Republican State Chairman Tom Wilson sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee John Adler today accusing him of caving into political pressure and watering down a call for an investigation into Gov. Corzine's relationship with Rocco Riccio, the brother-in-law of his ex-girlfriend/paramour/companion Carla Katz.
But Senate Democrats say that Wilson's letter is based on a misconstrued premise.
On Monday, news outlets originally reported that Adler called on the Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate the $15,000 gift Corzine made to Riccio after he was forced out of Turnpike Authority job by the Corzine administration. This took place at the confirmation hearing of comptroller nominee Matthew Boxer, who was present at a meeting with Riccio. But Adler's letter to the Attorney General sent later that day only asked for an investigation into whether Riccio illegally looked into tax records, and news acocunts amended accordingly.
"On its face, it would appear that you buckled to political pressure applied by the Governor or his allies by not specifically requesting that the Attorney General review not only Mr. Riccio's conduct, but that of Governor Corzine and his staff in what you have characterized as an "enormously troubling" string of events," wrote Wilson. "If this is not accurate, I am sure you can explain what triggered your change of heart."
But Jim Manion, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, said that there never was a change of heart – that Adler never called on an investigation into Corzine's gift to Riccio.
"Senator Adler has been consistent throughout. His letter to General Milgram reflects his reaction to Mr. Boxer's sworn testimony and to his personal notes. The letter also reflects Senator Adler's comments to the media after the hearing," said Manion.
During the testimony, Adler never explicitly referred to a payment from Corzine to Riccio. Instead, he said that something discussed at the meeting where Boxer was present "may have involved violation of law."
Wilson said that a more thorough investigation was needed of the circumstances surrounding the Riccio matter, and that it should be conducted by an independent prosecutor, not Milgram. He also criticized Adler for not joining Sen. Gerald Cardinale's call for an independent prosecutor in September.
Wilson's letter is included below:
Dear Senator Adler:
During Wednesday's hearing on the nomination of Matthew Boxer to become New Jersey's first Comptroller, you said you planned to call on Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate the actions of Governor Jon Corzine and his staff as it relates to the employment of and a $15,000 personal payment to Rocco Riccio, the brother-in-law of CWA President Carla Katz. Later in the day, you issued a letter to Attorney General Milgram which appears to substantially backtrack from the statement you made during the Committee hearing. Your letter requested only that the Attorney General investigate Mr. Riccio's conduct while a state employee.
On it's face, it would appear that you buckled to political pressure applied by the Governor or his allies by not specifically requesting that the Attorney General review not only Mr. Riccio's conduct, but that of Governor Corzine and his staff in what you have characterized as an "enormously troubling" string of events. If this is not accurate, I am sure you can explain what triggered your change of heart.
While I agree with your belief that the facts as we know them are "enormously troubling," I hope you would agree that the public's interests are best served by an investigation that is beyond question. This can only be achieved if the investigation looks into not only what Mr. Riccio was doing, but also at whose direction he was acting, and what drove the Governor and his staff to attempt to protect Mr. Riccio, to secure other government positions for him, and to even go so far as to supply him with direct financial support through such inexplicable means as money orders. Given the high level personnel and officials involved in this conspiracy, the only way to ensure the public that the investigation is both thorough and without conflict is to appoint an Independent Prosecutor as was done in the case involving former Attorney General Zulima Farber.
This matter was first brought to the attention of the public more than 90 days ago and the fact that no one, including you, has acted to this point is disappointing. It is equally as troubling that you would allow the committee to act on Mr. Boxer's nomination while at the same time calling the actions of Governor Corzine's administration, and therefore possibly Mr. Boxer, "enormously troubling."
Your call for an investigation, while welcome, might have had more significance had you joined Minority Leader DeCroce, Senator Cardinale and me in calling for the appointment of an Independent Prosecutor back in September when this matter was first reported. It certainly would have had more significance if you refused to consider Mr. Boxer's nomination until such time as an investigation was completed and the findings made public. Regardless, I appreciate your new found interest in seeing this matter fully investigated. You can demonstrate your sincerity today by using your authority as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to make certain that the facts are presented fully and openly to the public.
Given the Attorney General's relationship to the Governor, the only way to assure the public that this investigation is conducted free from any potential or perceived conflict of interest is by naming an Independent Prosecutor. The Governor himself recognized the need for public confidence when he named an Independent Prosecutor to review the conduct of former Attorney General Zulima Farber. I hope that you will demand that the Governor and Attorney General Milgram to take this additional step so that you, the members of the committee, and the public can be certain that justice is being applied evenly and without regard to the particular power or influence of the individuals being investigated.
As I am sure you are aware, last week Carney's Point Mayor John Lake was prosecuted by the state and convicted of Official Misconduct. Mayor Lake used his office to offer a public position to another individual to secure for himself a political benefit. As reported, the conduct of Governor Corzine and his senior staff appears to mirror that of Mayor Lake.
Specifically, a news account published in the Star-Ledger stated that the Governor's former Chief of Staff, Tom Shea, admitted that Mr. Riccio had become a political liability for the Governor. The administration asked Mr. Riccio to take certain actions and offered to help him in order to curtail further political problems for the Governor.
In fact, after asking him to leave his position at the Department of Human Services, Mr. Riccio was then "recommended" by the Governor for a position at the Turnpike Authority. When that failed to stem the potential political damage being delivered upon Governor Corzine, Mr. Riccio was "asked" to leave that position and subsequently given $15,000 in payments, including five $1,000 money orders, from the Governor. It is clear from the Lake conviction, that it is a criminal offense for a public official to use the powers of his office to gain a political benefit for himself. If it was wrong for Mayor Lake, then it must also be wrong for Governor Corzine.
I ask you to join Minority Leader DeCroce, Senator Gerald Cardinale and me in demanding the appointment of an Independent Prosecutor. As you have acknowledged, given the important role you play as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, it would be difficult for the Attorney Genera
l to ignore your demand. Should the administration do so, however, you must use your authority as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to seek subpoena power from your Senate colleagues and conduct a public inquiry on this matter. Just as your predecessor, Senator Gormley, used the committee to investigate wrongdoing on the part of the State Police and get to the bottom of racial profiling, so should you use the committee to restore public confidence that this administration has acted in a lawful manner as it relates to their conduct in handling the Rocco Riccio matter.
Your congressional campaign website opens with a statement from you discussing your commitment to the "basic American value of truth." You have the opportunity to demonstrate that those words are not merely the empty rhetoric of a candidate seeking to remake his image, but of a public servant willing to stand up to powerful forces who would use government to further their own political interests. The voters eagerly await your leadership on this important matter.
Adler's letter to Milgram
Dear Attorney General Milgram:
I would like to bring to your attention a matter that arose during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Matthew Boxer to serve as the State Comptroller. I have reason to believe that Mr. Rocco Riccio, a former State employee, may have engaged in misconduct during his tenure with the State.
Mr. Boxer testified at his nomination hearing that he participated in a meeting with Mr. Riccio and Ken Zimmerman, the Governor’s Chief Counsel. Mr. Boxer attended the meeting at the request of Mr. Zimmerman and drafted notes that describe the conversation that took place among Mr. Boxer, Mr. Zimmerman, and Mr. Riccio.
Subsequent to Mr. Boxer’s testimony, I questioned Mr. Boxer privately to discuss the details of his meeting with Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Riccio. I also reviewed a copy of Mr. Boxer’s notes. Based on my questioning and review, I am concerned that Mr. Riccio may have acted improperly while he was a State employee. Specifically, I believe that he might have examined certain tax records in violation of State law.
I therefore urge you to review Mr. Riccio’s conduct while he worked as a State employee. I trust that you will commence such an investigation in an expeditious manner. Please contact me if I can be of assistance in facilitating your inquiry.