The Soprano State The Soprano State
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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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