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Update

2018

  • Mercer County prosecutors are cracking down on a gang of a dozen people investigators said moved into vacant or foreclosed properties in the region without permission and then had the utilities turned on by a Trenton Water Works employee. Those involved would break into the homes, change the locks, turn on utilities, create fake leases and then either move in or rent the homes to victims who had no clue that the leases were not valid, investigators said. Michael Wilmore, the Trenton employee, is accused of turning on water to numerous properties. The scam proved lucrative for some when banks were willing to pay the squatters cash for turning over the keys to the homes. Those involved earned hundreds to thousands of dollars because it was cheaper to pay for the keys than to go to court for an eviction, prosecutors said.
    David Foster, The Trentonian, April 6, 2018; Allison Pries, NJ Advance Media, April 6, 2018

  • Former Wall Township schools superintendent James Habel, sentenced to five years in prison for bilking the school district out of $240,000 in vacation and sick pay, will stay in the slammer, appellate judges ruled. Habel was sentenced without parole and stripped of his pension and retirement benefits in 2015 after his conviction of official misconduct. He was charged with taking a retirement payout for more than 100 vacation and sick days when he actually used the time at his second home in Florida. Ever since his conviction, Habel has been trying to get out of jail. The three-judge appellate panel rejected all the points made by Habel’s lawyer, including an argument that the prison term was excessive. When Habel was sentenced, prosecutor Melanie Falco said the case could be boiled down to one word: greed. A jury convicted Habel following a two-month trial, and Falco asked the judge to send the same message she believed the jury did: “Enough with public corruption; enough with greed at the expense of educators and children; enough already.” Habel’s lawyer told NJ Advance Media his client is not giving up and intends an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
    Steve Strunsky, NJ Advance Media, April 12, 2018; Kathleen Hopkins, Asbury Park Press, Dec. 4, 2015; Rob Spahr, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 17, 2015

  • Seventy-six New Jersey teachers lost their teaching licenses last year for everything from having sex with a member of the high school softball team to bank robbery, NJ Advance Media reported. Thirty-three of the teachers lost their licenses for sexual abuse or sex-related allegations, 13 lost their licenses for criminal convictions, eight for drug and alcohol offenses, five for mishandling money, four for physical abuse of students and three for cheating, Kelly Heyboer reported. In Atlantic County, a substitute lost his certificate after being sentenced to four years in prison on charges that he robbed a bank and escaped in an ambulance. In Burlington County, a history teacher lost his certificate after he was accused of stealing money from a student activity fund for gambling. In Camden County, a former business administrator gave up his teaching certificates after he was accused of funneling contracts to a company owned by his family. (He did not admit to the allegations.) In Gloucester County, a former business administrator gave up his teaching certificates after he was accused of authorizing more than $18,000 in questionable payments to himself. (He too did not admit to the allegations.) In Middlesex County, a principal lost her credentials after being accused of encouraging cheating on state tests. In Passaic County, a chief operating officer pleaded guilty to stealing $75,000 from the school and lost her certificate as an administrator.
    Kelly Heyboer, NJ Advance Media, April 10, 2018

  • Charles Kushner, a Soprano State favorite (Chapters 2,3, 8 and 9) was back in the news with a New York Times story saying he expressed hope to a close family friend that his son’s position with the Trump administration could result in a pardon. Asked if it were true, Charles told the New York Times he would “prefer not to have a pardon” because it would mean more publicity for the family. While the Kushner family may have thought Jared Kushner’s rise to a presidential advisor would boost their fortunes, they instead found increased scrutiny by prosecutors added to their woes. Charles Kushner pleaded guilty in 2004 to witness tampering after he hired a hooker to entice his brother-in-law, had the event filmed and then mailed it to his sister. (Kushner, under investigation by the feds, suspected his brother-in-law was helping with the probe.) Charles was sentenced to two years in prison and served 14 months. Jared, maintaining his father’s prosecution was unfair, visited Charles nearly every weekend, the Washington Post reported. Jared told New York magazine about the tape: “Was it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, it was a function of saying: ‘You’re trying to make my life miserable? Well, I’m doing the same.’” Since heading to D.C., Jared Kushner has had his security clearance diminished at the White House and faces questions related to the special counsel’s probe and to his meetings with foreign officials and whether or not those meetings helped Kushner companies. Jared’s sister came under scrutiny for her pitch to Chinese investors as part of a program that trades investments for visas. The New York Times also reported two major Manhattan properties owned by the Kushners are on the creditors’ watch list. Two other New York projects came under new scrutiny in the wake of an Associated Press story reporting Kushner Companies obtained construction permits after wrongly reporting the projects had no rent-regulated tenants. The company said the mistake, made by a third party, has been corrected, the New York Times reported.
    Sharon LaFraniere and Katie Benner, New York Times, April 1, 2018; Gabriel Sherman, New York Magazine, July 12, 2009; Shawn Boburg, Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2016; Michael Kranish, Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2018; Bernard Condon, Associated Press, March 18, 2018

  • Former NJ Sen. Wayne Bryant, sentenced to four years in prison for bribery and fraud after a jury found (as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee) he steered $10 million in state funding to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in return for a university low-work job that boosted his pension, served 40 months in jail but was still trying to collect his $81,000 pension. Once again, his efforts failed, as an appellate court shot down his appeal. (You can find Bryant throughout The Soprano State in Chapters 1,3,4,8 and 10, including the time Democratic Assembly leaders ordered Lincoln Town Cars for themselves and Bryant ordered his in red.) The state pension board determined Bryant had to forfeit all of his pension. But not giving up, Bryant asked the appellate court to consider “his sterling qualities and many good deeds” while in office. But the appellate court would have none of it and ruled that “given the severe criminal nature of the lengthy misconduct, total forfeiture of petitioner’s pension was warranted.” The judges added, “A lesser punishment would not sufficiently induce people to continue faithful and diligent (public) employment.”
    Carly Sitrin, NJ Spotlight, March 16, 2018; Peter Sampson, Bergen Record, Feb. 10, 2014; Charles Toutant, New Jersey Law Journal, Feb. 7, 2014

  • Seth Rehfuss of Somerset has been indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with using a nonprofit called The Good Samaritans of America (and offers of free ice cream) to gain access to low-income senior housing where he and others used fear tactics to convince seniors to undergo unnecessary genetic testing. Investigators said Rehfuss told seniors they would be vulnerable to heart attacks, strokes, cancer and suicide without the genetic testing. He used Craigslist to recruit healthcare providers who were paid thousands of dollars a month to authorize testing for patients they never examined, according to the charges. The cost to Medicare for the scheme was more than $1 million. Rehfuss raked in more than $100,000 and paid tens of thousands of dollars in commissions to those who helped, according to the feds.
    U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, March 16, 2018

  • Two New Jersey women (defense contractor employee Irene Pombo and a civilian employee Nicole Pier at the Picatinny Arsenal) pleaded guilty to trading bribes and other goodies worth between $150,000 and $250,000 for government contracts. For 11 years, Pombo teamed with the defense contractor and its other employees in offering goodies (Apple products, luxury handbags, Beats headphones and tickets to a luxury sky box at professional sporting events) to Picatinny Arsenal employees, including Pier (Pombo’s daughter) in exchange for contracts. To add insult to injury, the feds said Pombo admitted that she filed bogus bills to the federal government, writing off the cost of the bribes as “materials” needed for the government contracts.
    U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, March 20, 2018

  • A Morris County man pleaded guilty to teaming with a Middlesex fire inspector in Soprano State style threats to extort cash from the owner of a real estate company. Joseph Martinelli admitted conspiring with Billy Donnerstag (then a fire inspector for Middlesex Borough and other New Jersey municipalities) to harm “Individual No. 1” if he did not pay $15,000 in cash. The two believed “Individual No. 1” had not paid enough for the sale of a property a decade ago, investigators said. In November, Donnerstag was indicted and charged with conspiracy to commit extortion. Here is what federal prosecutors charge: In telephone and in conversations, Donnerstag described himself to the victim as a “guy that you don’t want to see” and a collector of debts who operated outside the legal system. At one point he said, “If you were in front of me right now, you’d be on the floor.” Donnerstag told “Individual No. 1” to ask others about his father because he said “that’s what I do” and referred to his father as “Jerry the Jew.” Federal investigators said according to publicly available information in the 1970s, Gerald Donnerstag of Belleville, NJ, a/k/a “Jerry the Jew,” reportedly was connected to organized crime and was convicted of murder in Scranton, PA, and theft in Essex County, NJ. Prosecutors said Martinelli told the victim Donnerstag would “collect the money one way or the other, that’s the way he is.” The victim paid Martinelli and Donnerstag $15,000, money provided by the feds.
    U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, March 2, 2018; Luke Nozicka, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 9, 2017; Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, June 15, 2017

  • A Margate firefighter became the 16th person to plead guilty in a health benefits fraud scheme that paid $50 million for compounded medications that were mailed to New Jersey residents. Firefighter Michael Sher paid kickbacks to patients, gave cash to a doctor who handled thousands of fraudulent prescriptions and recruited others into the scheme, investigators said. The sad part of the scheme that raked in $7 million for the conspirators: Those convicted in this case include two firefighters, a guidance counselor, a teacher, a medical doctor and several pharmaceutical employees. Sher recruited public employees covered by state health benefits to obtain expensive and medically unnecessary compounded medications from an out-of-state pharmacy. The pharmacy paid a kickback to Sher and others from the money state-funded insurance paid for the compounded medications. Sher’s take in the scheme was $1.7 million. Sher retired from the Margate Fire Department just before the guilty plea.
    U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, March 1, 2018; Thomas Moriarty, NJ Advance Media, March 1, 2018

  • Janell Robinson, a former Newark cop, has been indicted on extortion and fraud charges in connection with a million-dollar kickback scheme at the Newark Conservation and Development Corp., the now bankrupt watershed agency which the state comptroller said wasted millions in public funds. Linda Watkins Brashear, former director of the watershed agency who is serving eight and a half years in federal prison, helped Robinson’s security-consulting company obtain watershed agency contracts that paid $289,130 for bogus and inflated invoices, the feds charged. In return, Robinson (while she was a Newark cop) paid Brashear kickbacks of $3,000 each time a payment was made by the watershed agency, according to the indictment. 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.
    U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, March 5, 2018; Karen Yi, NJ Advance Media, March 6, 2018

  • The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority has long been a golden egg for Soprano State politicians. (See Chapter 7 of The Soprano State). And nothing has changed. Vincent Prieto, ousted from his post as Assembly speaker, has assumed the top post at the authority at a salary of $280,000, a $55,000 boost over past CEO Wayne Hasenbalg. And not to be left out, Hasenbalg will remain at the authority, his position not yet determined, The Record reported. A Record editorial laid the blame at the feet of Gov. Phil Murphy and accused him of not missing a beat when it comes to longstanding politicking at the authority. Prieto will resign his assembly seat and his post as a local code official. A strong supporter of Murphy during the gubernatorial campaign, Prieto drew the blessing of the new governor for the lucrative post. The Record questioned whether he has the “skill set” to lead the authority as it oversees the Meadowlands Sports Complex and development of the American Dream shopping center.
    Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 15, 2018; Editorial, northjersey.com, Feb. 17, 2018

  • Taxpayers in the Soprano State have long borne the burden of expensive payouts for retired police chiefs. Little has changed there either. Lodi Police Chief Vincent Quatrone retired with $283,000, a combination of unused time and severance pay. He went out with $232,097 for 297.5 days of unused sick, vacation and personal time and holidays, plus $50,714 in severance, The Record learned with an Open Public Records Act request. Quatrone was on the force for 28 years and said the terms of his contract were negotiated. Besides, he told The Record, it is a “misconception” that he gets it all because he owes taxes on the payout. Dan Pagano, president of New Jersey Taxpayers’ Association, said if the payouts continue there will be a day of reckoning. Recently retired Oakland Police Chief Edward Kasper got a $196,000 payout for 240 hours of unused vacation, 1,520 hours of sick time, 24 hours of personal time and 479 hours of comp time. In 2010, New Jersey capped sick leave payouts at $15,000 for new school, county and municipal employees. The burden for those hired before then remains. Large payouts for New Jersey’s police chiefs usually are paid at the chief’s final rate, despite when the time was earned. In Ramsey, officials took a step toward curbing payouts for police, but the reforms did not touch those at the top of the force.
    Kristie Cattafi, northjersey.com, Feb. 27, 2018; Marsha Stoltz, northjersey.com, March 2, 2018; Editorial, northjersey.com, Feb. 20, 2018; Karen Yi, NJ Advance Media, Oct. 15, 2017

  • The Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority took outrageous advantage of its monopoly on city water supplies when it raised rates on a family of four by $300 a year while sporting an annual surplus of $12.5 million, an audit by the state comptroller revealed. (Again, see Chapter Seven of The Soprano State for a long history of municipal and state authority abuses.) Comptroller Philip Degnan also discovered former authority executive director Dan Becht approved more than $26,000 in salary increases and benefits for himself without board approval. In addition, the comptroller reported three authority vendors were paid $94,000 more than they were authorized. The authority hires a private company to manage the city’s water system, and the comptroller concluded that the authority provided “questionable” oversight of Suez, which, according to the comptroller, failed to collect $575,000 in bulk-water fees from two Suez-related companies. NJ Advance Media reported John Folk, authority finance director, did not largely dispute the comptroller’s findings and said corrections were being made.
    Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Feb. 21, 2018; NJ Comptroller Philip Degnan, Feb. 21, 2018

  • The Soprano State’s reputation took another hit when New Jersey’s Mendham Township Deputy Mayor Rick Blood made national news. Blood sent out a Facebook post (he said was copied from a friend without a careful read) that likened undocumented immigrants to raccoons in a basement and praised President Trump as their exterminator. Publications from USA Today to the Washington Post reported the Facebook post. Blood apologized for “fanning the flames.” Editorial editor Alfred Doblin of The Record said Blood’s post “didn’t fan racist flames, it lit the cross.” After the public had its say at a Mendham Township meeting, Blood resigned as deputy mayor. He still has his government job as director of public works in Roxbury where he earns $114,000 a year and where township manager John Shepherd said Blood has a First Amendment right to his opinions. Karol Ruiz, of a Morristown immigrant advocacy group told NJ Advance Media, “This was about dehumanizing undocumented immigrants who live in both Roxbury and Mendham and every corner of New Jersey.”
    Rob Jennings, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 14, 2018; Alfred P. Doblin, northjersey.com, Feb. 12, 2018

  • A former New Jersey hospital executive now Veterans Affairs Secretary for President Trump is feeling heat even from the President over a $122,334 trip to Europe which a watchdog said misused taxpayers’ money. A report by the inspector general of Veteran Affairs accused David Shulkin of turning an aide into a “personal travel concierge,” of improperly accepting tickets to Wimbledon, and of misrepresentations that were used to include his wife on the trip to Europe. Shulkin was president of the Morristown Medical Center and vice president of Atlantic Health System before becoming a member of Trump’s Cabinet. Shulkin said he was not involved in sending an email, allegedly altered by his chief of staff, that made it appear he was getting an award during the trip, thereby justifying a taxpayer funded flight for his wife. He said he regrets the mistakes he and others made and will repay the $4,312 cost of her flight. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called for Shulkin to resign. “He’s really part of the culture of corruption that too often defines this organization,” Coffman said. Shulkin said he does not intend to resign. His chief of staff, however, did. Shulkin said her resignation was a “personal decision” and suggested her email was hacked.
    John Bowden, The Hill, Feb. 17, 2018; CBS News, Feb. 15, 2018; Donovan Slack, USA Today, Feb. 14, 2018; Jonathan D. Salant, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 14, 2018

  • An “I Love Paterson” video was intended to boost the city’s image. (Here’s why it was needed: Former Paterson Mayor Joey Torres recently was sentenced to five years in prison for having city employees do work on city time at a property leased by his daughter. The mayor before him, Marty Barnes, also was jailed on corruption charges. Six times during the past 16 months federal or state authorities have issued subpoenas and search warrants for Paterson records, northjersey.com reported. In chapter 10 of The Soprano State, a federal judge declared corruption in the state was rampant after a Paterson school official was sentenced to 43 months in prison for taking $180,000 in kickbacks. In The Soprano State updates for 2017, Paterson is mentioned 25 times.) But the video promotion ran into big trouble when it was discovered at the film’s debut that one of the co-hosts, appearing five times, was Ehab Abdelaziz, a former Jersey City cop, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. (Investigators said Abdelaziz gave another cop $11,825 in bribes in exchange for bogus vouchers allowing him to get paid for off-duty work he never did. His arrest was part of a federal probe into law enforcement corruption.) Abdelaziz attended the image-boosting video debut along with other dignitaries and told northjersey.com he saw no reason why he should not be in the video. “Something that happened in Jersey City has nothing to do with this,” he said. “I was just an actor in the video.” But Marcia Julian Sottorrio, Paterson’s cultural affairs director and creator of the video, said Abdelaziz will be edited out.
    Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press, Feb. 12 and 16, 2018 and Oct. 3, 2017; Terrence T. McDonald, Oct. 4, 2017

  • New Jersey’s decision to try to kill the mob-busting Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor was the perfect Soprano State maneuver. The 65-year-old commission was created to combat the mob’s decades of influence on the ports of New York City and New Jersey. The International Longshoremen’s Association and the New York Shipping Association are no friends of the commission. No wonder. In recent years the commission has helped prosecute high-ranking union officials who teamed with the Genovese crime family to extort their own union members. (Federal investigators said Genovese crime family associates and high-ranking members of the International Longshoremen’s Association conspired to collect tribute payments from New Jersey port workers every year at Christmas.) Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak has been pushing since 2010 for New Jersey to pull out of the commission, comprised of New York and New Jersey and authorized by Congress. He said it’s no longer needed. The NJ legislature passed a bill to pull out of the commission in 2015, but Gov. Christie vetoed the bill saying it was unconstitutional. But just before departing office last month, Christie signed a bill for the withdrawal. The commission quickly sued incoming Gov. Phil Murphy, and New Jersey, for now, agreed to halt the efforts to break up the commission. In challenging the New Jersey maneuver, the commission told the court that the shipping industry in and around New York City “has been chronically plagued, historically and currently, by organized crime and labor racketeering.”
    Patrick McGeehan, New York Times, Jan. 17, 2018; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 23, 2018

  • U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez will not see another bribery trial, but he is expected to face an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. After an 11-week trial in which the jury couldn’t come to a decision, a federal judge dismissed four of the 12 charges against the senator, and federal prosecutors asked the federal court to drop the remaining charges. Menendez escaped charges of bribery, corruption and fraud accusing him of using his official position to help a Florida doctor who gave him lavish gifts and campaign contributions. Now, he must weather an ethics probe in a year when he is seeking reelection. (U.S. Sen. Bob Torricelli faced a similar situation in 2002 and dropped out of the Senate race after being “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee which said he accepted and failed to disclose lavish gifts from a businessman he helped. The Soprano State, Chapter Five.) A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll after the hung jury showed 51 percent of New Jersey residents think Menendez does not deserve to be reelected. Jennifer Duffy of Cook Political Report told northjersey.com that what might save Democrat Menendez’ chance of reelection is New Jersey’s distaste for Republican President Donald Trump and the effect that could have on any Republican candidate.
    Charles Stile, northjersey.com, Feb. 1, 2018; Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, Nov. 30, 2018

  • This local judge could fall into two chapters in The Soprano State: Court Jesters and The Run for the Roses Starts in the Boondocks. Richard Thompson, who worked as a local judge in nine Monmouth County towns, pleaded guilty to falsifying 4,000 court records sending $500,000 that was supposed to flow into the Monmouth County treasury into local municipalities where Thompson sat on the municipal bench. Thompson admitted that from 2010 to 2015 he suspended fines for motor vehicle tickets, converting the charges to “contempt of court.” Money from motor vehicle tickets are split between the county and the municipality. Fines for “contempt of court” belong to the local municipality. “Thompson’s conduct was likely to curry favor with the municipalities that continued to employ him as a judge, allowing him to retain his seat on the various municipal courts for many years,” the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office explained. Thompson sat on the bench in Bradley Beach, Colts Neck, Eatontown, Middletown, Neptune City, Oceanport, Rumson, Tinton Falls and Union Beach. The prosecutor said Thompson would make the change in the charge after others left the courtroom. Under a plea agreement Thompson is likely to get probation. His defense attorney, Charles Uliano told NJ Advance Media, “It is regrettable that such a distinguished career should end this way.”
    Allison Pries, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 2, 2018; Office of the Monmouth County Prosecutor, Feb. 2, 2018

  • U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is headed to another trial. The feds have charged the veteran senator with 12 counts of bribery, corruption and fraud accusing him of using his official position to help a Florida doctor who gave him lavish gifts and campaign contributions. In the first trial, which lasted 11 weeks, the jury couldn’t come to a decision. The feds intend to find out if another jury can convict. Menendez says he fully intends to be vindicated and plans to run for reelection this year. He said gifts that came from Salomon Melgen, the doctor convicted of Medicare fraud in Florida, were all about friendship. Prosecutors want some new rules for the new trial. They complain that the jury could often see Menendez in the hallway in prayer circles with clergy and that jurors on their way to the jury room had to daily “walk a gauntlet” composed of Menendez, his family, attorneys, employees and supporters. Clearly, Judge William Walls could set a new, upgraded tone to the court proceedings. Just before the last trial ended in a hung jury, Walls allowed a juror to leave on vacation. As if the Menendez trial isn’t Soprano State enough, news reports say, if Menendez decides not to run for reelection, former Senator Bob Torricelli wants to take his place. How does that make any sense? Torricelli decided not to seek reelection to the Senate, dropping out of the race at the last minute in 2002, after a Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” him saying he violated Senate rules by accepting and failing to disclose lavish gifts from a businessman he helped. Sound familiar? (You can read it all in The Soprano State, Chapter Five.) The admonishment of Torricelli followed an investigation by the feds, who never charged him.
    Dustin Racioppi, Herb Jackson and Charles Stile, northjersey.com, Jan. 19, 2018; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 19, 2018; Matt Arco and Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 20, 2018; Alfred P. Doblin, northjersey.com, Jan. 19, 2018; David Kocieniewski, Tim Golden and Carl Hulse, New York Times, July 31, 2002

  • Gov. Christie departs his office with a new record low in popularity. Northjersey.com reported bobblehead dolls of the governor were being offered at a clearance sale of $13 after a Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed only 13 percent of Soprano State residents thought he was doing a good job, the lowest rating for a governor since the polling began. When Christie took the governor’s seat in 2010, he came in as a popular federal prosecutor who nailed politicians on both sides of the political aisle. Much like the last elected GOP governor, Christie Whitman, he kept the previous Democratic governor (Jon Corzine) to one term. It’s not hard to figure out what happened to Christie’s popularity, and news organizations ranked his woes (and his good times). There is little doubt Bridgegate ranks at the top, followed by Beachgate. And then there was endorsing Donald Trump for president after basically leaving the state to run for president himself. But not insignificant are what nj.com labeled the “public spats,” or Christie’s behavior toward everyday people in New Jersey. The touch-of-arrogance personality that worked as a prosecutor blossomed into something obviously distasteful to most of New Jersey. The closing of Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not endorsing Christie will forever taint the Christie administration, even though the governor was not caught up in the federal prosecution. And beach memes of Christie lounging with his family on a state beach he closed to others ahead of the Fourth of July weekend will forever float on social media: Christie’s contributions to the Soprano State legacy.
    Mike Kelly, The Record, Jan. 12, 2018; Claude Brodesser-Akner, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 13, 2018; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 11, 2018; NJ Advance Media, Jan. 10, 2018

  • Whenever the Soprano State legislature turns over after an election, there is that shameful lame-duck time when the outgoing legislature unabashedly pushes through a multitude of legislation that would never otherwise see the light of day. This year was no different. The day before the turnover, lawmakers passed 200 bills and resolutions. “It’s not the best way to approach legislation,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski told northjersey.com. “But it is how we do things here.” And there you have it. Lawmakers passed a bill that would offer up to $5 billion in tax breaks to Amazon should the company decide to bring its second headquarters to Newark. The tax break would amount to $100,000 for each full-time job created by the move. And lawmakers passed a bill that would boost the pension of former Camden Mayor Dana Redd and several other elected officials by allowing them to move into the lucrative Public Employees Retirement System after being disqualified because they changed from one elected office to another.
    Nicholas Pugliese, northjersey.com, Jan. 8, 2018; Samantha Marcus, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 9, 2018

  • Governors are not immune to the temptation of last minute maneuvers. Christie sent 83 direct appointments to the Secretary of State in the week before his departure. Among those appointed were dozens of allies and cabinet members appointed to 41 boards and committees, northjersey.com reported. And the Christie administration sold $375 million in bonds for two Trenton office buildings and two youth correctional facilities. Critics called the bond sale an end run around the constitutional requirement for voters to approve state debt. But a legal challenge to the sale failed because a judge ruled the bonds were not general debt because the state Economic Development Authority will repay the bonds with rental income from the buildings. Bruce Afran, lawyer for Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, didn’t buy it. “This amounts to a type of secret government by public corporation, of which the people have lost all control,” Afran told northjersey.com.
    Catherine Carrera, northjersey.com, Jan. 10, 2018; James Nash, northjersey.com, Jan. 8, 2018

  • Senator Kristin Corrado found a way around the state law that forbids officials from holding more than one elected office. Corrado resigned from the elected post of Passaic County clerk and less than three weeks later assumed the unpaid job of “special deputy clerk,” northjersey.com reported. Walter Davison, her interim replacement as clerk, said she oversees the main offices while he runs a satellite office. Corrado said county freeholders approved the appointment. Critics call it a way around the law. Corrado called it an “unpaid, part-time volunteer position.”
    Richard Cowen and Joe Malinconico, The Record and Paterson Press, Jan. 9, 2018

  • Characters in The Soprano State like Charles Kushner and Chris Christie made headlines with their appearance in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House. Publications ranging from The New Yorker to the British tabloid Daily Mail reported the book says New Jersey native Charles Kushner (Chapters 2, 3, 8 and 9) was concerned that the probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was embroiling the Kushner family finances, and those fears were “channeled” through his son Jared Kushner and daughter-in-law Ivanka Trump to President Trump as he was deciding on the firing of FBI Director James Comey. In another part of the book, Wolff contends Trump decided to run for president only after Christie was tainted by Bridgegate. And the book blames Ivanka for Christie’s ouster from Trump’s circle: “Ivanka told her father that Christie’s appointment as chief of staff or to any other high position would be extremely difficult for her and her family, and it would be best that Christie be removed from the Trump orbit altogether.” As a U.S. attorney, Christie prosecuted Charles Kushner for witness tampering after he hired a hooker to entice his brother-in-law, filmed the event, and then mailed it to his sister, who was cooperating with a federal investigation into Kushner. (Again, read it all in The Soprano State.) In an interview with reporter Matt Arco, Christie now blames Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner for executing his ouster from the Trump transition.
    John Cassidy, The New Yorker, Jan. 4, 2018; Geoff Earle, Dailymail.com, Jan. 5, 2018; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 5, 2018; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 7, 2018

  • Former Gov. Brendan Byrne died at age 93 with obituaries noting he brought income taxes and gambling to New Jersey. First running for governor in 1973, he was touted as “the man the mob couldn’t buy” after federal surveillance caught mobsters on tape complaining about how he couldn’t be bribed as a county prosecutor. The Soprano State (Chapter 9) tells how three years later Byrne and others successfully pushed for legalized gaming in Atlantic City, and critics warned it would attract the mob. To quell those critics, Byrne made a production of telling organized crime to keep its filthy hands off Atlantic City. The problem was, the mob was already there. “When the governor issued that warning to the mob to keep the hell out of Atlantic City, they were already laying the groundwork,” Frank Lentino, the link between the Philadelphia mob and organized labor, told reporter Sandy McClure.
    CBS News, Jan. 5, 2018; Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure, The Soprano State, 2008.

  • Gov. Christie used his final weeks in office to pardon 10 people, including one of his campaign donors, a Morristown businessman who pleaded guilty to four counts of tampering with public records and information. Joseph M. Longo admitted falsifying payroll records related to two public projects Longo Electrical-Mechanical did for Montclair Township and the Middlesex County Utilities Authority. He was sentenced to two years probation and fined $300,000. According to campaign records, Longo donated $500 to the governor’s campaign in 2009 and $1,050 for other campaigns and inaugural events, according to northjersey.com. Longo’s Facebook page posts a picture with the governor at Drumthwacket after the 2014 inauguration and describes Christie as the best governor in the country, Observer reported. Longo’s lawyer during the criminal case was former U.S. senator Jeffrey Chiesa, Christie’s former attorney general who now heads the state takeover of Atlantic City. Longo was not barred from doing future business in the state and after his guilty plea continued contracting numerous government projects throughout the state.
    James Nash, northjersey.com, Dec. 26, 2017; Christian Hetrick, Observer, Dec. 22, 2017

  • In what appears to be another Soprano State-style scheme, a former clerk for the state Motor Vehicle Commission at Lodi was indicted and charged with taking thousands of dollars in return for handing 220 people permits or licenses without the need to take an exam. Those buying the bogus licenses without the required written or driving exam paid an average of more than $700, state investigators said. The former clerk, Rodman Lora, was charged along with nine others, including four customers, three runners used to recruit customers, and a clerk and security guard who worked at the Lodi MVC.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Dec. 20, 2017

 

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