The Soprano State The Soprano State
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Update

2022

  • U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez,, the powerful Hudson County political boss and Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, is once again under scrutiny by the feds, the New York Times reports.

    After an eleven-week trial in 2017, a deadlocked jury failed to convict the longtime senator on the bribery charges brought by federal prosecutors. Nevertheless, the Senate Ethics Committee took up the case and severely admonished Menendez for using his official position to assist in the business dealings of Dr. Salomon Melgen while accepting luxury gifts from the doctor.

    In Chapter 3 of The Soprano State, “Like Days of Yore Minus the Shining Knights,” on the state’s political bosses, you can find seven pages on Menendez, including another time when the feds took a look at his behavior.

    According to Michael Soliman, a New Jersey political consultant who spoke with the New York Times, Menendez is aware of the current investigation. The probe, according to the Times, centers on a change in U.S. policy that reduced from four to one the number of companies able to certify that meat is prepared under Muslim rules when it is sold to Egypt. The New York Times also reported that the lone New Jersey company chosen to certify the meat was new to the business and inexperienced.

    Menendez inherited his political boss status in Hudson County from his mentor state Sen. William Musto after Menendez testified against Musto in a federal trial that convicted his mentor of racketeering. The Soprano State also details the activities of Donald Scarinci, point man, longtime friend and major fundraiser for Menendez. Scarinci’s law firm represented Angelo Prisco, the mobster released early from prison during the McGreevey administration. You can find all the details in Chapter Eight, “The Gospel According to the Mob.”

    Tracey Tully, Benjamin Weiser and William K. Rashbaum, The New York Times, Oct. 26 and 28, 2022

  • Neil Cohen, the assemblyman caught printing child pornography in his legislative office, is one of nearly 100 former state, county and local officials convicted of crimes who are still receiving government-funded pensions costing New Jersey taxpayers $3.7 million a year, an investigation by Riley Yates of NJ Advance Media revealed.

    The Public Employees’ Retirement System trustees denied Cohen his legislative pension of $2,031 a month, but granted him a pension of $3,600 per month based on the law work he did for local governments and authorities. Still unhappy with the decision that grants him $43,000 a year from the state’s struggling pension system, Cohen has appealed.

    Yates points out that Cohen is not alone, despite a law that mandates a loss of pension for those convicted of 23 crimes related to their government jobs. Among those receiving pensions are “teachers who molested students, politicians who accepted bribes, and police and corrections officers who assaulted people in their custody or stole by submitting fake overtime slips,” Yates reported.

    Despite the state law, the problem comes with plea bargaining to void convictions for the 23 crimes, and loopholes in the law that allow those with multiple government jobs to still collect a portion of their pension.

    Another glaring example is former Jersey City council president Mariano Vega, who pleaded guilty to extortion and spent 30 months in jail. Vega accepted $20,000 in bribes from an FBI informant, and agreed to $10,000 more, in return for help with approvals for a development project. He was nabbed in Operation Big Rig, the largest federal corruption roundup in state history. But Vega successfully argued that the crime was only related to his role as council president and is receiving a pension of $45,000 a year based on his job as director of Hudson County’s Department of Parks.

    Matt Friedman of Politico appropriately titled the Yates investigation “Disgraced but pensioned.”

    Riley Yates, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 7, 2022; Ron Zeitlinger, Jersey Journal, Feb. 21, 2020”

  • Another state disgrace, conditions at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, resulted in a grand jury indicting 14 corrections officers, including the acting administrator, on charges that they forcibly removed inmates from cells, beating some and severely injuring two inmates.

    The “inmate extraction” of a high-security area of the prison came in the middle of the night after inmates squirted unknown liquids through cell doors onto corrections officers. One inmate who offered no physical resistance was restrained by officers while one officer punched her 30 times, according to the indictment. She was hospitalized with a concussion.

    Gov. Murphy has announced the state’s intention to close New Jersey’s only women’s prison. The announcement came in the wake of a U.S. Justice Department report detailing violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of inmates by prison employees.

    S.P. Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 27, 2022; Thomas Eicher, Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, Sept. 27, 2022

  • In one of those only-in-the-Soprano State crimes, a senior corrections officer at Northern State Prison, Werner Gramajo, is charged with official misconduct, bribery, conspiracy and tampering with public records

    Gramajo is charged with taking $500 a month in bribes from an inmate in return for smuggling cold cuts, expresso, cologne and jewelry into the prison. The recipient of the goodies was Thomas De Vingo, who is serving time for robbery.

    Gramajo was charged after a note with a request for food for “Tommy Two Times” and $40 was discovered in an area off-limits to inmates. Gramajo, whose salary is $79,660 a year, denies taking money to bring De Vingo food.

    Jeff Goldman, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 8, 2022

  • In another Soprano State scenario, Jersey City Councilwoman Amy DeGise, former chair of the Hudson County Democrats and daughter of Hudson County executive Tom DeGise, is refusing to resign in the wake of a hit-and-run leading to charges that she fled the scene and failed to report the accident after her vehicle struck a cyclist. The cyclist, Andrew Black, suffered minor injuries. TV film shows Black, who ran a red light, flipping in the air and then hitting the pavement as DeGise drove away.

    While Jersey City residents and two councilmembers have called for her resignation, they have not been joined by the state’s high-ranking Democrats. In light of her councilwoman position, DeGise’s case has been moved from Jersey City to Essex County.

    The hit-and-run isn’t the only negative press for DeGise. News reports indicate that despite earning almost $200,000 a year, she was living in an income-restricted apartment and had dozens of unpaid parking tickets and motor vehicle violations. The Jersey Journal also reported that six weeks before she was sworn in as a councilwoman, she tried to use her political status when her illegally parked SUV was being towed in Hoboken.

    Ron Zeitlinger, Jersey Journal, Aug. 26, 2022; Zeitlinger and Jake Maher, Jersey Journal, Aug. 13, 2022

  • Soprano State towns are still breaking the law when it comes to paying employees for unused sick leave. Acting state Comptroller Kevin Walsh took a look at 60 New Jersey towns and found all but three were violating laws passed more than a decade ago to curb the lucrative payouts.

    “New Jersey residents are being taxed, and their funds are being used for unlawful purposes,” Walsh said.

    Walsh said that while his agency only looked at 60 towns, he suspects school districts, water commissions, sewer and parking authorities throughout the state also are breaking the laws.

    The comptroller’s report found 80 percent of the 60 towns were paying employees, who resigned or changed jobs, for their unused sick time; 60 percent were violating a state law that limits a sick-time cash out to $15,000; and 48 percent gave employees illegal annual payments for unused sick time.

    The comptroller’s report follows similar findings by the Asbury Park Press and ProPublica last year in an expose that reported over a two-year period, one town in North Jersey paid out $460,000 in unused sick leave.

    A year earlier, the State Commission of Investigation reported New Jersey public employees were raking in retirement bonanzas and annually cashing in unused sick leave despite state laws and decades of warnings from the SCI.

    This time, the comptroller wants to see some of the money returned. He wants an accounting from the 57 towns on how much was illegally paid out in sick leave, and he wants plans on how those towns will recover taxpayers’ money.

    Susanne Cervenka and Dustin Racioppi, Northjersey.com, July 7, 2022; State Commission of Investigation, Feb. 19, 2020

  • Finally, the state is going to take another look at the death eight years ago of prominent Republican John Sheridan and his wife, a case authorities initially ruled a murder-suicide, but none of his four children ever believed.

    Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s decision to reopen the case comes in the wake of an arrest in a murder-for-hire case (also in 2014) that appeared strikingly similar to the death of the Sheridans four months later.

    When the Sheridans were found dead in the master bedroom of their Skillman home, county prosecutors concluded that Sheridan killed his wife, set the house on fire, and then killed himself. Both suffered multiple stab wounds and burns. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sheridan, who also suffered five broken ribs and a chipped front tooth, was found under a burning armoire dresser. The knife used in the killings was never found, but a knife was reported missing from the kitchen.

    In January, when longtime Democratic consultant Sean Caddle pleaded guilty to a 2014 murder-for-hire in the stabbing death of Michael Galdierei (whose Jersey City home was set on fire to cover up the crime), Mark Sheridan (John’s son) told prosecutors the similarities could not be ignored. He pointed to a knife found in the truck of George Bratsenis (who pleaded guilty to being hired for the Galdierei murder) during a bank robbery investigation just one day after the Sheridans were stabbed.

    After the Sheridan case was ruled a murder-suicide in 2015, the family hired experts to review the facts and were successful in 2017 in getting the cause of Sheridan’s death changed from suicide to undetermined.

    Well known in GOP circles, John Sheridan, 72, had served as transportation commissioner for Gov. Tom Kean and on the transition teams for Govs. Chris Christie and Christie Whitman. At the time of his death, he was chief executive of Camden’s Cooper Health System.

    Steve Janoski, NorthJersey.com, May 31 and June 3, 2022 Catherine Dunn and Andrew Seidman, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 28, 2022; Steve Janoski, NorthJersey.com, Jan. 28, 2022; Tracey Tully and Ed Shanahan, New York Times, Jan. 31, 2022; Matt Friedman, Politico, Jan. 28, 2022

  • Former state senator Tom Kean Jr., who is running for Congress, seems to think ducking the question of whether the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol was “legitimate public discourse” will help him in his newest quest to head to Washington D.C.

    NJ.com has repeatedly asked for his response to the Republican National Committee’s statement that the violent mob was not a violent mob.

    Kean, the son of the popular former Gov. Tom Kean, is a former state assemblyman and senator making his second attempt to become a congressman for New Jersey’s 7th District.

    In his apparent desperation to please GOP conservatives, Kean would do well to remember what happened to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler in 2001 when he decided to remain silent on Jerry Falwell’s comments after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

    Falwell, a Schundler campaign contributor, blamed the terrorist attacks on homosexuals, feminists, civil liberties groups and abortion-rights supporters who had removed God’s protection from America. For many in New Jersey, Falwell’s words were an anathema.

    Gannett’s State Bureau immediately asked Schundler for his reaction, but there was no response, and the conservative candidate waited several days before disagreeing with Falwell. The delay appeared to align Schundler with conservative extremists, and political analysts said his slow response proved the final kiss of death in his campaign for the governor’s seat. Editorial Board, NJ.com, Feb. 13, 2022; Charles Stile, NorthJersey.com, Feb. 14, 2022

  • In the wake of a 2014 murder-for-hire case that appears strikingly similar to the death of his parents four months later, the son of prominent Republican John Sheridan is asking prosecutors to take another look at the stabbing death of Sheridan and his wife.

    After the Sheridan case was ruled a murder-suicide in 2015, his family hired experts to review the facts and were successful in 2017 in getting the cause of Sheridan’s death changed to undetermined.

    When longtime Democratic consultant Sean Caddle pleaded guilty last month to a 2014 murder-for-hire in the stabbing death of Caddle’s associate Michael Galdierei, whose Jersey City home was set on fire to cover up the crime, Sheridan’s son, lawyer Mark Sheridan, told prosecutors the similarities could not be ignored, as a fire also was set at the Sheridan home.

    Mark Sheridan and his three brothers never believed their father killed their mother and then himself.

    Well known throughout the state, John Sheridan, 72, was chief executive of Camden’s Cooper Health System. He served as transportation commissioner for Gov. Tom Kean and on the transition teams for Govs. Chris Christie and Christie Whitman.

    According to accounts in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sheridans were found dead in the master bedroom of their Skillman home, located seven miles north of Princeton. Both had been stabbed multiple times and suffered burns from the fire. In addition, Sheridan had five broken ribs, a chipped front tooth and was found under a burning armoire dresser. The knife used in the killings was not found, but police asked about a knife missing from the kitchen.

    The sons hired a well-known pathologist, Michael Baden, a former New York City chief medical examiner, who said John Sheridan’s other wounds were signs of an attack, and the Sheridans were likely slain by an intruder, the Inquirer reported.

    Sheridan’s sons said prosecutors all but laughed at them in the past. Now, they want prosecutors to get serious about reopening the case, including examination of a knife found in the truck of George Bratsenis, one of the men identified in court as having been hired for the Galdierei murder. The knife was found by police during a bank robbery investigation just one day after the Sheridans were stabbed.

    Catherine Dunn and Andrew Seidman, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 28, 2022; Steve Janoski, NorthJersey.com, Jan. 28, 2022; Tracey Tully and Ed Shanahan, New York Times, Jan. 31, 2022; Matt Friedman, Politico, Jan. 28, 2022

  • A longtime Democratic consultant with ties to former Sen. Ray Lesniak, Sean Caddle, pleaded guilty in a murder-for-hire case that has all the elements of a Soprano State crime, right down to the payment being handed off in the parking lot of an Elizabeth diner.

    Caddle pleaded guilty to hiring two men who stabbed Caddle’s associate Michael Galdieri (a former Jersey City Council candidate and son of the late state Sen. James Galdieri) to death and then set fire to Galdieri’s Jersey City home to try to cover up the crime, according to media reports identifying the victim. (Galdieri had worked for Caddle’s consulting group, according to Politico, and on campaigns for former Assemblyman Lou Manzo and Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler, according to NJ.com.)

    The murder is an old crime, occurring in May 2014, just months after Caddle worked on Lesniak’s last Senate campaign in 2013.

    Caddle also was a one-time aide to Lesniak and managed Lesniak’s failed gubernatorial bid in 2017, according to Politico. In recent years, Caddle “ran a network of shady super PACs that appeared to have been designed to hide the true source of the money they pumped into local races,” Politico reported.

    Lesniak told Politico that he had been working on a project with Caddle, but the former senator would not elaborate. Lesniak said he spoke with Caddle the morning of the guilty plea, but Caddle made no mention of what was about to unfold. Lesniak told NJ.com he was shocked and described Caddle as “an all-star in terms of being a political operative.”

    Lesniak can be found throughout The Soprano State, including Chapter 3 where he identifies himself as a political boss and is described as having an oversized ego. A longtime senator and party leader in Union County, Lesniak has been in the news of late voicing his support for New Jersey’s attempts to leave the mob-busting Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

    Provisions of the guilty plea revealed Caddle is cooperating with the U.S. Attorney on unspecified crimes and his court appearance raised its own questions, as the plea was by videoconference and Caddle was freed on $1 million unsecured bond with electronic monitoring allowing home detention, NJ.com reported. In addition, Caddle agreed to plead guilty in October, but the information was kept confidential, according to NJ.com. U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger, Jan. 25, 2022; Ted Sherman, NJ.com, Jan. 25, 2022; Matt Friedman, Politico, Jan. 25, 2022


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