The Soprano State The Soprano State
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2017

  • Continuing to make the state a laughingstock, Gov. Christie earned number 13 in MAD Magazine’s 20 dumbest moves of 2017. The magazine devoted a whole page to Christie who is pictured lounging on a New Jersey beach after closing them all to the public during a July budget impasse. In a takeoff on Sandal’s resorts, the page is titled “Scandals,” and says, “Exhausted from defending your indefensible actions? Take a break at Scandals. Enjoy the kind of privacy you can only get from closing down all state beaches! Soak up heat you haven’t experienced since the early days of Bridgegate! Feel your stress level drop faster than your approval rating! Scandals. Because you’re a lame duck and you don’t give a (expletive). Abuse your power while you can! Book Now!”
    Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 1, 2017

  • Only in the Soprano State can a threat by a politician make its way onto an iron-on patch for a holiday craft fair. After a jury couldn’t decide whether Sen. Bob Menendez was guilty of bribery and the trial ended in a hung jury, Menendez has this to say: “To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are, and I won’t forget you.” Seton Hall University political science professor Matt Hale told the Jersey Journal that the senator’s words were “Jersey politics perfect” because they touched on loyalty, a willingness to fight, and revenge with a “tad threat of violence.” The prof also called the words honest and authentic. (Pure Soprano State, one could say.) The words are memorialized in yellow on a red background of felt for an iron-on patch designed by Jersey City artist Amy Wilson. Meanwhile, Menendez again asked a federal judge to dismiss the bribery charges. He is accused of using his official position to help a Florida doctor in return for lavish gifts and campaign contributions. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek another trial.
    Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Dec. 1, 2017; Associated Press, Dec. 2, 2017

  • Twelve people pleaded guilty in a health benefits fraud scheme that paid $50 million for compounded medications that were mailed to New Jersey residents. The most recent to plead guilty was Timothy Frazier who admitted submitting fraudulent claims for medically unnecessary prescriptions and defrauding state health benefits programs and other insurers of $800,000. Prosecutors said Frazier secured insurance information from individuals and conveyed that info to a conspirator who had a doctor sign the prescriptions without ever examining those individuals. The prescriptions were faxed to the compounding pharmacy which filled the prescriptions and billed the benefits administrator. The pharmacy paid one of Frazier’s conspirators a percentage of each prescription and paid the pharmacy benefits administrator. The money was then distributed to Frazier and others. Frazier in turn paid recruiters and individuals with insurance coverage as a reward for obtaining the prescriptions, prosecutors said.
    Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, Dec. 1, 2017; Vincent Jackson, Press of Atlantic City, Dec. 2, 2017

  • Bennie Anderson, a former employee of the Jersey City tax assessor’s office, admitted taking a $300 bribe in exchange for changing the zoning on a city property without city approval. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the extortion charge. Anderson took $300 from a property owner and then changed the zoning on the property to allow three instead of two dwelling units. The zoning change required approval by the city zoning board. The Jersey Journal noted that Anderson is the tenth person from Jersey City government to plead guilty to federal charges since June. Eight Jersey City police officers admitted a bribery scheme tied to an off-duty jobs program. A health department employee pleaded guilty to tax evasion.
    U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, Nov. 21, 2017; Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Nov. 21, 2017

  • In what state Attorney General Christopher Porrino described as the “horrific” problem of sexual exploitation of children, 79 alleged child predators and child pornography offenders were arrested after a nine-month undercover operation dubbed “Operation Safety Net.” The charges included child trafficking, sexual assault, manufacturing child pornography and possession of child pornography. Those arrested included a Trenton police officer, a swimming coach, a captain in the Air Force, a piano teacher, a camp counselor, a youth minister, three brothers and an IT professional suspected of having possibly more than a million files of child pornography, according to the state attorney general.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Dec. 1, 2017; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 1, 2017

  • Even though the jury couldn’t make up its mind, the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez was a display of Soprano State sleaze. Menendez wasn’t convicted, but he wasn’t cleared either of using his official position to help a Florida doctor who gave him lavish gifts and campaign contributions. (This isn’t the first time Menendez has been investigated by the feds. See The Soprano State, Chapter 3.) Things never seemed quite right with the trial. From the start, the judge grabbed attention with his comments, like telling a prospective juror she may not be any good as a teacher. The trial lasted eleven weeks with court sessions ending each day at 2:30 p.m. and no work on Fridays. After deliberations began, the first questions the jury asked the judge were whether or not they could get out early to beat the traffic. Deliberations had to start all over again after the judge agreed to let a juror keep her plans for a vacation in the Bahamas. Three hours after the alternate juror joined the deliberations, the jury said it was deadlocked. The likes of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker came to the courtroom to say what a good guy Menendez was. When the jury deadlocked, U.S. Congressman Albio Sires said it was clear Menendez never stopped fighting for his state. Menendez was tearful and angry and ready to head back to Washington. Prosecutors now have to decide whether to retry the case with a jury that can reach a decision. But amid all the details of the trial and the questions of what was and wasn’t illegal, the real question is why a U.S. senator would think it is OK to take lavish gifts and campaign contributions while helping, even a friend, with a port security contract, a Medicare billing dispute and visas for the married doctor’s girlfriends. The doctor and Menendez did not take the stand to answer that question under oath. Outside and inside the courtroom it was all blamed on friendship. When Menendez was indicted in 2015, USA TODAY got it right: “Whether all this constitutes bribery is almost beside the point. Menendez’s behavior reinforces the disturbing idea that a senator’s influence can be bought and that Congress is for sale.” Nicholas Pugliese and Catherine Carrera, northjersey.com, Nov. 16, 2017; Dustin Racioppi, northjersey.com, Nov. 17, 2017; Mike Kelly, The Record, Nov. 17, 2017; editorial board, USA TODAY, April 7, 2015

  • Former Paterson Mayor Joey Torres was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to having city employees do work on city time at a warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew. He joined the Soprano State club of reformers who eventually headed off to jail. Three former Paterson supervisors involved in the scheme were each sentenced to three years in state prison. In typical Soprano State style, after a few days in custody, Torres’ lawyer is looking to get him released under an intensive supervision program. Convicted by the state, Torres could be up for parole in little more than a year. Under the supervision program, his lawyer John Azzarello told NJ Advance Media that Torres could be out of jail in six months. Azzarello said his client was an “ideal candidate” for the program. Paterson residents may disagree. Torres ran for mayor as a reformer against Paterson Mayor Marty Barnes who was convicted and jailed on corruption charges. Torres joins a string of Passaic Count mayors hauled off to jail. “Joey Torres corruptly used his vast power as mayor of New Jersey’s third largest city to serve his own selfish ends when he should have been serving the residents of Paterson,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Nov. 14, 2017; Sara Jerde, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 19, 2017

  • The day after Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp was reelected, city council voted to increase his part-time salary from $35,000 to $75,000. Mapp told NJ Advance Media: “There’s nothing part-time about my job. The hours that I put into my job here in Plainfield are beyond a full-time job. I earn every dime.” But NJ Advance Media reported this: “In addition to being mayor, Mapp is full-time chief financial officer for the city of Orange where his salary is $114,456.” As with other dual office holders in New Jersey, the hours and the salaries don’t compute. City council also voted to raise its own part-time salaries from $9,000 to $25,000 in 2018. Mapp argued that the mayor’s salary had not been changed for 18 years. The vote to hike the salaries was 5-2. The only good news: a final vote is still needed next month to make it all happen. Taylor Tiamoyo Harris, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 10, 2017

  • Kevin Bannon, former executive director of the Mercer County Park Commission, was indicted and charged with diverting thousands of dollars that should have gone to the county to a nonprofit he controlled and then using the nonprofit to give himself, family and friends VIP concert tickets and free golf at county facilities. State prosecutors charged that Bannon waived more than $56,000 in golf fees through the nonprofit, collected $9,000 in tennis court fees for the nonprofit that should have gone to the county and signed a contract with a concert promoter that allowed Bannon to host 30 to 50 persons per concert who would be admitted free and given VIP treatment. Bannon is a former Rutgers men’s basketball coach. He was fired in 2001 after reports that under his watch, the penalty for a free-throw contest loss was for four students to run naked sprints. Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Oct. 31, 2017; Rafael Hermoso, New York Times, March 21, 2001

  • The trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez has gone Soprano State crazy. Deliberations by the jury must start all over again because a juror was dismissed to go on vacation, not to some exotic, expensive place somewhere halfway around the globe, but to Florida. The federal judge, the prosecution and the defense all agreed to the vacation at the start of the trial when no one expected it to go nine weeks. After three full days of deliberations, the juror headed out the door, turning her duties over to an alternate. Judge William Walls did not caution Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby about keeping her thoughts to herself until after a verdict, and she promptly told the nation that she thought Menendez was good guy with a doctor for a friend and she would have voted to acquit. The jurors who have not been granted vacation time have been told not to listen to media accounts of the trial, so the thought is that whatever Arroyo-Maultsby had to say about deliberations won’t affect the final outcome. Nevertheless, trial experts find the situation highly unusual. Menendez is charged with bribery. The feds say he traded lavish gifts and campaign contributions in return for helping a wealthy Florida doctor with a port security contract, a Medicare billing dispute and visas for the married doctor’s girlfriends. It is also interesting to note the first two questions the jury had for the judge were about whether they could leave earlier in the day to avoid Newark traffic.
    Thomas Moriarty and MaryAnn Spoto, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 8 and 10, 2017; Nicholas Pugliese and Catherine Carrera, northjersey.com, Nov. 9, 2017; Mike Kelly, The Record, Nov. 10, 2017

  • Only in the Soprano State does the governor pick a fight with a constituent at the polls on Election Day. Gov. Christie has already broken records with only 15 percent of voters thinking he’s done a good job. But you would think he would want to avoid headlines that ranged from the Star-Ledger to the Daily Record to Fox News, CNN and CBS, NBC and ABC News that said he “argues, spars, clashes, heckles and feuds” with a voter. Christie cast he ballot in his home town of Mendham Township, and a voter wanted to know why he hadn’t managed to merge the township with Mendham Borough to lower taxes. Christie said he didn’t have the power to accomplish the job and told voter Victoria Giambra to run for office instead of complaining. Record columnist Mike Kelly got it right when he said Christie just couldn’t help himself. “He talked over Giambra, barely allowing her to finish the points she was trying to make. And then he got personal.” Kelly, like the rest of the New Jersey press corps, remembers Christie as a skillful prosecutor who put corrupt politicians from both sides of the political aisle in jail. But as governor, be developed the persona of a thin-skinned bully. And that was one of the problems for Christie because no one likes a schoolyard, or a Statehouse, bully.
    Peggy Wright, northjersey.com, Nov. 7, 2017; Mike Kelly, The Record, Nov. 11, 2017

  • Just like in Bridgegate, the cast of characters at the corruption trial of Sen. Menendez can be found in The Soprano State. Menendez is charged with bribery. The feds say he traded lavish gifts and campaign contributions in return for helping a wealthy Florida doctor with a port security contract, Medicare billing fraud accusations (the doctor was convicted) and visas for the married doctor’s girlfriends. Nevertheless, in Soprano State style, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (Chapter 4), stepped up to the plate for his senate pal. Turning on the charm, CNN said Booker captivated the jury for 10 minutes with talk about how Menendez has the backs of all ethnic groups. CNN reported that Menendez had tears in his eyes over the testimony by Booker and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham. But with his own drama, the prosecutor asked Booker one question: had he been in court to hear the evidence? Booker said no. The defense also called Donald Scarinici (Chapters 3, 6 and 8), an old friend of Menendez, a lawyer and a fundraiser, to the stand in what proved to be a tense exchange over just how campaign contributions from the doctor were handled. Bishop Reginald Jackson (Chapter 4), politically active in New Jersey as head of the Black Ministers Council, also weighed in for Menendez by saying the senator always did what he said he was going to do. If the defense didn’t think Booker, Scarinci and the bishop were enough, they brought in a refugee from Cyprus and an autism rights advocate to testify that Menendez is an honest man.
    Laura Jarrett and Dana Bash, CNN, Oct. 26, 2017; Politico, Matt Friedman, Oct. 25, 2017

  • Large amounts of money for unused sick leave and vacation time for retiring public employees, especially police and firefighters, are breaking the backs of New Jersey taxpayers. We’ve known that for years. In 2010, the legislature capped unused sick time at $15,000 for future public employees. But a bill to cap all employees at $15,000 was vetoed by Gov. Christie and died. He wanted the cap to be zero, instead the sky remains the limit. The Bergen Record took another look at the issue and found the total tab for taxpayers staggering. The payout for deputy police chief Michael McMorrow of Englewood Cliffs (population 5,406) was $441,000, an amount the newspaper’s editorial called sickening. Without counting school districts and county government, municipal employees in Bergen, Morris, Passaic and most of Essex counties would be owed $273 million if they all retired today, the Record found. As of December 2014, the county and municipal liability statewide is more than a billion dollars. NJ Spotlight reported the total liability statewide (including school districts) is nearly $2 billion.
    Steve Janoski, Megan Burrow and Sarah Nolan, northjersey.com, Oct. 31, 2017; Editorial, northjersey.com, Oct. 31, 2017; Colleen O’Dea, NJ Spotlight, March 31, 2017

  • Kim Bogan, the daughter of former Brick Township mayor Joseph Scarpelli who went to federal prison for bribery, has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $1 million from the township by submitting bogus insurance claims while a township employee. Brogan, who worked for the township building department, submitted false insurance claims for chiropractic services purportedly provided by her brother, Glenn Scarpelli, from January 2011 to August 2017. Glenn Scarpelli and his wife committed suicide by jumping from the ninth floor of a New York City building in July 2017. The couple was badly in debt, the New York Post reported.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Oct. 24, 2017; MaryAnn Spoto, NJ Advance Media, Oct. 24, 2017; Shawn Cohen, New York Post, July 28, 2017

  • In typical Soprano State style, Timothy Grossi, former deputy director of the North Bergen department of public works, ordered township workers to do political errands on township time and in township vehicles. He pleaded guilty and is the fourth supervisor in the public works department to plead guilty or to be convicted in a state probe into the use of township employees for work unrelated to township business. Former superintendent James Wiley pleaded guilty to directing employees to perform hundreds of hours of chores at his home and to work on political campaigns on township time. Former supervisors Troy Bunero and Francis Longo were convicted of assigning employees to work on election campaigns and to do personal chores for the supervisors on township time.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Oct. 20, 2017

  • Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson took New Jersey state police to the woodshed for its delay in producing public records, NJ Advance Media reported. “We’re dealing with more than 100 days (of delays), and sometimes more than 140 days, without any particular explanation,” the judge said. “It’s really an abysmal record, and you have a law enforcement group that seem to be turning its back on one of the laws that apply to it as a public entity.” Jacobson didn’t buy the excuses state police made to deny the public overtime records. State police maintained that, unlike other public employees, it couldn’t provide overtime records because it would be a security threat to those troopers working homeland security or the governor’s protection detail. Jacobson said the posting of troopers’ photos on social media (the state police Facebook page) undercut the argument that overtime data poses a security threat. The judge ordered the release of pay stubs and overtime records to John Paff, an open records advocate and member of the Libertarians for Transparent Government. She also ordered state police record custodians to explain why there is a “pattern and practice” of long delays for routine records requests. No surprise, state police intend to appeal.
    S.P. Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, Oct. 30, 2017

  • A bribe can even get your water bill reduced in the Soprano State, according to charges handed up by a Grand Jury in Mercer County. A meter reader and a senior account clerk for the New Brunswick Water Department were indicted and charged with reducing a customer’s bill by 90 percent in return for a $4, 200 bribe. William “Billi” Ortiz, a meter reader, accepted the bribe and arranged for senior account clerk Joseph “Gordo” DeBonis, who had access to the water department’s database, to reduce the customer’s bill for multiple properties, investigators charged. The two also are charged with soliciting a $1,000 bribe in return for offering to switch a working meter with a faulty meter that would fail to record water usage, according to the indictment. Investigators said Ortiz nicknamed the faulty meter the “thief.” (As we always say, you can’t make this stuff up.) Only in the Soprano State.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Sept. 29, 2017

  • Even before the jury rules in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, 50 percent of New Jersey voters say he does not deserve reelection, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. A mere 20 percent of New Jersey voters say he deserves to return to the U.S. Senate. Only 31 percent of those polled (down 13 points) say Menendez, who is charged with bribery, is doing a good job, compared with 49 percent (up 14 points) who do not. Politico reported that the problem for Menendez, if he decides to run in 2018, will not be the primary, but the general election, when Republicans will target the previously safe Democratic seat. If Menendez is convicted and loses his seat, 68 percent of voters said Gov. Christie should not appoint a new senator, but should wait for the new governor to make the appointment. This is a gubernatorial election year for New Jersey, and Christie, after serving two terms, cannot run again. Good thing. The Quinnipiac poll shows only 16 percent of voters believe Christie is doing a good job, the lowest approval rating in any state surveyed by the university in more than 20 years. President Trump fares a bit better with 32 percent of New Jersey voters saying he is doing a good job. Quinnipiac surveyed registered voters Sept. 7 to 12. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
    Quinnipiac University, Sept. 14, 2017; Matt Friedman, Politico, Sept. 15, 2017

  • Once in a while there is a bright spot in the Soprano State. The Paterson Press reports that newly appointed Paterson Mayor Jane Williams-Warren, the city’s municipal clerk for 24 years, will not be a double dipper into the state’s pension plan, unlike the previous mayor, Joey Torres, who just pleaded guilty to having city employees do work for his daughter’s business on city time. Torres collected an annual $68,800 pension based on his retirement from Jackson Township and received free city health benefits as a retiree, in addition to his $119,000 salary as mayor. In contrast, Williams-Warren said she would not take her $97,500 pension while serving as mayor. Why? “There’s a right way and wrong way to do things. I intend to stop the pension.” Asked about her goals, Williams-Warren said he will focus on quality of life issues, but was not ready with specifics. Why? “I’m not a politician,” she said. “I am not going to talk about things I’m not familiar with.”
    Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press, Oct. 2, 2017

  • Paterson Mayor Joey Torres pleaded guilty to having city employees do work on city time at a warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew, thereby joining the Soprano State club of reformers who eventually headed off to jail. After vehemently proclaiming his innocence, Torres (faced with three city employees about to testify against him) admitted the scheme and faces five years in prison. First elected mayor in 2002, Torres ran as a reformer against Paterson Mayor Marty Barnes, who was indicted and later convicted and jailed on corruption charges. Torres falls in line with three other Passaic County mayors, Joseph Lipari, Sammy Rivera and Alex Blanco, also convicted of corruption. An editorial in The Bergen Record declared, “It is time for outrage. We are sick and tired of small-time crooks with their snouts in the public trough.” A lawyer for Torres asked that he not be remembered for the “eight-month snippet” when he committed crimes, but for his 30 years in public office. (Only in the Soprano State are crimes reduced to snippets.) Torres was mayor from 2002 to 2010. Until reelected in 2014, he was business administrator in Jackson Township and a part-time director of a special improvement district in Paterson. While mayor, he collected an annual $68,800 pension based on his retirement from Jackson Township and received free city health benefits as a retiree, in addition to his $119,000 salary as mayor. According to the indictment, at Torres’ behest, Paterson supervisors Joseph Mania and Imad Mowaswes and assistant supervisor Timothy Hanlon either performed work or ordered other Paterson employees to work at the 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, investigators said. “Today, Mayor Torres retracted his vigorous denial and promises of vindication and admitted to engaging in the old school corruption we charged him with earlier this year,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Sept. 22, 2017; Editorial, Bergen Record, Sept. 22, 2017; Allison Pries, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 22, 2017; Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press, Sept. 22, 2017

  • One million dollars in kickbacks is a large number, even for the Soprano State. The scheme will cost Linda Watkins Brashear, former executive director of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp., eight and a half years in federal prison. Brashear pleaded guilty to accepting $999,000 in bribes and kickbacks from contractors and an employee in return for awarding contracts for work that either was not done or had an inflated price. Investigators said payments were made to printing, marketing, cleaning and homeland security contractors, an interior designer, and Internet, political, media and security consultants. The now bankrupt watershed agency was a nonprofit which ran the city’s reservoirs and purification plants without oversight and, according to the state comptroller, improperly spent millions in public funds. Donald Bernard Sr., former senior projects manager at the agency, was sentenced to eight years in prison after admitting taking $956,948 in kickbacks.
    Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, Sept. 21, 2017 and July 13, 2017; U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 21, 2015

  • A claims investigator with the state Treasury pleaded guilty to stealing $75,000 from the state by approving bogus claims in the names of relatives and friends. Stephanie Hargrove, a principal claims investigator for the Division of Risk Management, whose job it was to prevent fraud, instead processed false claims and false supporting documents, investigators said. “Hargrove corruptly used her authority as a state claims investigator to steal huge sums of money for herself, her relatives and her friends,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Prosecutors recommend a three-year sentence.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Sept. 20, 2017

  • After what is being described as a vulgar tirade reminding Mount Laurel cops that she was an state assemblywoman, Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, the first Hispanic Republican woman elected to the New Jersey legislature, will not be seeking a third term. Rodriguez-Gregg was involved in a traffic accident at 3 a.m. in which her car was rear-ended and the police approaching her car believed they smelled marijuana. The altercation ended with Rodriguez-Gregg being charged with DWI, reckless driving and obstruction, according to newspaper reports. Police searched her car and found no marijuana, and she refused a sobriety test. “You’re dealing with a sitting assemblywoman,” she told the officers. “Everybody’s going to know about this (expletive). Harass a Latina female…I have done nothing but support the police. I have been one of your number one supporters politically,” according to a body camera video obtained by the Trentonian through a public records request. After her arrest, a blood test showed no marijuana, but “some indication of alcohol,” according to her lawyer, Edward Kologi, who told reporters he will file a motion to suppress the results because the cops did not have a warrant or her effective consent for the test.
    Marisa Iati, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 17, 2017; David Foster, Trentonian, Sept. 15, 2017

  • New Jersey, forever in the forefront of corruption, is getting plenty of attention with the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. The first U.S. senator to be charged by the feds with bribery since New Jersey’s Sen. Harrison “Pete” Williams was convicted in 1981 during Abscam, Menendez argues that the lavish gifts from a wealthy Florida doctor and the senator’s help with the doctor’s port security contract, a Medicare billing problem, and visas for the doctor’s girlfriends were all about friendship. Before the trial is done, the country may get the sense that this is just how things are done in the Soprano State. And if friendship wasn’t enough, the defense attorney for ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen claimed the case is simply an attack on Hispanic Americans. Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants, and Melgen is a Dominican Republic native.
    Thomas Moriarty and MaryAnn Spoto, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 11, 2017

  • If you are a housing authority manager in New Jersey and you steal $826 in checks and a $9.39 toilet seat (which you install in your own home), you still won’t get jail time. Cheryl Bradshaw, 60, former manager of the Pleasantville Housing Authority, pleaded guilty to theft in the case and was sentenced to three years probation by Judge Patricia Wild. Bradshaw was fired after investigators said she stole 13 checks from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, money that should have gone to help residents with utility costs. The plea deal with Atlantic County prosecutors dropped a charge of official misconduct that could have resulted in five years in jail for Bradshaw.
    Jeff Goldman, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 11, 2017

  • The case against Christie’s powerful Democratic pal Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, accused of spending campaign money on athletic games, a tuxedo, a gym membership, two trips to Puerto Rico and parking tickets, has been given new life. The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission charged that DiVincenzo misused more than $16,000 in campaign money and failed to disclose nearly $72,000 in campaign spending. An appeals court ruled that an administrative law judge was wrong to toss the case just because the decision by ELEC’s board was not bipartisan. (Failure by Gov. Christie and Democratic legislative leaders to fill vacancies on the ELEC commission left it with only two of four commissioners, both Republicans.) The appellate court ruled ELEC had the right to move forward with the case and that agencies actually have the final say (instead of administrative courts) in their decision-making. DiVincenzo’s lawyer, Angelo Genova, said he will appeal to the state Supreme Court.
    Nicholas Pugliese, northjersey.com, Sept. 8, 2017; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 8, 2017

  • In yet another Soprano State kickback ring involving doctors, Rehan Zuberi was sentenced to eight years in jail and may be deported after pleading guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to commit commercial bribery. Zuberi admitted spearheading a scheme in which hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks were paid to dozens of medical practitioners, including doctors and chiropractors, in return for referring patients to 10 diagnostic imaging facilities (Diagnostic Imaging Affiliates) then owned by Zuberi. Prosecutors said the referrals were worth millions. The kickbacks were paid from shell companies in the form of cash, checks, gift cards, lavish dinners and expensive vacations, investigators said. “The investigation of Zuberi and his criminal cohorts reveal how easily corruption and greed can spread like a cancer through the medical field, “ said state acting insurance fraud prosecutor Chris Iu.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Sept. 5, 2017; Lindy Washburn, northjersey.com, Sept. 11, 2017

  • Sen. Bob Menendez, who is charged with bribery and fraud, wanted his trial postponed until after the upcoming congressional session, or he wanted it postponed for key votes, or he wanted the judge to explain to the jury that he was in Washington when he skipped his trial sessions. Judge William Walls said no to it all, the New York Times reported. If Menendez wants to absent himself during the trial, Walls said that’s fine, but the jury will only be told that he “has absented himself,” and that’s it. Prosecutors had a strong response to the request: “Many defendants try to evade their criminal trials, but only a United States senator can try to hide behind the very office he corrupted to avoid accountability to the public for his actions.” Menendez’ lawyers argued that he had a constitutional right to be at the trial and a constitutional obligation to show up for congressional votes. Menendez is charged with accepting unreported lavish gifts from a wealthy ophthalmologist in return for helping the doctor with a port security contract, with a Medicare billing dispute and with visas for the married doctor’s girlfriends. If you want a history lesson on Menendez and his role in The Soprano State, check out Chapter Three.
    Nick Corasaniti, New York Times, Aug. 23, 2017; Thomas Moriarty, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 25, 2017; Josh Delk, The Hill, Aug. 26, 2017; Herb Jackson, northjersey.com, Aug. 25, 2017

  • The fired chief compliance officer at NJ Transit labeled the railroad agency that led the nation in accidents last year a “runaway train.” Todd Barretta told lawmakers at a joint oversight hearing that the nation’s third largest commuter railroad is loaded with patronage hires and so unsafe he would not let his son ride the system. Barretta said he witnessed employees being given answers to the questions on safety-training tests. He described an agency run by patronage hires tied to the Christie administration who used “fearmongering” to manage the agency. When agency executive director Steven Santoro was asked during the hearing whether NJ Transit made patronage hires, he said, “I don’t (know) how to answer that.” Transit officials tried to discredit Barretta, first saying he was fired for not returning a computer and then saying he was fired for misusing his agency vehicle. (Barretta produced a receipt for the returned computer.) Gov. Christie joined in by labeling Barretta’s testimony false and retaliatory. Assemblyman John McKeon, co-chair of the hearing, called Barretta’s testimony “extremely credible.” And NJ Advance Media reported that the U.S. Department of Labor is investigation NJ Transit for widespread abuse of family leave. An internal audit found 1,500 NJ Transit employees were approved for unpaid family medical leave as of mid-May (10 percent of the workforce) causing operation delays and higher overtime costs, NJ Advance Media reported.
    Ryan Hutchins, Politico, Aug. 25, 2107; Larry Higgs, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 25, 2107; Curtis Tate, northjersey.com, Aug. 25, 2107; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 28 and 30, 2017; Star-Ledger Editorial Board, Aug. 30, 2017

  • Once again, some only in New Jersey stories: Robbinsville school board president Matthew O’Grady resigned after he was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in a school zone. O’Grady, also charged with failure to stop, reckless driving and refusal to submit to breath samples, has been board president since January 2015. He was arrested at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday.
    Cristina Rojas, NJ Advance Media, Aug 23 and 25, 2017

  • Former Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco, who is serving time in federal prison for taking bribes from developers, can’t be a foot doctor any more. Blanco was sentenced to two years and three months after pleading guilty to taking $110,000 in bribes. The bribe money was federal funding intended for low income housing in one of the poorest municipalities in the state. The state revoked Blanco’s medical license finding his conviction a crime of “moral turpitude” and professional misconduct.
    Sara Jerde, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 28, 2017

  • Two Christie aides convicted in the Bridgegate trial are appealing their sentences. Lawyers for former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly say that while what the two did wasn’t nice, it wasn’t criminal. A jury convicted Baroni and Kelly of misusing federal resources when they conspired to close the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge in what prosecutors said was to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Baroni was sentenced to two years in prison and Kelly to 18 months. Both are free on bail while the appeal is heard.
    Dustin Racioppi, northjersey.com, Aug. 25, 2017

  • The bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is expected to be another Soprano State spectacle. Menendez is the first U.S. senator charged by the feds with bribery since 1980 when New Jersey’s Harrison Williams was indicted, convicted and sentenced to three years in federal prison. Menendez is charged with accepting lavish gifts (vacations in the Dominican Republic and Paris and numerous private jet trips not reported on his annual financial disclosure forms) from wealthy Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in return for helping the doctor with a port security contract dispute with the Dominican Republic, with a Medicare billing dispute worth $8.9 million and with visa applications for the married doctor’s girlfriends. Since his indictment in 2015, Menendez has maintained his innocence because he said it was all done in the name of friendship. Melgen, standing trial with Menendez, was convicted in Florida of defrauding Medicare of more than $90 million and is awaiting sentencing there. Menendez also is accused of soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions that benefitted the senator’s election campaign and legal defense fund in exchange for Menendez using his official authority to help the doctor. Presiding over the upcoming trial is federal Judge William Walls who blasted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark in 2016 for recommending light sentences for corruption in the Soprano State. “If you swindle the government, regardless of your status, you should go to jail,” Walls told prosecutors. High profile defense attorney Abbe Lowell will defend Menendez. Lowell also represents New Jersey native Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, in the investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians during the presidential election.
    Salvador Rizzo, Record, Aug. 17, 2016; Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, April 1, 2015; Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, April 1, 2015; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 22, 2017; Josh Gerstein, Politico, Aug. 22, 2017; Thomas Moriarty, NJ Advance Media, Aug. 22, 2017; Jeremy Roebuck, phillynews.com, Aug. 22, 2017

  • Taxpayers paid the politically connected law firm of former state attorney general Jeff Chiesa $2.8 million for running the state takeover of Atlantic City for the past nine months, ObserverNJ reported. The bill, for November 2016 to July 2017, paid Gov. Christie’s pal Chiesa $400 per hour. His partners charged $350 an hour, associates $240. Chiesa heads the law firm of Chiesa Shahinian and Giantomasi, formerly Wolff and Samson when it was headed by David Samson, another former state attorney general and past Port Authority chief who pleaded guilty to bribery and is serving a year’s sentence of home confinement. The $2.8 million Chiesa tab for Atlantic City included legal work related to the battle with the city’s public safety unions, negotiating tax appeals, overseeing the sale of bonds and reviewing city council agendas and litigation. Christie has praised Chiesa’s work and said he saved taxpayers $93 million with a tax appeal settlement with Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. Christie declared Chiesa “the biggest bargain in the world.”
    Christian Hetrick, Observer, Aug. 16, 2017; Nicholas Huba and Erin Serpico, Atlantic City Press, Aug. 16, 2107

  • The salaries of school superintendents in New Jersey could increase to more than $220,000, The Record reported. Five years ago when Gov. Christie put a cap on the salaries of superintendents, a system of bonuses was created because the state said it was afraid of losing superintendents to other states. Now, the state has created new, higher salary caps, but has kept the bonuses. The median salary for a superintendent in 2016-2017 was $147,500, according to the state. Lodi’s superintendent Frank Quatrone is the example. His salary is $167,500, but with the new salary caps, his earnings could increase to $191,584. With merit bonuses, to $220,302.
    Kristie Cattafi, northjersey.com, Aug. 16, 2017

  • Even in New Jersey you can’t use the First Amendment as cover for corruption. Democratic party boss Joe Ferriero’s bid to get out of jail failed when the federal Third Circuit court of appeals upheld his 2 year and 11 month sentence for turning the Bergen County Democratic Party organization into a racketeering operation with fraud and bribes. A jury concluded that while head of the Bergen County Democrats from 1998 to 2009, Ferriero accepted bribes for recommending a software developer to public officials in Bergen County, taking one-quarter to one-third of the gross receipts from any contracts resulting from his efforts. Prosecutors said he hid his interest in the public contracts with two shell companies. In his appeal, Ferriero claimed that it was his First Amendment right to recommend the software developer. “New Jersey’s bribery law does not punish legitimate First Amendment activity,” Judge Anthony Scirica wrote in the unanimous decision. “It punishes corrupt agreements in which party officials accept payment in exchange for making a particular decision or recommendation…Such corrupt agreements do not enjoy First Amendment protection.” The appellate court also rejected Ferriero’s claim that there was not enough evidence for the bribery and fraud charges. After three successful pleas for delay, Ferriero reported to prison camp in April 2016 when his request to stay out of jail while he appealed was denied.
    Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, Aug. 4, 2017; Alyana Alfaro, Observer, Aug. 7, 2017; Peter J. Sampson, Record, April 15, 2016, March 15, 2016

  • New York federal prosecutors are investigating Kushner Companies, the family company of New Jersey native and wealthy developer Jared Kushner now senior adviser to his father-in-law President Trump, the New York Times reported. The feds subpoenaed the company in a probe into an immigration program that trades investments for visas and has been criticized for its weak rules, the Wall Street Journal reported. Jared Kushner no longer runs the family company, but retains significant ownership, according to the New York Times. The Kushners are looking for $150 million in EB-5 (visa) funding for a luxury apartment and commercial complex, One Journal Square in Jersey City. For an investment of $500,000, investors could gain an EB-5 visa in a program that gives green cards to those who support U.S. development projects. Nicole Meyer, Jared Kushner’s sister, marketed the buildings in China with a video clip of the president and a mention of Jared Kushner, according to the New York Times. A company spokesman apologized for the mention. Company general counsel Emily Wolf said the company has done nothing improper and is cooperating with authorities. Jared and Nicole are the children of Charles Kushner (The Soprano State, Chapter 2) 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.
    Erica Orden, Aruna Viswanatha and Byron Tau, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 2, 2017; Jesse Drucker and Adam Goldman, New York Times, Aug. 3, 2017; 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

  • Two million in bribes is a staggering amount, even for the Soprano State. That’s the amount federal investigators said was paid in illegal kickbacks at the now bankrupt Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp., the non-profit which ran the city’s reservoirs and purification plants without oversight and, according to the state comptroller, improperly spent millions in public funds. The people responsible are now going to jail. Donald Bernard Sr., former senior projects manager at the watershed agency, has been sentenced to eight years in prison after admitting taking $956,948 in kickbacks. Former watershed director Linda Watkins Brashear, who admitted demanding nearly $1 million in kickbacks from contractors, has yet to be sentenced. Prosecutors say she faces up to 23 years in prison. The two contractors that paid the cash kickbacks to Bernard and Brashear were hired to perform landscaping, snow removal, cleanup and sign posting services. Payments were inflated to fund the kickbacks and in numerous instances the work was not even performed, according to federal investigators. Dan O’Flaherty, economics professor at Columbia University and a former staffer at Newark city hall, was part of a watchdog group that early on detailed mismanagement of the agency. O’Flaherty told politico.com even he was surprised at what the feds found. “Considering that NWCDC had a budget of $10 to $11 million a year, of which $3 million was pure pass-through that they never actually got their hands on, this is staggering,” O’Flaherty said.
    Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, July 13, 2017; Thomas Moriarty, NJ Advance Media, July 13, 2017; David Giambusso, politico.com, Jan. 6, 2016

  • The Trump administration smacked of Soprano State tactics with reports that Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was threatened with the loss of federal resources for her state because she failed to support the GOP’s “skinny” healthcare repeal. It mirrored the notorious New Jersey Bridgegate scandal where two of Gov. Christie’s top aides were convicted of closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge in what prosecutors said was a punishment for the mayor not endorsing Christie’s reelection. While Christie has yet to land a post in the Trump administration, a few of his former staffers did.  A shakeup of the White House staff has yet to touch the two former Christie aides who moved to Washington with President Trump. Bill Stepien, the political advisor Christie dumped over the Bridgegate scandal, is Trump’s White House political director. Stepien managed both of Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns but was removed from he post at the Republican Governor’s Association and lost his chance to head the NJ GOP when emails surfaced 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 Mowers, now senior White House advisor to the U.S. State Department, was a staffer in Christie’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Mowers testified at the federal trial that OIA was in charge of getting Democratic mayors to endorse Christie’s reelection. When Mowers, who was not charged in the case, failed to convince the Fort Lee mayor to endorse Christie, prosecutors said Baroni and Kelly conspired to close the Fort Lee lanes to punish the mayor.
    Devin Henry and Timothy Cama, The Hill, July 28, 2017; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 4, 2017; Matt Arco and Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 3, 2017

  • Two New Jersey lawmakers have called for the U.S. Senate to hold up confirmation of Christopher Wray, President Trump’s pick for FBI director, until he can explain why he worked as Gov. Christie’s taxpayer-funded lawyer for nearly a year before signing a required retainer agreement. Wray cost New Jersey taxpayers $2 million in legal fees to represent Gov. Christie in the Bridgegate scandal. Christie was not charged in the case. “It’s simply outrageous that Gov. Christie and Mr. Wray went nearly a year without a mandatory retainer agreement for this taxpayer-funded expense,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski told the Observer. “This is highly unusual and raises question about whether Gov. Christie was trying to hide this cost and legal representation from the public.” Wray, who charges $340 an hour, also billed for taxi fare, parking meals and 10 airplane trips for more than $14,000. Wray’s name surfaced during the Bridgegate trial when defense attorneys went looking for Christie’s personal cell phone, which had gone missing, and it was found with Wray. Defense attorney were searching for deleted text messages between Christie ad his then chief of staff, but the judge denied the request.
    Matt Katz and Adrian Ma, WNYC News, July 25, 2017; Christian Hetrick, observer.com, July 26, 2017

  • Gov. Christie is at it again. He put himself right into the face of a fan who was reportedly heckling the governor at a baseball game in Wisconsin. Christie wanted to know if the guy wanted to “act like a big shot.” The incident comes on the heels of another baseball game in New York when Christie caught a foul ball and the fans booed. Only 15 percent of New Jersey residents think the governor is doing a good job. He didn’t help his likeability when he made international headlines on the eve of the Fourth of July by closing state beaches over a budget impasse and then hauling off with family and friends to the sand at the governor’s state-owned shore home at Island Beach State Park. Adding insult to injury, Christie flew back and forth to the beach home in a State Police helicopter that costs taxpayers $2,487 an hour. Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Christie says and does what he wants. “Barring impeachment, who’s going to stop him?” Sabato told northjersey.com. “Plus, when you’re at 15 percent in the polls, you’re not going to be popular again no matter what you do, so why bother.” Only in the Soprano State.
    Dustin Racioppi and Bob Jordan, northjersey.com, July 7, 2017; Joseph Zucker, CNN, July 30, 2017

  • New Jersey pols are often a national embarrassment. Gov. Christie took the Soprano State embarrassment global when he was caught lounging on a beach closed to the public by his own order shutting down state parks on the eve of the Fourth of July holiday. In what is now dubbed Beachgate, a news photographer in an airplane snapped a shot of Christie in sandals, a ball cap and shorts with family and friends at the governor’s state-owned beach house in Island Beach State Park. The rest of the park, and all others in the state, were vacant of visitors after Christie closed down all but essential government services when the state legislature failed to reach a budget deadline of July 1. Confronted with the picture and questioned by the press as to why he had special beach privileges when others (including a Cub Scout pack with plans to camp) suffered no parks, he said, “It’s the governor’s house, and you can run for governor if you want a residence there.” And that answers any questions about why he is the most disliked governor in state history. A new Monmouth University poll found only 15 percent of New Jersey residents believe Christie is doing a good job. Hudson County lawyer Mario Blanch has filed an ethics complaint over the beach day. “No person is above the law, and Gov. Christie had no right to plop himself in a beach chair when the general public did not have access to the beach, “ Blanch told the Jersey Journal. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno called for the beach house to be sold. Assemblyman John Wisniewski called for renting it to the public, or at the least leaving it unused during a government shutdown. Mike Kelly, a Record columnist, wondered why people were shocked at Christie’s behavior because Beachgate simply mirrors his past behavior. “He turned into just another brutish bully, but he never seemed to notice or care.” To prove Kelly’s point, Christie filled in as a talk radio host on WFAN and when challenged on Beachgate, promptly called the constituent from Montclair a communist and a bum. Only in the Soprano State.
    Carl Golden, NJ Spotlight, nj.com, July 6, 2017; Monmouth University Poll, July 10, 2017; Michaelangelo Conte, Jersey Journal, July 6, 2017; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, July 7, 2017; Mike Kelly, Record, July 6, 2017; Caroline Kenny, CNN, July 11, 2017

  • The mastermind behind Bridgegate, former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, avoided jail time with a sentence of three years probation. Federal Judge Susan Wigenton, critical of the culture in Gov. Christie’s office “that somehow made this outrageous conduct seem acceptable” and saying the sentence was the culmination of “a sad chapter in the history of New Jersey,” said Wildstein was the only one who tried to “rectify some of your wrongs.” Wildstein, who could have received more than two years in jail, testified for eight days against former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. Both were convicted of conspiring to close the Fort Lee lanes of the George Washington Bridge in what prosecutors said was punishment to the mayor for not supporting Christie’s reelection. Baroni was sentenced to two years in prison, Kelly to 18 months. Both have appealed. Wildstein testified that he came up with the idea for the lane closure. He implicated a number of people in the scheme, including Christie. “I willfully drank the Kool Aid of a man I’ve known since I was 15 years old,” Wildstein said of governor. Christie, who was not charged in the case, said he played no role in the scheme and denied knowing about the closures while they were happening. Despite his denials, taint of the Bridgegate scandal derailed his bid for the presidency. And Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran pointed out that Christie was caught in a lie. Five witnesses, include three of Christie’s closest aides, testified at trial, under oath, that they told the governor about the political motive for the lane closures weeks and months before Christie held a press conference and said he had been “blindsided” by the news.  Another interesting footnote: The day Wildstein was booted from the Port Authority over Bridegate, he got some cheering up from Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and advisor. “Just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you and wishing you the best. For what it’s worth, I thought the move you pulled was kind of badass,” Kushner wrote in an email, according to the Washington Post.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, July 10, 2017; Ray Sanchez and Evan Simko-Bednarski, CNN, July 12, 2017; Alyana Alfaro, Observer, July 12, 2017; Tom Moran, Star-Ledger, July 12, 2017; Ted Sherman and Thomas Moriarty, NJ Advance Media, July 12, 2017; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 28, 2016

  • Big payouts for retiring police chiefs continue in the Soprano State. Drew Niekrasz, retiring Bayonne police chief, will get $291,004, including unused sick time, holidays and vacation days and bonuses for not taking sick days and for retiring. Niekrasz’ predecessor, Robert Kubert (now Bayonne’s public safety director) collected $320,000 when he retired as police chief in 2012, the Jersey Journal reported. Niekrasz’ annual salary was $245,000. His retirement compensation was calculated at $145.94 per hour for 1,994 hours. State law now caps retirement payouts for unused time at $15,000. But the law only applies to those hired after the law went into effect in 2010.
    Corey McDonald, Jersey Journal, July 6, 2017

  • Kudos to Stephen Stirling and Erin Petenko of NJ Advance Media for an investigative piece revealing that New Jersey doctors raked in cash for prescribing the powerful opioid fentanyl, even as the death rate from the drug, intended to ease the pain of cancer patients, soared.  “The surge is stoked by companies that shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to doctors, wining and dining them in hopes of convincing them that their particular brand of fentanyl is the solution to all their patients’ pain problems,” the two wrote. Dr. Caleb Alexander of Johns Hopkins University told the reporters, “There are some powerful drivers of opioid prescriptions that have little to do with the presence of pain in the population.” From 2013 to 2015, doctors in New Jersey were paid $1.67 million by pharmaceutical companies marketing fentanyl. At the same time, fentanyl deaths in the state when from 42 in 2013 to 417 in 2015, the two reported. The news of cash tied to fentanyl prescriptions comes on the heels of a federal investigation into bribes for medical test referrals. New Jersey now has the distinction of having the largest number of medical professionals every prosecuted in a bribery case, 50 convictions, including 36 doctors.
    Stephen Stirling and Erin Petenko, NJ Advance Media, June 29, 2017

  • A rabbi, his wife, and a dozen others have been arrested in Lakewood by federal agents and charged with hiding millions of dollars of income to obtain thousands of dollars in Medicaid and other assistance intended for the poor. Two couples hid more than $1.5 million each while collecting tens of thousands of dollars in assistance, according to the FBI. Also among those arrested were Rabbi Zalmen Sorotzkin and his wife Tzipporah. Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said he warned the Orthodox community about benefits fraud in 2015. “Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the back of taxpayers will pay the punitive price,” he said.
    Thomas Moriarty, NJ Advance Media, June 28 and 29, 2017; Payton Guion and Alex N. Gecan, Asbury Park Press, June 26, 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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