The Soprano State The Soprano State
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Update

2019

 

  • Bridget Anne Kelly, Gov. Christie’s former deputy chief of staff convicted in the Bridgegate case and famous for her email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” is looking to get out of her jail-time sentence and intends to take her last option, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The letter of intent, filed by her attorneys, comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals refused to take a second look at the case. A panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld five of the seven counts in Kelly’s conviction. Kelly’s lawyers argue what she did was mere politics because there was none of the traditional bribes often seen in the Soprano State. But a jury, and the U.S. Court of Appeals, disagreed. Bill Baroni, the Port Authority executive convicted along with Kelly, has given up his appeals and has asked the judge to resentence him, based on the five counts upheld by the appellate court. A jury found Kelly and Baroni guilty of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and misapplying property of an organization receiving federal funds. They were convicted of closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge in a scheme that prosecutors said was aimed at punishing the mayor for not supporting Christie’s reelection. Planned for the first day of school, the lane closures meant school buses, commuters, ambulances and fire trucks were stuck in the traffic jam. The appellate court dismissed counts related to civil rights conspiracy, but focused on the use of federal funds for the scheme, ruling “to execute their scheme, they conscripted 14 Port Authority employees to do sham work in pursuit of no legitimate Port Authority aim.” Baroni was sentenced to 24 months, Kelly to 18 months. They are free, pending appeal. Kelly testified Gov. Christie knew about the scheme, something he denies.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Feb. 12, 2019; Tom Nobile, North Jersey Record, Feb. 12, 2019

  • For 103 years local officials from the Soprano State have poured into Atlantic City for the annual League of Municipalities conference where hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars were spent last year on the likes of a $30 omelet, a $300 limo ride and a $1,063 meal, the North Jersey Record reported. The Record tabulated that during the three-day conference, $378,000 was spent by local officials from Bergen and Passaic counties and parts of Morris and Essex counties. The annual gathering was defended by Micah Rasmussen, now director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. Rasmussen is the former press secretary for Gov. Jim McGreevey. Rasmussen is the aide who constantly went to the mat for McGreevey and who McGreevey during a legislative correspondence club speech jokingly compared to Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi Minister of Misinformation. (See Chapter 2 of The Soprano State.) “There are lots of opportunities to work hard, and a lot to play hard,“ Rasmussen told The Record, which found only 37.6 percent of the officials used their badges to attend classes on municipal issues. Cliffside Park officials spent more taxpayers’ money at the conference than any other town, $17,791 for 22 officials, including a limo ride, taxis and expensive meals, with one councilman’s meal costing $1,063, according to the Record investigation. Only four Cliffside Park officials swiped cards to record their attendance at a class. A spokesman said they might not have swiped, but they listened and took notes. What really can get dicey are the after-hours events of receptions, breakfasts, cigar nights and liquor tasting sponsored by law firms and engineering companies. Companies are looking for municipal business. And sometimes the feds are looking too. For more than a decade it has been known that the feds have used the after-hour events at the annual conference for sting operations.
    Katie Sobko and Kristie Cattafi, North Jersey Record, Jan. 24, 2019

  • The feds indicted one of New Jersey’s party bosses, Ocean County GOP chair George Gilmore, identified in The Soprano State (Chapter 3) as a lesser boss who operates behind the scenes, but who has been key to any Republican winning statewide. A federal grand jury charged Gilmore with more than $1 million in tax evasion and with failing to turn over taxes collected from the employees of his law firm. Federal prosecutors said Gilmore owed the IRS $1.5 million by the end of 2016, while between 2014 and 2016 he spent more than $2.5 million on home remodeling, Colorado vacations, antiques, artwork, and collectables, including animal tusks. His lawyer, white collar crime defense attorney Kevin Marino, attributed Gilmore’s woes to a hoarding disorder and pledged his vindication. The charges accuse Gilmore of concealing information from the IRS, falsely classifying income, making false statements to the IRS, filing false tax returns, and understating his income from his law firm. County GOP chair since 1996, Gilmore is a partner in the law firm of Gilmore & Monahan and counts among his clients numerous New Jersey municipalities where the feds have been poking around for years. The indictment reads like a true Soprano State story. Gilmore is accused of using the law firm’s bank accounts for $2 million in personal expenses. He also is charged with paying back taxes with a $493,000 check to the IRS that bounced because he only had $2,500 in the account. In the two months after he wrote the check (and after he was told it bounced), the feds accuse him of spending more than $80,000 on personal items that included art work and antiques. Gilmore was responsible for withholding federal payroll taxes from his law firm’s employees and is charged with collecting the taxes, but not fully turning them over to the IRS. He also is charged with making false statements on a loan application to Ocean First Bank. Without disclosing his outstanding taxes and other debts, he refinanced a $1.5 million mortgage and received a $572,000 cash out, which he did not use to pay his back taxes, the feds charge. Republicans stood behind the powerful chairman with Freeholder Jack Kelly saying it was too early to suggest Gilmore resign his post. “Just because the government has put together a case doesn’t mean it’s the truth,” Kelly told the Asbury Park Press.
    First Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig, Jan. 10, 2019; Karen Wall, Patch, Jan. 10, 2019; Jean Mikle and Erik Larsen, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 10 and 11, 2019; Thomas Moriary, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 10, 2019

  • Jim McGreevey has been accused of acting as a lawyer without an active law license and has been fired as head of the Jersey City job training and prisoner re-entry program. Wherever the former governor goes in public life, controversy eventually seems to follow. McGreevey resigned from the state's top job in disgrace in 2004 after admitting to an extramarital affair with a man identified as Golan Cipel, the unqualified Israeli McGreevey hired as the state's security advisor. (See Chapter 2 of The Soprano State for all the details.) For the past six years, McGreevey led the Jersey City Employment and Training Program at a salary of $119,000 a year. But he is now in trouble with Mayor Steve Fulop and the nonprofit's board of directors, who are appointed by Fulop. Sudhan Thomas, chair of the board, has described McGreevey's decision to act as a lawyer for the agency when he does not have an active law license as "disturbing" and a "huge exposure" to the city, the Jersey Journal reported. McGreevey told the newspaper his goal was to save money. And there are other problems. In October, the city withheld federal money from the program, and city business administrator Brian Platt defended the decision by saying the training program was not compliant with rules on cash spending, did not provide proper job placement for clients and did not do required reporting, the Jersey Journal reported. At the same time it fired McGreevey at a meeting where no reasons were given, the board hired a lawyer and an auditor to review the program's finances. McGreevey's lawyer, high-profile defense lawyer Michael Critchley, sent a letter to Fulop threating to sue if McGreevey was fired at Fulop's direction, the Jersey Journal reported. NJTV News reported McGreevey is claiming he deserves protection under the state's whistleblower law because his woes with the program are a result of his firing a political operative who admitted taking cash from program clients after he helped them get jobs. In typical McGreevey style, he invited friends to attend the meeting where he knew he was about to be fired and emphasized he's a local by saying he works with clients from the neighborhood of his parents and grandparents. The board voted 5-3-1 to fire McGreevey despite "pro-McGreevey testimonials from nearly 30 people," the Jersey Journal reported.
    Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Jan. 5 and 7, 2019; Briana Vannozzi, NJTV News, Jan. 7, 2019

  • The news is never good for the Soprano State when United Van Lines issues its annual report of who is moving where. In 2018, New Jersey saw more people move out than any other state. Of those New Jersey residents moving, 66.8 percent were moving out. New Jersey has the distinction of being ranked in the top "outbound" states for the past 10 years. But in 2018, it moved from number two to number one. Following New Jersey in the ranking of those states with the most outbound residents was Illinois, followed by Connecticut and New York. Folks are migrating to southern and western states because of job growth, lower costs of living, state budgetary issues and more temperate climates, according to Michael Stoll, an economist at UCLA. Seventy percent of those departing New Jersey said the reason was retirement or employment. If you are wondering which state tops the "moving in" list, it is Vermont, followed by Oregon
    United Van Lines, Jan. 2, 2019; David M. Zimmer, North Jersey Record, Jan. 5, 2019

  • Bill Baroni, the Port Authority executive convicted in the Bridgegate scandal, is ready to face jail time. Baroni's lawyers signaled they will no longer appeal a federal appellate court decision upholding convictions of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and misapplying property of an organization receiving federal funds. Baroni and Gov. Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly were convicted of closing the Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge in a scheme that prosecutors said was aimed at punishing the mayor for not supporting Christie's reelection. The appellate court dismissed a count of civil rights conspiracy for each defendant while upholding the other charges. The appellate court noted that "to execute their scheme, they conscripted 14 Port Authority employees to do sham work in pursuit of no legitimate Port Authority aim." Baroni was sentenced to 24 months, Kelly to 18 months. The appellate court ordered U.S. District Court to issue new sentences, based on the dropping of the civil rights charges. Kelly's lawyer, high-profile defense lawyer Michael Critchley, vowed to take her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 5, 2019

  • For the first time in at least 10 years, the New Jersey State House Commission stripped a judge of her pension. The state Supreme Court booted Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi from the bench after investigators said she made a bogus phone call to police to help an intern win custody of her child. DeAvila-Silebi informed police about a court order that didn't exist, investigators found. The high court ruled she misused her position to help the intern, made false statements under oath and altered telephone records to cover up her actions. Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a commission member, told the North Jersey Record, "What's striking is that she continued to provide cover stories as time went on. There's no respect for the law." What also is striking is that only four of seven commission members thought her pension should be stripped. Here are the three who voted for her to keep her pension: Sen. Bob Smith, Justin Braz (the governor's deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs) and David Ridolfino (acting director of the Office of Management and Budget).
    Tom Nobile, North Jersey Record, Jan. 3, 2019


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