The Soprano State The Soprano State
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2017

  • It’s another New Jersey first in corruption: the largest number of medical professionals ever prosecuted in a bribery case. Bergen County physician Bernard Greenspan, 79, was sentenced to three years and five months in federal prison after a jury convicted him of accepting $200,000 in bribes in exchange for referring patients for medical tests to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services of Parsippany. The investigation into the bribery scheme has resulted in 50 convictions, 36 of them doctors. Investigators said Greenspan also received payments for holiday parties for himself and his office staff and took additional cash bribes for ordering specific blood test. In addition, the feds said at Greenspan’s request, BLS hired a Greenspan patient he was having a sexual relationship with. His referrals generated $3 million in lab business for BLS. The entire scheme resulted in more than $100 million in payments to the laboratory.
    Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, June 20, 2017.

  • A year and a half after the State Commission of Investigation found unpaid taxes, suspicious financial transactions and consumer fraud in New Jersey’s used-car industry, you would think lawmakers would be looking to make the situation better for consumers. But the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Soprano State legislature is looking to make it worse. Lee Seglem, SCI acting executive director, said a bill moving through the legislature would “legitimize a process that produced just about everything we found to be wrong.” The driving force behind the bill, according to the Inquirer, is the New Jersey Dealers Auto Mall, which the SCI described as a sham business with mob ties and “the foundation for an amalgam of consumer and bank fraud, unpaid taxes, suspicious financial transactions, and other questionable, unscrupulous and possibly illegal activities.” The proposed legislation would relax rules for new and used-car dealers and would cement practices that put consumers at risk. “This guts our ability to properly regulate used-car dealers in the state,” said Raymond Martinez of the state Motor Vehicle Commission. The bill passed in the Assembly 71-0 and passed the Senate Commerce Committee 5-1. Senate President Sweeney declined comment on whether he would post the bill for a full Senate vote.
    Andrew Seidman, philly.com, June 19, 2017

  • President Trump’s pick for FBI director, Christopher Wray, cost New Jersey taxpayers $2 million in legal fees to represent Gov. Christie in the Bridgegate scandal. Christie was never charged in the federal case that convicted two of his top aides on charges that they conspired to close the Fort Lee Lanes of the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. The Asbury Park Press reported that Wray, who bills $340 an hour, is still working for Christie. WNYC News reported that while public attention was focused on the $11 million taxpayer tab paid to Gibson Dunn (the law firm hired by the Christie administration for an internal investigation of the lane closings), Wray was billing for taxi fare, parking, meals, and 10 airplane trips for more than $14,000. Wray’s name surfaced during the federal trial when defense attorneys went looking for Christie’s personal cell phone, which had gone missing, and it was found with Wray. Defense attorneys were looking for deleted text messages between Christie and his then chief of staff, but the judge said no to the request.
    Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press, June 19, 2017; Matt Katz, WNYC News, Jun 19, 2017

  • Once again, you can’t make this stuff up. Only in New Jersey do indicted mayors try to raffle expensive watches to pay for their defense lawyers. Paterson Mayor Joey Torres, charged with conspiring to have city employees do work on city time at a warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew, has been raising money for his defense fund, first with a New York harbor cruise and then with plans for a $250-a-ticket reception. But his idea to raffle a $13,500 watch as a door prize ran into trouble, the Paterson Press reported. State rules don’t allow door prizes worth more than $50 and the drawing should have been registered. Torres, who said he was not familiar with door-prize rules, canceled the prize. As if raising money for his defense wasn’t enough, Torres is also raising money for his 2018 reelection. For $250 a ticket, supporters can attend a Night at the Races in July at the Meadowlands. Only in the Soprano State.
    Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press, June 16, 2017; Allison Pries, NJ Advance Media, June 17, 2017

  • Gov. Christie again made national news as the most unpopular governor in 20 years in any state polled by Quinnipiac University. Only 15 percent of New Jersey voters gave Christie a thumbs up. His disapproval went from 77 percent in December to 81 percent in June. Even among members of his own party, 58 percent of GOP voters gave him a thumbs down.
    Lisa Marie Segarra, Time, June 14, 2017

  • Bridgegate will never die. By picking Gov. Christie’s Bridgegate lawyer Christopher Wray to run the FBI, President Trump has brought the scandal to national attention, yet again. When lawyers for the now convicted defendants Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly were looking for Christie’s cell phone and wanting to see its contents, it went missing. Christie said he had not seen it for two years because he gave it to the government. Prosecutors said they never had it. The law firm hired by the state to do its own investigation said it had returned the phone, but did not indicate where it went. Then the cell phone was found, with Wray. Christie was never charged in the federal case that convicted top Christie aides Baroni and Kelly of conspiring to close the Fort Lee lanes of the George Washington Bridge in what prosecutors said was a move to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Lawyers for Baroni and Kelly wanted the federal judge to let them access Christie’s phone. They were looking for a dozen deleted text messages between Christie and his then chief of staff during the legislative investigation of the lane closures. But the judge said no. During confirmation hearings, Wray will certainly be asked about Bridgegate and his ties to Trump friend Christie, thereby memorializing the Soprano State scandal.
    Herb Jackson, northjersey.com, June 7, 2017; Tim Darragh, NJ Advance Media, July 8, 2016

  • “Since the turn of the twentieth century, New Jersey has been ruled by bosses who carve up the state like medieval fiefdoms.” (The Soprano State, Chapter 3). Nothing has changed. Those who study Soprano State elections said victories by Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the gubernatorial primary proved the power of party bosses to decide which candidates are at the top of the ballot. “It’s not just the voting positions, it’s the party apparatus behind it,” Seton Hall prof Matthew Hale told NJ Advance Media. Murphy was endorsed by all 21 Democratic county committees and hired street workers to get out the vote. Despite her ties to the unpopular Gov. Christie, Guadagno was endorsed by 10 county committees, including four with the largest number of GOP voters. Charles Stile of northjersey.com said it best, “But if anything, Tuesday’s results were a testament to the resiliency and efficiency of New Jersey’s machine politics, an archaic, boss-dominated system that catapulted candidates from Woodrow Wilson to Christie into the governor’s seat.”
    S.P. Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, June 7, 2017; Charles Stile, northjersey.com, June 6, 2017

  • New Jersey native and wealthy developer Jared Kushner is on the cover of Time, and Trump is musing that his son-in-law may be more famous than the president. Media reports indicate Kushner, a top aide to the president, met with the Russian ambassador who told the Kremlin that Kushner wanted a private communications channel with Moscow. Reports also say he met with the head of a Russian bank tied to the Russian leadership and its intelligence service. Federal and congressional investigations will certainly be taking a look at Kushner’s activities as part of probes into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Whenever scandal hits Jared Kushner, it brings back the New Jersey story of his dad, Charles (The Soprano State, Chapter 2). The feds were investigating Charles Kushner’s tax filings and campaign contributions. Suspecting family members were cooperating with investigators, Kushner decided to get even. He hired a prostitute to entice his brother-in-law, had the event filmed, and mailed it to his sister. The prosecutor was U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. The sentence for witness tampering and other offenses was two years in this Soprano State story that must sound like a trashy novel to those outside New Jersey.
    Karl Vick, Time, June 12, 2017

  • Without approval from either the voters or the state legislature, Gov. Christie’s administration privately sold $300 million in bonds for the governor’s touted statehouse renovations. The bonds were sold in a private placement eliminating the need for public disclosure. The maneuver angered lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle who are filing legal challenges to the renovations and who found out from a judge handling the cases. The lawsuits charge that Christie is violating the state constitution by issuing the bonds without voter or legislative approval. Authorities in New Jersey have been used to circumvent the state constitution, which requires voter approval for bonds issued by the state. (If you want to know more about the shenanigans of Soprano State authorities, check out Chapter Seven of The Soprano State.) The statehouse renovation project is being run along a circuitous route through a commission and authority made up of members who are not elected, NJ Advance Media reported. The financing was authorized by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission, which will lease the building to the state Economic Development Authority, allowing the EDA to borrow the money for the renovations. The EDA will then sublease the building back to the commission, and the state will pay rent to pay off the bonds.
    Samantha Marcus, NJ Advance Media, May 17, 2017; Star-Ledger editorial board, May 22, 2107

  • Former Gov. Corzine, the same one who paid a $5 million fine to settle charges that he failed to properly supervise a brokerage firm that illegally used nearly $1 billion in customers’ money, is looking for people to invest in a hedge fund. The fund, according to Corzine’s interview with the New York Times, is aimed at protecting investments from any Trump-caused downturn in the economy. A provision of Corzine’s settlement over his management of MF Global banned him for life from commodities futures trading markets, but apparently not from hedge funds. MF Global got into trouble when it bought European debt. Corzine said he was unaware that an employee then used customer funds to cover an overdrawn bank account. The $1 billion in customer assets has since been recovered, and the settlement allowed Corzine to avoid a trial. He’s now looking for $150 million in investments for the new hedge fund. In and interview with the New York Times, Corzine said past experience “allows him to read between the lines” on global issues for hedge fund investments. Corzine’s history includes being ousted from the top of Goldman Sachs before becoming a U.S. senator. He then invested $43 million of his own money in a successful run for governor, but lost a reelection bid to Gov. Christie. His own net worth has dropped from $500 million to $40 million, according to the New York Times.
    Ben Protess, New York Times, May 18, 2017; Marcy Gordon, Associated Press, Jan. 5, 2017

  • Bloomfield Township Councilman Elias Chalet pleaded guilty to taking a $15,000 cash bribe, some of which investigators said he flushed down the toilet when state police tried to move in on the payment. The bribes were paid to a businessman in return for Chalet’s promise that the township would purchase the businessman’s commercial property. The problem for Lopez: the businessman went to state police. “Chalet’s brazen solicitation of a $15,000 bribe was old-school corruption at its worst,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino. “Fortunately, Chalet’s target didn’t simply accept his crooked offer, he recorded it for our detectives.” Chalet accepted the first cash payment of $10,000 at his real estate office, investigators said. When the second payment of $5,000 was made, state police knocked on his door, but he remained in his office for 45 minutes before answering. State police believe Chalet flushed the cash to prevent detectives from finding it when they searched his office after his arrest. Under his plea agreement, the state will recommend a five-year sentenced for the councilman.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, May 9, 2017

  • With President Trump firing FBI Director James Comey amid an investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, speculation on the short list to replace Comey turns to a Trump loyalist, Soprano State Gov. Christie. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said it best in his Tweet: “So Chris Christie is on all the lists for FBI director. Laughable. Outrageous. From Bridgegate to Trump crony, completely inappropriate.”

  • The Kushner family took Soprano State deals all the way to China with a Jersey City real estate project that trades investments for visas. Reporters from the Washington Post and New York Times were forced to leave the event where Nicole Kushner Meyer, the sister of presidential adviser Jared Kushner and daughter of Charles Kushner (who was jailed for colorful witness tampering in a federal case) solicited $150 million in funding for a luxury apartment and commercial complex, 1 Journal Square. CBS reported Kushner Companies purchased the land, vacant for more than a decade, in 2014. For an investment of $500,000, investors could gain an EB-5 visa that gives green cards to those who support U.S. development projects. “Nicole Meyer, when she stood in that room, made sure that people knew that she was part of this Kushner family, that her brother was in the administration,” New York Times’ Javier Hernandez told CBS after being escorted from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Beijing. President Trump’s image was shown during the presentation, and he was identified as key to decisions on EB-5 visas, CBS reported. The Kushner family sales pitch in China comes amid Trump’s anti-immigration policies and raises ethics questions. An ad for the Beijing event read “invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.” Former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter termed the event “an abuse of power.” A Kushner company spokesman apologized if the mention of Jared’s name was interpreted as an attempt to encourage investors. Kushner’s lawyer said he has divested himself of his interest in 1 Journal Square. Jared and Nicole are the children of Charles Kushner who went to federal prison after he hired a hooker to entice his brother-in-law and then had the event filmed and mailed to his sister in an attempt to keep her from cooperating with a federal investigation. (The Soprano State, Chapter 2.)
    CBS News, May 8, 2017; Jackie Wattles and Serenitie Wang, CNN, May 7, 2017; Jason Kurtz, CNN, May 9, 2017; John Ruwitch, Reuters, May 8, 2017

  • Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has accused Kars4Kids, a New Jersey charity, of spending less than 1 percent of $3 million raised in Minnesota on kids in that state. From 2012 to 2014, the charity spent only $11,600 on programs for Minnesota residents, Swanson charged. Kars4Kids, which spends most of its money on the East Coast, said it spent 63 percent of its proceeds on school and family programs including summer camps. But Swanson contends only 44 percent of the $88 million raised between 2012 and 2014 was spent on charity work because $40 million was given to an affiliate, a nonprofit called Oorah, that promotes Orthodox Judaism among children in New York and New Jersey. The two companies share an office in Lakewood. Swanson’s report to the IRS said Kars4Kids and Oorah lost $9.2 million in a real estate deal controlled by a second cousin of Rabbi Eliyohu Mintz, reported Kars4Kids president. The charity also invested in a Ponzi scheme, Swanson reported. In addition, attorneys general in Oregon and Pennsylvania have alleged that the charity has mislead donors into thinking their donations benefitted a wide group of children, according to the Star Tribune, Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
    Shannon Prather, Star Tribune, May 4, 2017

  • Here’s another Soprano State story that belongs in the chapter on corruption inside the multitude of New Jersey government authorities. The executive director of the Ocean City Housing Authority, Alesia Watson, pleaded guilty to embezzling between $6,500 and $15,000 in federal funds from the authority. Watson used two authority credit cards to purchase 69 MasterCard gift cards, which she either used for herself or handed to friends or family, investigators said. She then took funds flowing into the authority from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay the credit card bills, according to the charges.
    Acting U.S Attorney William Fitzpatrick, May 8, 2017

  • Joining the Soprano State’s tradition of jailed mayors, former Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco was sentenced to two years and three months in federal prison after pleading guilty to taking $110,000 in bribes from two developers. The bribe money was federal funding intended for low income housing in one of the poorest municipalities in New Jersey. Blanco, the first Dominican mayor in the U.S., was elected in 2008 on a platform of zero tolerance for corruption after his predecessor, Sammy Rivera, was sentenced to two years in prison on bribery charges. Three of Passaic’s last four mayors have ended up in the big house. “Probably a lot of people are thinking this is just the way they do business in Passaic,” federal Judge William Martini said at the sentencing. After the city approved the construction of eight low-income residential units, Blanco sent an intermediary to the two developers with a message: a bribe needed to be paid for the project to move forward. Blanco wanted cash, but instead was given checks, which he converted to cash, investigators said. Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said Blanco helped himself to “federal money that was intended to help provide housing for some of the city’s poorest residents.” After the mayor pleaded guilty, residents told NorthJersey.com they were not shocked another mayor was headed off to jail. “What are the chances the next mayor is not going to do something too? I’ll say 60/40,” said city resident Jackie Ortiz.
    Thomas Moriarty, NJ Advance Media, April 18, 2017; Richard Cowen and Kaitlyn Kanzler, NorthJersey.com, April 18, 2017; Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, April 18, 2017; Richard Cowen and Todd South, NorthJersey.com, Nov. 17, 2016

  • A state clerk who stole half the amount of former Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco was sentenced to twice the time in jail. A former clerk with the state Department of Labor, Lusselenia Lopez, was sentenced by state Judge Stuart Peim to five years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing $56,000 in unemployment benefits by diverting the funds to herself and her daughters. Investigators said Lopez used state computers to alter records to give her two daughters unemployment benefits they were not eligible for. For four weeks after her husband’s death, she also claimed benefits for him by certifying he was able and available for work, according to the charges. Investigators said she also changed the name on an unemployment claim in order to divert the money into her own bank account.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, March 24, 2017

  • New Jersey can add to its negative reputation the least popular governor in the nation: Chris Christie. A poll by Morning Consult revealed 71 percent of those polled disapproved of the Soprano State governor. Following a distant second for being disliked in their states were Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, with 66 percent disapproval in their home states. The most popular governors were Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland. The most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University showed Christie with only 20 percent of those polled approving of his job performance, up from January when 18 percent thought he was doing a good job.
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, April 11, 2017

  • Two former top aides to Gov. Christie were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the Bridgegate scandal the judge described as “an outrageous display of abuse of power” and the prosecutor said was “out of the playbook of some dictator of a banana republic.” Declaring the case another unfortunate chapter in New Jersey history, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton sentenced former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni to two years in the big house and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly to 18 months. The two were convicted by a jury of misusing federal resources when they conspired to close the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridget to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. The trial portrayed a culture surrounding the governor that rewarded those who supported Christie and punished those who didn’t. “What occurred in September of 2013 was an outrageous display of abuse of power,” the judge said, describing a ”with us or against us” culture in Trenton that harmed New Jersey’s residents. Prosecutor Lee Cortes described the lane closings that clogged traffic with school buses, emergency vehicles and commuters as almost unfathomable. “The use of government power at a publicly owned bridge to create traffic in town just to mess with one person. Those are the actions out of the playbook of some dictator of a banana republic.” The scandal derailed Christie’s bid for the White House and likely cost him the vice presidential nomination and a key post in President Trump’s administration. The governor was not charged in the case. Several witnesses in the federal trial testified that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were happening, something Christie denies. At the same time his former top aides were being sentenced to prison, Christie was appointed chair of Trump’s advisory panel on opioid addiction. Both Baroni and Kelly are appealing their convictions. Kelly said she would not be “the scapegoat in this case.” Baroni told the judge a number of people outside the courtroom were “involved in Fort Lee that day, some charged, some not.” Looking to avoid prison time for the two, more than 100 letters for Baroni and dozens for Kelly were sent to the judge seeking leniency, including one for Baroni by former Gov. Jim McGreevey, and one for Kelly by her son. Kelly, who dabbed at her eyes with a tissue during the sentencing, said she was sorry for emails that included the infamous, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
    Nick Corasaniti, New York Times, March 29, 2017;
    Paul Berger, Northjersey.com, March 29, 2017;
    Ted Sherman and Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, March 29, 2017;
    David Madden, CBS, March 29, 2017

  • Gov. Christie made national headlines by acting like the unpopular governor that he is, abandoning Princeton, shouting at refs and taking pot shots at meteorologists and the departing U.S. attorney. (Only 17 percent of New Jersey voters give him a good rating, according to Quinnipiac University polling.) When the Princeton basketball team met Notre Dame during March Madness, Christie abandoned his home team Tigers to sit behind the bench of pal Mike Brey, coach of the Fighting Irish. After Notre Dame narrowly beat Princeton, Christie attended Notre Dame’s next game and apparently let everyone near him know what he thought about the refs as his favorite team was defeated by West Virginia. One social media posting said, “In other Chris Christie related news, he just lost his damn mind screaming at a ref and it was very entertaining.” Another said, “Hopefully these refs won’t have to drive home over the George Washington Bridge.” Before taking on the basketball refs, Christie blasted the federal forecasters after the March snowstorm didn’t produce as much of the white stuff in parts of New Jersey as predicted. He termed the storm “a big underperformer,” and said he had his “fill” with the National Weather Service. Former meteorologist Gary Szatkowski shot back at the governor and labeled his comments “very disappointing.” Not stopping at basketball refs and meteorologists, Christie took a pot shot at U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman who was asked by the Trump administration to resign, along with 45 other U.S. attorneys. The governor said he hoped Fishman’s Trump-appointed replacement would make sure the “office is restored to its past success.” (An obvious reference to Christie’s tenure as U.S. attorney and the days when he was seen as a crime-buster.) Fishman’s response went straight to the issue of Bridgegate, the Fishman prosecution that while not charging Christie, damaged him as governor and as a presidential candidate and likely cost him an appointment in the Trump administration. “I can only assume that I have had to make some decisions or have made some decisions over the last several years that have been uncomfortable for him,” Fishman replied.
    Daniel Popper, New York Daily News, March 16, 2017; Nick Veronica, Buffalo News, March 18, 2017; Bob Karp, phillynews.com, March 15, 2017; Charles Stile, northjersey.com, March 15, 2107

  • Despite two rulings by a municipal judge who found enough evidence to hold Gov. Christie for court on charges of official misconduct in the Bridgegate affair, a state judge refused to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. The case can only move forward with a special prosecutor because Bergen County prosecutors refused to prosecute. Activist Bill Brennan filed the complaint against Christie and vowed to appeal the denial of a special prosecutor. “The government of New Jersey is a racketeering influenced corrupt organization. I intend to change that with the help of fellow concerned citizens.” Christie was not charged in the federal case that convicted former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly of misusing federal resources to close the Fort Lee Lanes of the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing the governor’s reelection. Former Port Authority official David Wildstein pleaded guilty in the case. Brennan cited testimony from the federal trial in charging that Christie knew about the lane closures at the time they were happening and did nothing to reopen the lanes. Christie has repeatedly denied knowing about the closures while they were happening.
    Larry Mcshane, New York Daily News, March 17, 2017; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, March 17, 2017

  • Once again, the courts ruled that whistleblowers at the scandal-ridden Port Authority don’t get any protection under New Jersey’s strong whistleblower law. An appellate panel ruled that Brian Sullivan, who filed a lawsuit accusing the Port Authority of forcing him into retirement because he reported possible cheating on a promotional exam, was not covered by New Jersey’s law. Because the Port Authority is a bi-state agency with New York, and the two states’ whistleblower laws are not identical, the New Jersey law does not apply to Port Authority employees, the courts have ruled. Lawmakers in both states passed a reform package for the Port Authority that included new protection for whistleblowers. Gov Christie and Gov. Cuomo vetoed the reforms in 2014.
    Salvador Rizzo, northjersey.com, March 15, 2107

  • Joining the club of indicted Soprano State mayors, Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres was charged with conspiring to have city employees do work on city time at a warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew. “This is a case of old-school public corruption and abuse of power,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino. “Mayor Torres played the generous father and uncle, but he left the bill for his largess with city taxpayers.” Torres, Paterson supervisors Joseph Mania and Imad Mowaswes and assistant supervisor Timothy Hanlon were charged with official misconduct, theft and falsifying public records. Investigators said at Torres’ request, the other three defendants either performed work or ordered other Paterson employees to work at a warehouse leased by Quality Beer, a company owned by Torres’ daughter and nephew who intended to open a wholesale liquor distribution facility. Painting, carpentry and electrical work was done while the Paterson employees were being paid by the city, the indictment charges. State investigators also accused Mania of submitting false timekeeping records making it appear the warehouse work was being done on city projects. Torres said he is innocent and does not intend to step down as mayor. His daughter, Clarissa Torres, who was not charged, resigned her job at the Passaic Valley Water Commission a week before her father was indicted. New Jersey has a long tradition of indicted mayors, including Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti in the 1970s and Atlantic City Mayor Michael Matthews in the 1980s. S.P. Sullivan of NJ Advance Media compiled a list of the nine mayors who in the past decade were convicted or pleaded guilty: Newark Mayor Sharpe James, Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna, Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Northvale Mayor Paul Bazela, Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, Chesterfield Mayor Lawrence Durr, and Manalapan Mayor Andrew Luca
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, March 7, 2017; S.P. Sullivan and Sara Jerde, NJ Advance Media, March 7 and 8, 2017; Fausto Giovanny Pinto, NJ Advance Media, March 10, 2017

  • The state Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct has filed a complaint against former Bergen County Family Court Judge Deborah Gross-Quatrone accusing her of having her secretary perform personal work, including homework for the judge’s son, during work hours. The judge’s son what a high school senior in 2015 when the advisory committee said the ethics violations repeatedly occurred. Gross-Quatrone is now a civil court judge is Essex County. When a reporter for NJ Advance Media looked for a comment from the judge, the reporter was referred to Gross-Quatrone’s lawyer.
    Anthony G. Attrino, NJ Advance Media, March 8, 2017

  • Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said the Bridgegate scandal cost his city $334,000 in legal fees, and he wants reimbursement from the Port Authority, whose answer was, no. The Port Authority said if Fort Lee wants compensation, it will have to look to those convicted of committing the crimes. Former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly, were convicted of misusing federal resources to close the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Former Port Authority official David Wildstein pleaded guilty in the case. The Port Authority said the three acted outside the agency’s authority and executive director Patrick Foye acted quickly to reopen the lanes. Sokolich said he has not given up on reimbursement for the city’s costs. “In light of what we all now know, it is absolutely unfair for my taxpayers to bear this burden,” he said.
    Svetlana Shkolnikova, Northjersey.com, March 8, 2017

  • In the Soprano State, bribery by a top official can get you only home confinement and probation. Federal Judge Jose Linares sentenced David Samson to 12 months of home confinement, probation and community service after the former Port Authority chairman received 40 letters of support. Federal investigators spent 16 months on the case that resulted in Samson pleading guilty to bribery for using his power as a public official to get a special United flight to his second home in South Carolina. Defense attorneys said he was too old and sick for prison. A longtime powerbroker in state administrations of both political parties, Samson had letters of support from friends, family members and public officials, including former Gov. Jim McGreevey who made Samson his attorney general. The letter-writing maneuver is nothing new in New Jersey. Only this time, it worked. We’ve seen these letters in the past, and you can read about it in The Soprano State. Before former Sen. John Lynch was sentenced to three years and three months in federal prison for mail fraud and income tax evasion, 172 letters of praise were presented to the federal judge saying what a good guy he was and why the judge should go easy on him. (But that time it didn’t work.) Samson, appointed to the top Port Authority job by Gov. Christie, admitted using his official authority to pressure United Airlines into creating the special flight from the Newark airport to his vacation home. Samson used an agenda item at the Port Authority (a maintenance hanger at the Newark airport) to push the airline into reinstating the unprofitable route, investigators said. The special route cost United nearly a million dollars in losses, cost the CEO his job and resulted in fines of $4 million. Based on e-mail exchanges between Samson and then United consultant Jamie Fox, a longtime political operative in New Jersey who served as transportation commissioner for both McGreevey and Christie, Fox also was charged in the case. Fox, who pleaded not guilty, died before the case could be prosecuted. His public memorial was held the same day Samson was sentenced. Samson’s defense lawyers argued Samson knew what he was doing, but he thought the special route was something “often afforded to other public officials like himself.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office called it a “stunning and audacious” abuse of power. Apparently, the judge didn’t agree.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, March 1, 5, and 6 2017

  • Twice, a New Jersey municipal judge has said Gov. Christie must go to trial for Bridgegate, and twice a Bergen County prosecutor has said he will not prosecute. Citing evidence in the federal trial of two Christie aides convicted in the scandal, Judge Roy McGeady said there is enough evidence for Christie to face charges of official misconduct. The compliant, filed by Bill Brennan, a Democratic activist, charges that Christie knew about the Fort Lee lane closures on the George Washington Bridge at the time they were happening and failed to do anything about it. Brennan cited sworn testimony from aides at the federal trial. But First Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins continues to say that the charges cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, so he is not going to try. Christie’s first court appearance is still set for March 10. Brennan also filed a request before Bergen County Judge Bonnie Mizdol asking for the appointment of a special prosecutor. That ruling is set for March 17. The governor says he had “absolutely no role” in the lane closures.
    Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, March 2, 2017;
    Bill Chappell, NPR, Feb. 16, 2017;
    Allison Pries, NorthJersey.com, Feb. 16, 2017

  • There will be no new trial for the two aides to Gov. Christie convicted in the Bridgegate affair. Federal Judge Susan Wigenton rejected the request by former Port Authority official Bill Baroni and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. The two were convicted of misusing federal resources when they conspired to close the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection bid. They are set to be sentenced March 15. After the sentencing, they could appeal their convictions to a U.S. appellate court. Their lawyers unsuccessfully argued that Wigenton made a mistake during the trial when she told the jury it did not need to consider motive in order to convict. “The government was under no obligation to introduce evidence of motive, although motive helps present a coherent narrative of events to a jury,” Wigenton ruled.
    Joseph Ax, Reuters, March 2, 2017

  • Gov. Christie nominated another pal with ties to the Bridgegate scandal to the Port Authority board. State Sen. Kevin O’Toole, the nominee, boosted the bogus theory that the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge were being closed for a traffic study. After Bill Baroni, who since has been convicted in the federal case, testified before a 2013 legislative committee that the lanes were closed for a traffic study, O’Toole backed him up with an official statement. O’Toole labeled the lanes a “sweetheart” deal for Fort Lee and called the investigation political. Testimony at the federal trial revealed Baroni’s claims of a traffic study were bogus.
    Paul Berger, Northjersey.com, Feb. 27, 2017

  • In what is believed to be the largest number of medical professionals ever prosecuted in a bribery case, another New Jersey doctor has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in return for referring patients to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services for medical tests. The investigation has resulted in 42 guilty pleas, including 28 from doctors. Sentences have ranged from probation to five years. Passaic County Dr. Salvatore Conte, of Totowa, admitted accepting $130,000 in bribes in bogus rental, service and consulting agreements. In return, his referrals sent $525,000 in business to BLS. David Nicoll, former owner of BLS, pleaded guilty in the scheme spanning seven years and paying out $4 million in bribes to bring in revenue of up to $150 million for his company. Doctors were paid up to $50,000 a month and bribed with Super Bowl trips and prostitutes. Nicoll testified his $33 million in personal profits from the scheme was used for trips to the Caribbean, 20 sports cars, a Mickey Mouse-shaped pool at his Morris Plains home, a $1.3 million second home in Mountain Lakes, and a New York City condo for his mistress. In the first trial of the multimillion dollar scheme, Nicoll currently is testifying against Dr. Bernard Greenspan of Saddle Brook whose defense attorney says the contracts with BLS were legitimate. Nicoll testified he paid Greenspan $200,000 in bogus rental and consulting agreements that were simply bribes for medical test referrals.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 28, 2017; Todd South, Northjersey.com, Feb. 7 and 15, 2017
  • A former senior accountant with the Bayonne Department of Community Development, Anselmo Crisonino, was sentenced to a year and nine months in federal prison for accepting $65,000 in bribes in exchange for awarding $422,000 in federal contracts to Shadow Contracting LLC, owned by Joseph Arrigo. The federal grant money was intended for poor families to rehabilitate their homes making them safer and healthier. Prosecutors said Crisonino also awarded federal grants to Bayonne contractors and plumbers for bids he knew were bogus and approved change orders on projects where little or no work had been done. Crisonino also pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling operation in north Jersey and to filing false tax returns for 2011. In addition to his prison term, Crisonino was ordered by Judge Peter Sheridan to pay $439,000 in restitution.
    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb. 27, 2017
  • Bridgegate is not over for Gov. Christie. Bergen County Judge Roy McGeady ruled there is enough evidence for the governor to face charges of official misconduct in the case. McGeady heads the county’s municipal court division and ruled for the second time there is enough probable cause to haul Christie into court. William Brennan, the governor’s nemesis, filed a compliant accusing Christie of knowing about the Fort Lee lane closures to the George Washington Bridge while they were happening and failing to do anything about it. Brennan bases his complaint on testimony in federal court by David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to the lane-closing scheme and said Christie was told about the lane closures while they were happening and laughed when he was told. Christie, who was not charged in the federal case, has denied knowing about the lane closures beforehand or while they were happening. His spokesman labeled the evidence against Christie “utter nonsense.” Brennan added the testimony of former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly to his complaint. Kelly and former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni were convicted by a federal jury of misusing government resources to close the lanes. The case was returned to McGeady by Bergen County Judge Bonnie Mizdol, who said Christie’s lawyers needed to have their say in the probably cause hearing. But Christie’s lawyers failed to show the last time. They said there was no need to appear because Bergen County assistant prosecutor John Higgins announced he had decided not to prosecute Christie because prosecutors couldn’t prove their case. McGeady, however, said prosecutors have no right to dismiss the case at this point in the proceedings. Christie recently had lunch with President Trump where it was reported no administration job was offered. Bridgegate still appears to be casting a long shadow across Christie’s future.
    Allison Pries, Northjersey.com, Feb. 16, 2017; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 27, 2017

  • For the second time, President Trump’s administration has hired a Christie aide who was embroiled in the Bridgegate case. Matt Mowers, hired as senior White House advisor to the U.S. State Department, follows Bill Stepien, who serves as Trump’s White House political director and deputy assistant. Mowers was not charged in the Bridgegate scheme, but testified at the federal trial. A staffer in Christie’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Mowers testified that the OIA was in charge of getting Democratic mayors to endorse Christie’s reelection. When Mowers failed to convince Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to endorse Christie, prosecutors said other Christie aides closed Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor. Stepien was removed from his post at the Republican Governors Association and lost his chance to head the NJ GOP when his emails surfaced in 2014 about the bridge closings. Christie said Stepien showed “callous indifference” to the pleas of the mayor to open the lanes.
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 4, 2017; Matt Arco and Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 3, 2017

  • It’s no surprise that the sentencing of two Gov. Christie aides convicted in the Bridgegate case has been delayed. Lawyers for former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, said they need more time to review reports in the case. Federal prosecutors offered no objection. Baroni and Kelly are Republicans, like David Samson, Christie’s former Port Authority chairman who was convicted of bribery and whose sentence also has been delayed to March. Baroni, Kelly and Samson were all prosecuted by federal prosecutors operating under a Democratic president and now serving under a Republican president. Baroni and Kelly were convicted by a jury of misusing federal resources when they closed the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge, a move the feds charged was meant to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Baroni and Kelly face up to 20 years in prison. What they get, remains to be seen. A key witness in their trial, David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to the scheme, said he told Christie about the lane closures while they were happening and the governor laughed. Christie denies knowing about the closings before or while they were occurring and was not charged in the federal case.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 2, 2017

  • Quinnipiac University pollsters said Gov. Christie’s popularity is still looking for the bottom of the well, as it fell again to only 17 percent of residents believing he is doing a good job. The previous poll in December showed 19 percent approving his performance, the lowest approval rating for any governor in any of the states surveyed by Quinnipiac for more than 20 years. “It’s interesting, in an unfriendly way, to wonder how low Gov. Christopher Christie’s job approval numbers might drop,” Quinnipiac’s Mickey Carroll said.
    Quinnipiac University, Jan. 31, 2017

  • Former Assemblyman Robert Schroeder has been sentenced to eight years in state prison for stealing $1.8 million from those who loaned him money and for writing more than $3.4 million in bogus checks. He also was ordered to pay $5.3 million in restitution to his victims. State prosecutors said Schroeder’s company sold tents and portable buildings to the U.S. Military for Afghanistan and Iraq. When business declined, he borrowed money from individuals and when he fell behind in repayments wrote 47 bad checks totaling $3.4 million. Investigators said he also persuaded people to loan him $1.8 million for a housing project in an oil drilling area of North Dakota and then used the money for other debts.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Oct. 7, 2016 and Feb. 6, 2017

  • A Bergen County assistant prosecutor by the name of John Higgins has decided not to prosecute Gov. Christie for official misconduct in the Bridgegate case. Higgins said prosecutors have decided they can’t prove their case. This comes after Bergen municipal Judge Roy McGready already decided there was sufficient evidence for the complaint, filed by William Brennan, to move ahead. Brennan accused Christie of knowing about the Fort Lee lane closures to the George Washington Bridge and failing to do anything about it. Brennan based his complaint on testimony by David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to the lane-closing scheme and testified at the federal trial that convicted former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly and former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni. Wildstein testified that Christie laughed when he was told about the lane closures while they were happening. Christie, who denies any involvement in the lane closures, appointed Higgins’ boss, Bergen Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, and state Attorney General Christopher Porrino, who have both recused themselves in the case. All eyes are now on Judge McGready who will preside over a new hearing ordered by Superior Court Judge Bonnie Mizdol. Brennan was all set to use additional testimony from the federal trial until Higgins threw up his hands in the case. (Christie’s lawyers were set to cross-examine Brennan.) The interesting part is that Brennan has asked Judge McGready to appoint a special prosecutor in the case, thereby taking it out of the hands of those who have Christie as their boss. It is a long shot that has already been shot down by Judge Mizdol. But this is New Jersey, where you can’t make this stuff up. Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 27, 2017; Paul Mulshine, Star Ledger, Jan 28, 2017

  • Charles Kushner is back at the helm of the Kushner empire in New York and New Jersey where he will be working with fellow inmates from federal prison, Bloomberg reports. His son Jared, married to Ivanka Trump, left for Washington D.C. where he is a senior adviser to President Trump. It’s another role reversal for the Kushners. Jared, who made headlines this week for being registered to vote in two states including New Jersey, ran the empire after Charles was sent to federal prison for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering. Charles is well known in New Jersey as Gov. Jim McGreevey’s largest campaign contributor who was prosecuted (by U.S. Attorney Christie) for witness tampering after he hired a hooker to entice his brother-in-law and then sent the video to his sister. Charles will be working with Avram Lebor and Richard Goettlich, two fellow inmates from federal prison who now have top jobs at the real estate company, Bloomberg reported and explained who they are. Lebor was sentenced to seven years in prison for fraudulently promoting himself as a mortgage broker and for collecting $9 million in advance fees for projects never funded. Goettlich (also prosecuted by Christie’s office) was sentenced to 10 years for securities fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby, Bloomberg, Jan. 27, 2017

  • Kushner is a well-known name in New Jersey thanks to two governors, a scandal, a prosecution, and then a president-elect. While Gov. Christie’s fortunes have faded, the son of Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner, has seen his fortunes soar. Christie is now on the outs with Donald Trump (some say because Christie sent Charles to jail), but Jared, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka, is set to become one of the new president’s senior advisors. Charles Kushner, Gov. Jim McGreevey’s largest campaign contributor (and owner of a company that hired Golan Cipel, the Israeli who led to McGreevey’s resignation), was later prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Christie for witness tampering after Kushner hired a hooker to entice his brother-in-law and then sent the video to his sister. You can’t make this stuff up, and you can read all about it in The Soprano State.
    Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 9, 2017

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission has fined the scandal-ridden Port Authority $400,000 in a settlement following a probe of $1.8 billion spent on New Jersey highways that didn’t qualify for the money. Not only was the money spent on the Pulaski Skyway and other state roads, miles from Port Authority facilities, but the Port Authority failed to inform those investing in its bonds about the risk of such spending. The fine is the second largest negotiated by the SEC with a municipal agency. The Record described the fine as “a rebuke of the Christie administration’s use of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a political piggy bank.” The New York Post reminded its readers that the Pulaski Skyway is shown in the opening sequence of “The Sopranos.”
    Paul Berger, Record, Jan. 10, 2017; Kevin Dugan, New York Post, Jan. 10, 2017

  • Former Gov. Jon Corzine has been ordered to pay a $5 million fine to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission for his part in the collapse of brokerage MF Global. The commission, in civil charges filed against Corzine, alleged that as head of the company he failed to properly supervise the use of customer funds, leading to illegal use of nearly $1 billion in customers’ money. The federal court order also banned Corzine from serving as an official or employee of any commodities trading firm and from trading most commodities and investments regulated by the CFTC. The federal court order allows Corzine, who has said he did nothing wrong, to avoid a trial.
    Marcy Gordon, Associated Press, Jan. 5, 2017

  • A dozen Jersey City cops have been stripped of their guns and placed on non-enforcement duty in the wake of a federal probe into the city’s off-duty jobs program. A city spokesman told the Jersey Journal that the city has been working with the FBI “for some time” on allegations of police misconduct in the off-duty program. Payroll records show the 12 cops collected about $1 million in off-duty work over the past two years, Terrence T. McDonald reported. Two of the officers earned more than their city salaries in off-duty pay in 2015. One earned $110,370 in off duty pay with a city salary of $106,313; the other earned $89,120 with a city salary of $76,262. The police union asked the public not to rush to judgment.
    Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Jan. 10, 2017

  • The sentencing of David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority and one-time NJ attorney general, for bribery has been delayed for the third time. No explanation was given for moving the sentencing of Samson, a Republican, from the first week of December to March when federal prosecutors will operate under a new GOP President.  Samson, who was appointed to the top Port Authority post by Gov. Christie, pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case, admitting he used his official authority to pressure United Airlines into creating a special flight from the Newark airport to his vacation home in South Carolina. Samson used an agenda item at the Port Authority (a maintenance hanger at the Newark airport) to push the airline into reinstating the unprofitable route, investigators said. Samson, who has been disbarred in both New Jersey and the federal courts, was a powerful figure in the Soprano State for years, having served as Gov. McGreevey’s attorney general. Jamie Fox, who served as transportation commissioner for both Christie and McGreevey, also is charged with conspiracy to commit bribery in the case. You can find all the cast of characters in nearly all the chapters of The Soprano State.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 3, 2017, Dec. 2, 2016

  • The political advisor Gov. Christie dumped over the Bridgegate scandal has been hired as a top White House political aide to President-elect Trump. Bill Stepien will serve as Trump’s White House political director and deputy assistant. Stepien, who managed both of Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns, was removed from his post at the Republican Governors Association and lost his chance to head the NJ GOP when emails surfaced in January 2014 about the closing of the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge. Christie said Stepien showed “callous indifference” for the pleas of the Fort Lee mayor to open the lanes. During the federal trial leading to the conviction of former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and former Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly, prosecutors suggested that Stepien, who like Kelly served as Christie’s deputy chief of staff, helped create a culture in the governor’s office that punished those who did not support the governor. Stepien was not charged in the case.
    Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 4, 2017

  • An administrative law judge gave Paterson’s former personnel director, Betty Taylor, her job back. Taylor lost her job after it was discovered that she gave inaccurate salary information when applying for $43,000 in federal funds to repair her home, the Paterson Press reported. But Judge Joann LaSala Candido said the penalty was too harsh. Candido said Taylor should have been suspended without pay for six months instead of being terminated in January 2015. Candido also ruled that Taylor should get back pay, amounting to $100,000. City officials are not happy. “She clearly committed a fraudulent act,” said City Council President William McKoy. Candido said the lighter penalty was warranted because Taylor did not have a history of disciplinary problems.  The judge ruled a prior overtime scandal involving Taylor did not have formal proceedings. City Councilman Kenneth Morris, who presided over the overtime hearings, disagreed. The city is likely to file an appeal.
    Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press, Jan. 4, 2017

  • For the fifth year in a row, New Jersey is the top state for residents moving out. In 2016, 63 percent more residents were moving out than moving in, according to the 2016 United Movers Study. Why were they going? 40 percent for a new job; 30 percent for retirement; 20 percent for a lifestyle change. Michael Stoll,  public policy professor at UCLA, told NorthJersey.com that high housing costs, high property taxes and cold weather are driving retirees out of the state. And he said it won’t end any time soon. Retirees are moving to the West and the South. Other states at the top of the moving-out list are Illinois, New York and Connecticut. Those states seeing the most residents moving in are South Dakota, Vermont and Oregon.
    2016 United Movers Study; Linda Moss, NorthJersey.com, Jan. 4, 2016

 

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