By MAX PIZARRO
Linden Mayor Richard J. Gerbounka said he respects State Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari and does not believe “we should rush judgment,” in sizing up Scutari’s involvement in a developing federal investigation.
“I think it’s premature,” said the mayor.
On Monday the U.S. Attorney’s Office served the 22nd district Senator and two other Democratic legislators — State Sen. Joseph Coniglio and Assemblyman Brian Stack — with subpoenas. At issue is whether or not the three may have violated conflict-of-interest laws by funneling $3.4 million in special grants, or “Christmas tree” funds, to organizations employing their family members. Scutari allegedly received a subpoena over grants accepted by a non-profit in Elizabeth where his estranged wife works.
Gerbounka, who defeated longtime Mayor John Gregorio by running as an independent, said, “I’ve known Senator Scutari a long time, long before he was a senator. I consider him an honest individual, and I have had nothing but a good relationship with Senator Scutari.”
Gregorio has been Scutari's political mentor, and pushed the Linden resident for the Senate seat when incumbent Joseph Suliga stepped down in 2003.
Community Access Unlimited, a nonprofit organization that provides support for people with disabilities — where Scutari's wife is employed — is a good organization, Gerbounka says.
Gerbounka acknowledged that an appearance of a conflict might exist.
“I can see how his relationship with someone who works there leaves questions in people’s minds that shouldn’t be in people’s minds," he told PoliticsNJ.com.
But "don’t judge Scutari yet," Gerbounka said.