for a wedding in Edinburgh.  Andrews said he has not violated any rules or laws. State Sen. Donald Norcoss, the brother of George Norcross, is next in line for the Congressional post.
    Jonathan Tamari, Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 4, 2014

  • Matthew Boxer served for six years as New Jersey’s state comptroller, and we would like to tip our hat to him as he departs. Probing state government, Boxer uncovered millions of dollars in fraud and waste during his tenure. He served under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican Gov. Christie. His report on the Delaware River Port Authority touched powerful boss George Norcross and his probe of halfway houses touched Christie pal Bill Palatucci. His record includes finding $24 million in unemployment and other benefits paid to inmates, discovering widespread fraud in the school lunch program and uncovering $43 million in waste at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. His mantra was “Follow the facts, wherever they lead you.” New Jersey needs more of that, if the culture of corruption is ever to come to a close.
    Ed Beeson, Star-Ledger, Jan. 27, 2014; Ryan Hutchins, Star-Ledger, July 28, 2013

  • Ironically, emerging from the scandals surrounding Chris Christie are allegations of a systematic abuse of power (something that makes a good prosecutor’s eyes light up), and yet the stories implicate former prosecutors in the Christie administration, including Christie, once a corruption-busting U.S. attorney. If this is what the federal investigators find, how did it happen? Bob Ingle told Hardball’s Chris Matthews of MSNBC the answer is simple: the arrogance of power.  It’s the same ole, same ole that’s described in The Soprano State. That’s why the subtitle is New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption. Stuff just keeps repeating itself. The news reports grow more disturbing by the day. The New York Times describes how a crew of top Christie aides, working inside the governor’s office, targeted 100 swing towns for victories in his re-election bid. Each town had a dossier of the projects and policies “dear to them” and then the work began to cull the endorsements, according to the Times. (There was another crew in the 1990s in the Democratic Assembly office, and news stories accused them of campaign work on state time. But the difference may be that the Assembly crew had few goodies to offer.) What the feds will be looking for is whether the governor’s office used its ability to grant goodies (including federal money) or to withhold goodies for political reasons or private gain. Federal investigators will be looking at whether allegations of abuse of power can be linked directly to Christie. And ties to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey abound. Federal subpoenas have been issued to the city of Hoboken where Mayor Dawn Zimmer said high-ranking Christie officials tied funding for Superstorm Sandy to her support for a redevelopment project represented by the law firm of Port Authority head and Christie pal David Samson. David Wildstein, Christie’s “eyes and ears” at the Port Authority claims that Christie knew of the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge at the time they were happening. (Christie maintains he only knew of the closings after the lanes were opened and that he had no knowledge of the motive.) In addition to Wildstein, others accused of ties to the scandals may push back hard to save their own skins. Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien indicated he will plead the Fifth before an Assembly panel. The Port Authority’s link to the scandals magnifies with The Record reporting that Chairman Samson voted to renovate the PATH station in Harrison (a project championed by the governor) three months after a builder (represented by Samson’s law firm) proposed converting a nearby warehouse into luxury apartments. Samson has denied wrongdoing in any of the scandals. The Record filed another report that Christie’s brother, Todd Christie, and two partners bought and sold properties within walking distance of the PATH station for nearly triple the property’s original price. The developers said they were simply developing in their hometown. (Brothers are always causing trouble in New Jersey politics. Former Gov. Christie Whitman found the need to relieve her brother Dan Todd of his duties as campaign manager, and Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco took heat for an unpaid loan from an influential builder that was used to pay off a loan in a business venture involving his brother Paul.) Adding to the pile of serious questions about the allocation of federal funding for Superstorm Sandy is the news report by the Star-Ledger that Christie helped direct $6 million in federal storm aide to a housing project in Belleville that was not hit hard by the storm. Two weeks later, Bellville’s Democratic mayor endorsed him. (The administration said the project was shovel-ready and would house those displaced by the storm.)And NBC’s I-Team questioned the allocation of $4.8 million in Sandy funding for an apartment tower in New Brunswick, another town with little storm damage. (The administration argued that some of the units would be affordable housing for storm victims.) Equally disturbing is the Star-Ledger report that former Hunterdon County prosecutor Bennett Barlyn told an appeals court that he was working on a criminal case involving Sheriff Deborah Trout (an acquaintance of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, also a former prosecutor) when the state attorney general’s office quashed the indictment, fired him and threatened another prosecutor. (The state said the indictment was flawed.) Meanwhile, who is taking care of the state’s business? Well, the state auditor released a report that said New Jersey parole officers have failed to make the required face-to-face contacts with sex offenders and other ex-cons who are supposed to have monthly supervision.  After watching the culture of corruption for decades, when The Soprano State was published, it wasn’t hard to decide who should receive the dedication. We dedicated it to those who forever suffer the consequences: the taxpayers.
    Sandy McClure and Bob Ingle, Feb. 1, 2014

  • Forever The Soprano State. In New Jersey, political history always seems to repeat itself. In Spring 2003 and 2004, when Republican Chris Christie was U.S. Attorney and Democrat Jim McGreevey was governor, subpoenas were served on several occasions to the Democratic State Committee. (Acting on a tip, Sandy McClure arrived at the state committee’s door just minutes after one set of subpoenas was served, and she was told that it was not a good time for a reporter to show up.) In the era surrounding those subpoenas, top aides to McGreevey (Chief of Staff Gary Taffet and Chief Counsel Paul Levinsohn) resigned, a fundraiser (David D’Amiano) was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to two years in jail, and the governor himself resigned. (You can find it all in The Soprano State.) Now, with Democrat Paul Fishman as U.S. Attorney, subpoenas have been served on Christie’s re-election campaign and the Republican State Committee. The stakes are higher and the national attention greater this time because of the focus on Christie as a presidential candidate.  Some are questioning whether Fishman and those beneath him can do an adequate job of investigating former boss Christie. But Bob Ingle and I have watched how this crew of investigators has worked over the years. If history repeats itself, they will do their jobs without regard for the power and influence of their targets. Sometimes agents raised their eyebrows at all the credit given to Christie after they had done all the tough, sometimes years of legwork. Christie acknowledged recently that he rarely did any interviewing when he was U.S. attorney. But there is no doubt that U.S. Attorney Fishman will make the final call, as did Christie, which is why he deserved credit as the best corruption-buster any of us had seen. In the end, Fishman will decide what happens with regard to the federal probe into the Port Authority’s closing of Fort Lee lanes at the George Washington Bridge and the allegations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Christie’s top officials linked storm funding to her support for a redevelopment project that was tied to Port Authority chief David Samson’s law firm. (McGreevey ran into his own troubles when he nominated his biggest campaign contributor, Charles Kushner, for Port Authority chairman. Kushner withdrew rather than face questions from a Senate committee and was later charged with witness tampering after he hired a hooker to entice his brother-in-law, filmed the scene, and mailed it to his sister. The brother-in-law was helping the feds in an investigation of Kushner’s companies. Under a plea agreement, Kushner was sentenced to two years in a federal prison camp.) It remains to be seen whether federal laws were broken in the Christie scandals. The standard of proof in federal cases is high, particularly when high-profile defendants are involved. But already the scandals have cost four Christie appointees their jobs: Bill Baroni and David Wildstein at the Port Authority and Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and campaign manager Bill Stepien.  David Samson, McGreevey’s state attorney general  (only in New Jersey) now Port Authority chairman and Christie pal, has hired Michael Chertoff, the former chief of homeland security, as his lawyer. (You can find Chertoff in chapter nine of The Soprano State and Samson in chapters five, eight and nine.) Much more interesting is Kelly’s hiring of Michael Critchley (Chapters three and eight) as her defense lawyer. Critchley is well known for his defense of the entire Lucchese family hierarchy and the winning of more than 75 percent innocent declarations in 1988. More recently, he is known for his representation of McGreevey’s State Police Chief Joe Santiago after state police informant documents surfaced alleging Santiago was friendly with mob figures. Critchley also was the lawyer for Democratic boss George Norcross, who never was charged, and most recently for Mayor Anthony Suarez, who was acquitted in 2010 of bribery charges. The Suarez case broke the long stretch of convictions continued under Christie, whose six-year tenure as U.S. attorney resulted in the conviction or guilty pleas of more than 130 elected and appointed officials. That record also raises the stakes, not just for Christie, but for New Jersey and for those that believed things could get better in The Soprano State.
    Sandy McClure and Bob Ingle, Jan. 25, 2014

  • Even for those of us used to NJ corruption, the scene, as told by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, is enough to cause nausea. Not because it’s anything new in New Jersey, but because the people Zimmer accuses are high ranking officials in an administration headed by a former U.S. Attorney who was the best crime buster anyone can remember, and because, now, if it’s true, where is the hope that it will ever get better? In a report broken by MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, Zimmer tells a story of corruption at the highest level in the administration of Gov. Chris Christie. Those accused by Zimmer are adamantly saying her story is false. But if Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno really pulled Zimmer aside in a parking lot and told her that federal dollars for superstorm Sandy relief would not flow to Hoboken until Zimmer helped with a redevelopment project tied to the law firm of Christie pal David Samson (who heads the Port Authority of NY and NJ and can be found in Chapter 5), then the worst has happened for Chris Christie. The proverbial nail has been put in his political coffin. According to Zimmer, the same message was sent by Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable: move the development project, and the money will flow. It could be argued that Zimmer is a Democrat, that she’s out to get Christie. But here is the problem with that thinking: she comes off as honest and reasoned and she has a hand-written diary of the alleged events.  Ironically, Zimmer replaced former Hoboken Mayor Pete Cammarano, who promised honest government and instead was jailed for bribery in a sting operation Christie initiated. (See 2010 updates) In New Jersey, the ones who promise to make it better are often the worst. If the accusations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer are true, history has again repeated itself in forever The Soprano State.
    Sandy McClure and Bob Ingle, Jan. 19, 2014

  • The Chris Christie press conference over the closing of Fort Lee lanes at the George Washington Bridge made some of us long for the days when Christie was U.S. Attorney. (You can read all about that crime buster in The Soprano State.) At the marathon press conference, Christie wanted the world to see him as an injured employer mourning over a lie that was told to him by a trusted employee, Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff. It’s the lawyer in him wanting to distance himself from the legality of what was done. It is the politician wanting to salvage hope of the highest office. What some of us, who watched him as U.S. attorney, wanted to see was more anger, not bullying angry, but honest-to-goodness righteous anger, not at the employee, but anger over what was done by that employee: the wrong that was done to the commuting public, to the school children going to school, to the injured who needed to be hospitalized. We wanted him to acknowledge that it was not just stupid, it was potentially criminal. We wanted him to tell us that he was going to get to the bottom of what happened, that he was going to track down those involved and find out whether those who closed the bridge lanes in Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge had come up with any other dirty tricks in the governor’s name. We wanted promises that all those who were involved would be punished, and we wanted promises that it would never happen again. But that’s not what we got. We got a governor trying to save his own skin. And maybe that’s all we can expect. But some of us, who would like to see the end to a culture of corruption in New Jersey, hoped for more. Christie also cut his ties with former campaign manager Bill Stepien in a lengthy press conference that was right out of the political book authored by enormously popular former NJ Gov. Tom Kean. It was always Kean’s practice to stay at press conferences until the last question was asked by the reporter from the smallest newspaper in New Jersey. And it served Kean, and now Christie, well. Follow-up questions, shouted at public officials as they exit, leave the impression of guilt. The key now is the federal probe. We have watched numerous wrongdoings over the years in Trenton, and it is always somewhat humorous to watch what happens when the feds arrive.  People suddenly realize the lying has to stop. Lying to the feds carries serious, serious penalties. As Bob Ingle told the national media, (and reporters always hate to acknowledge this), only time will tell. We still may not know the real reason for the lane closures, and we still don’t know the full cast of characters. But as the feds and the New Jersey and national media take aim, we will. The consequences will add to the pile of New Jersey corruption and will mean not just broken political careers, but broken lives.
    Sandy McClure and Bob Ingle, Jan. 13, 2014

  • Trenton Mayor Tony Mack is doing his mayoral duties at the same time he is attending his corruption trial at the federal courthouse in Trenton. The two buildings are less than 500 feet apart. (Again, only in New Jersey.) Mack faces six counts of bribery in the wake of an FBI sting operation that left him charged him with taking cash bribes in exchange for helping developers obtain a city-owned property on East State Street for a parking garage. There are already two guilty pleas in the case. Joseph “Jo Jo” Giorgianni of Ewing Township pleaded guilty to conspiring with Mack, Ralphiel Mack (the mayor’s brother) and others to extort bribes in connection with the development of the parking garage. Giorgianni admitted handing an $8,000 cash bribe to Mack in 2012 and said he told Mack that the money had to be returned if the project fell through. Charles Hall, a former city hall employee, also pleaded guilty to the bribery conspiracy.
    Jenna Pizza, Trenton Times, Jan. 12, 2014; Alex Zdan, Trenton Times, Dec. 14, 2013; U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 13, 2013

  • For his role in a scheme to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to former Toms River superintendent Michael Ritacco, insurance broker Frank Cotroneo was sentenced to three years and one month in jail and ordered to pay $12.4 million in restitution to the Toms River School District and the feds. Cotroneo, insurance broker Francis Gartland, and former school administrator Frank D’Alonzo paid bribes to Ritacco to secure insurance contracts with the school district, according to prosecutors. Cotroneo also admitted evading taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal proceeds from the scheme. Gartland and Ritacco were sentenced to 11 years and three months in federal prison. D’Alonzo was sentenced to three years and two months.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 6, 2014

  • The former mayor of Toms River Township (formerly Dover Township), was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of house arrest after pleading guilty to tax evasion. Carmine Inteso Jr. was arrested at New York’s JFK airport in July 2012 when he returned from Afghanistan where prosecutors said he took a job as a contractor after learning he was the target of a tax investigation. In a case unrelated to the Ritacco case, the feds said Inteso accepted $291,000 from insurance broker Francis Gartland, who provided brokerage services to Toms River Township and other New Jersey municipalities, and failed to report the money on his income taxes.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 6, 2014, Dec. 17, 2012

  • Another New Jersey doctor has admitted taking bribes in return for test referrals. Joel Fischgrund of Livingston pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in return for referring patient’s blood tests to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services of Parsippany. Fischgrund brings the count to 22 people (11 of them physicians) who have pleaded guilty to the bribery scheme that resulted in millions of dollars in bribes and $100 million in payments to BLS from Medicare and private insurance companies.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 6, 2014

  • This is another one of those New Jersey cases that keeps the state at the top for corruption both inside and outside of government. A Perth Amboy woman was sentenced to four years and three months in jail for a conspiracy that stole more than $7 million in prescription medications (including HIV and cancer meds) donated by a pharmaceutical company and intended for those who could not afford the needed medications. According to prosecutors, Keisha Jackson, who pleaded guilty, conspired with others to enter bogus orders into the company’s system and then had the medications, which were then resold, delivered to her home.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 20, 2013

  • The lesson here is that selling illegal goods, especially exotic ones, at a NJ Turnpike rest stop is probably not a good idea. Zhifei Li, owner of an antique business in China, pleaded guilty to organizing a wildlife smuggling operation in which 30 rhinoceros horns and other objects, made from rhino horns and elephant ivory and worth $4.5 million, were illegally smuggled from the United States to China. According to the feds, the investigation into Li began in 2001 after a confidential informant sold two rhino horns to a middleman at the Vince Lombardi rest stop in Ridgefield between exits 18E and 18W. The horns were then sold to a Long Island antique dealer working for Li, investigators said.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 19, 2013


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