State Sen. Joseph Coniglio offered his first detailed response to allegations that he used his legislative post to help his employer, the Hackensack University Medical Center. Coniglio is a target of a federal probe, which sometimes is a precursor to an indictment.
Today, his campaign manager, Brian Hague, issued a lengthy statement responding to a decision of the bi-partisan Joint Committeeon Ethical Standards to reopen a previously-dismissed ethics complaint filed against Coniglio.
The full, unedited text of Hague's statement:
"It appears that certain members of the Joint Committeeon Ethical Standards are either using their position on the non-partisan committee to launch a political attack, orthey're ignorant of the facts.
"Steve Lonegan asked the Committee to investigate whether Senator Coniglio used his position as a State Senator in 2004 during the fiscal year 2005 budget process to obtain two grants in the amounts of $250,000 and $900,000 for Hackensack University Medical Center under the Property Tax Assistance and Community Development Grants program, the so-called “Christmas Tree” grants program.
"Sen. Coniglio responded to the Committee that he did not advocate or promote those grants and had no discussion with any member of the Executive Branch about those grants. That statement was true then and i is true now, and the Committee dismissed the matter.
"Now, Senator Diane Allen wants the Committee to revisitthe complaint. She believes that a different letter Sen. Coniglio signed for different grants is cause for the reexamination. If Sen. Allen and the other members of the Committee, however, took the time to review all of the facts, they would have come to the conclusion that they are confusing two very different issues.
"The state Department of Human Services in July 2004 announced a grant program for social service agencies to strengthen their capacity to protect vulnerable populations, such as victims of domestic violence, developmentally disabled people, individuals with serious mental illness, and other vulnerable populations. Not-for-profit social service agencies that wanted to apply for funds for these types of programs by the end ofSeptember 2004 were required to submit proof of their not-for-profit status, a certified financial audit, and letters of support from members of the Legislature.
"Approximately 15 Bergen County-based not-for-profit social service agencies applied for funding under this program and asked for the required letter of support fromSen. Coniglio for their applications. They included the Bergen County United Way, the Jewish Community Center of Washington Township, and Shelter Our Sisters of Bergen County.
"One of the applications was from the Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Injury Prevention Section of Hackensack University Medical Center for its seatbelt outcomes study project to promote increased seatbelt use among high school students. Another application came from The Audrey Hepburn Children’s House, Northern Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center for Child Abuse and Neglect at HUMC to raise awareness about shaken baby syndrome. In September 2004, Sen. Coniglio signed the requested letter of support for the seatbelt program and he was joined by Assemblywoman Joan Voss and Assemblyman Robert Gordon in signing a letter of supportfor the shaken baby syndrome application.
"Neither of these two applications, nor any of the approximately 13 other applications for which Sen. Coniglio wrote similar letters of support as required by the Department of Human Services, was the subject of Mr. Lonegan’s complaint, the Joint Committee’s request for information, or Sen. Coniglio’s response. To say that Sen. Coniglio should have referenced those two letters of support in response to a request for information about his role, or lack of role, in lobbying for discretionary “Christmas Tree” grants, is preposterous. To try to intentionally confuse these two grant programs and to involve the bipartisan Joint Committee in that effort for political purposes is inexcusable.
"I would hope that the only reason why members of the Committee want to revisit this issue is because they didn't have all of the facts before they made their decision. If that is the case, I'm sure Senator Coniglio would accept their apology."