Coniglio indictment comes down after months of speculation; Asselta moves on to new job that he earned without cutting any deals; Corzine ready to set Wisconsin ablaze with excitement about his visit there;, perhaps not loving the attention, former Rep. Roe says to take his name off a highway.
UH OH, CONIGLIO
The influence-peddling indictment of former state Sen. Joseph Coniglio on Thursday opened a window into a lucrative relationship between the Paramus Democrat and the state's largest hospital that federal investigators say they will continue to explore.
A federal grand jury charged that Coniglio brokered his influence on a powerful Senate budget committee in exchange for $103,900 in "corrupt payments" that he sought to disguise as consulting fees from Hackensack University Medical Center.
In return, the grand jury found, the medical center received millions in state funding.
"I don't want to characterize whether the hospital was a willing participant, a dupe or something in between," U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said Thursday outside the federal courthouse in Newark. "I don't want to comment directly on it except to say we don't believe our work is done." (Sampson, Bergen Record)
A federal grand jury indicted former state senator Joseph Coniglio on corruption charges yesterday, accusing him of abusing a secretive legislative grant program at the Statehouse to enrich himself.
Coniglio, a Bergen County Democrat, allegedly helped Hackensack University Medical Center obtain more than $10 million in state funding in exchange for a $5,500-per-month job as a "hospital relations" consultant.
The nine counts of mail fraud and extortion are the first charges to stem from a federal investigation U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie's office launched one year ago with a flurry of subpoenas that roiled the Statehouse.
"Slowly but surely, the era of trading public positions for personal profit is coming to an end," Christie said after the indictment. "Our investigation is ongoing in all respects."
The probe centers on the so-called "Christmas Tree" program, which awarded millions of dollars in special state grants to local organizations without public oversight.
Coniglio, 65 and a retired plumber, had no prior experience for his consulting job, authorities said. He concealed the arrangement by accepting $103,900 in payments through a consulting firm that was "merely a name on a bank account," the indictment said. (Whelan, Star-Ledger)
Bergen County Democrats knew this day would come sooner or later, and today they responded to the indictment of former state Sen. Joe Coniglio not with an outright defense, but with pleas withhold judgment.
Republicans, on the other hand, pointed to the indictment as another sign of what they see as endemic corruption in the Democratic Party.
“Senator Coniglio accomplished a great deal for the working families of the 38th District during his career,” said Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joe Ferriero. “Our legal system is founded upon the presumption of innocence and it is my sincere hope that Joe's upcoming trial is an opportunity for him to reclaim the good reputation that he built through his years of public service.”…..
On the other end of the political spectrum, GOP State Chairman Tom Wilson said that this was more than an indictment of one Senator, but rather the entire party’s leadership. While the legislature has passed a lot of ethics reform measures lately, Wilson said, they’ve been watered down .
“It’s an indictment of the Democratic leadership in the legislature,” he said. “They do as little as they can, then make it look like they are really angry and as offended as the average citizen is.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
ASSELTA PLAYED BALL. NOW HE GETS HIS PENSION PADDED.
A key Senate committee yesterday approved the nomination of a former colleague accused of trading his vote for a job on the Board of Public Utilities, but it drew the line at installing a New Yorker as the state's next consumer affairs director.
The Senate Judiciary Commit tee hearing began with former Sen. Nicholas Asselta, who left the Legislature last month denying he had struck a deal with Gov. Jon Corzine to vote for the controversial $7.8 billion school funding proposal in return for an appointment to the BPU.
"I treated this bill like I treated every other bill in this Legislature: on its own merits," Asselta, of Vineland, Cumberland County, said shortly before his nomination was unanimously approved. "I never view education as political."
The hearing ended two hours later with committee members deciding not to vote on David Szuch man, the governor's nominee for director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs. (Hepp, Star-Ledger)
AN END TO THE IRONY
A former New Jersey congressman says he will decline an offer to have a state highway named in his honor.
When Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a bill last month that officially changed the name Route 23 to the Robert A. Roe Memorial Highway, in honor of a former congressman who had represented North Jersey for more than two decades, it was the legislative equivalent of getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And it was something that Mr. Roe, who had secured millions of dollars for transportation projects, greatly appreciated.
But it was also something that outraged members of the Worosila family of Hillsborough, N.J. They reminded everyone that in 1993, Mr. Roe — who is a transportation lobbyist these days — was involved in an accident, while driving drunk, in which two members of their family were seriously injured. With the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they urged lawmakers to repeal the renaming law.
On Thursday, Mr. Roe, 83, asked Mr. Corzine and lawmakers to do just that. In a letter made public by the governor’s office, Mr. Roe — who, under a plea agreement after the accident, had to undergo drug and alcohol counseling — said, “I deeply regret the trauma I caused them and will never forgive myself for causing this accident affecting their health and happiness.” (Chen, New York Times)
CORZINE’S APPEARANCE IN WISCONSIN IS CERTAIN TO SHIFT THE MOMENTUM THERE IN CLINTON’S DIRECTION
Gov. Corzine is hitting the campaign trail again for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said yesterday that Corzine would fly to Milwaukee tomorrow to back Clinton. Wisconsin's primary is set for Tuesday.
Clinton is in a close race with Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Corzine endorsed Clinton in April and campaigned for her in Iowa and Nevada.
Stainton said Corzine would return to New Jersey on Sunday night after also visiting his mother in Illinois. (AP)
“TASKFORCE OF FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY” – SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT COMIC BOOK
State Assemblymen John Amodeo and Vince Polistina, both R-Atlantic, said they will hold a meeting next week at Egg Harbor Township High School to get residents' thoughts on the state's proposed debt-reduction program.
"Obviously everyone has ideas about how to cut spending and improve the overall fiscal position of the state," Polistina said.
Assembly Republicans are sponsoring a statewide "Taskforce on Fiscal Responsibility," holding meetings in eight of the state's 21 counties. State Republicans say more meetings may be scheduled. Thursday's meeting is the only one scheduled in The Press's coverage area. The tour started Feb. 11 in Warren County. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
NOT IF THE AMAZING TASKFORCE FOR FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY HAS ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT!
New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Thursday said property taxes and tuition may soar and hospitals close if the state doesn't raise more money to solve fiscal woes, but a key senator said relief from the nation's highest property taxes remains a top priority.
Speaking on WOR radio, Corzine said just cutting state spending cannot solve state financial problems.
The Democratic governor has proposed significantly increasing highway tolls to pay state debt and fund transportation.
"Cutting has to be a part of it, but it is not the total solution," Corzine said. "And people who think that, I think, really are unrealistically suggesting that we cut municipal aid or school aid, which means higher property taxes. Or cut higher educational aid, which means higher tuitions. Or close more hospitals in the state of New Jersey because we don't have the resources to go forward helping our hospitals with charity care." (Hester, AP)
Consider this scenario: It's August and the Democrats are about to hold their national convention to formally choose their party's presidential nominee, but neither Hillary Rodham Clinton nor Barack Obama is the clear winner going into the convention.
In that case, 796 "superdelegates" — including 20 from New Jersey — could decide who should be the Democratic Party's nominee to battle presumptive GOP candidate John McCain, the Arizona senator.
Though millions of people voted in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, this small group of party elders — members of Congress, governors and members of the national party — could ultimately pick the nominee for only the second time, experts say.
These delegates are unpledged to any candidate. In contrast, most delegates are pledged, which means they commit to voting for one candidate at least in the first round of voting at the convention……..
By winning 53.8 percent of the state's vote, Clinton got 59 delegates. Obama secured 48 delegates by winning 44 percent of the vote.
If the choice were up to the New Jersey superdelegates, Clinton would become the nominee. That's because 12 of the state's 18 superdelegates chosen so far support Clinton, the New York senator. (Chebium, Gannett)
LEVY SENTENCING POSTPONED
The sentencing of former Atlantic City Mayor Robert Levy has been postponed until April 18.
Levy was due to be sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Camden for lying about his Vietnam War service in order to fatten his military-benefits check.
Federal guidelines call for as much as six months in prison, but Levy's attorney told the Press of Atlantic City that probation was more likely.
Levy, 60, will have to repay about $25,000 in benefits he illegally received. (AP)
YOU CAN’T ME MAYOR OF THIS TOWN WITHOUT A SCANDAL
ATLANTIC CITY – Mayor Scott Evans denounced claims that he arranged a deal to reinstate a fire captain terminated for allegedly making racist threats on Thursday during a press conference in the mayor's meeting room.
"More details exist regarding this situation, which litigation prevents me from discussing," said Evans, reading from a prepared statement. "If individuals knew the full facts, they would issue a public apology."
The mayor's words were directed at City Council President William Marsh, who told The Press of Atlantic City on Wednesday that Evans brokered a deal that would allow former fire Capt. Edmund Mawhinney back to his position and pay him nearly $175,000 in back pay.
The proposed deal has come amid dueling lawsuits from Mawhinney, who is white, and Ricky Williams, a black firefighter who claims the captain imitated a Ku Klux Klansman and threatened to "burn his house down" in March 2005. (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
DON’T TASE ME, BRO
One day after a report urged New Jersey police be allowed to use less-than-lethal weaponry, a state Senate committee heard presentations Thursday about stun guns, designed to disable a human by electric shock.
In some cases, stun guns have been linked to deaths. New Jersey has barred them for nearly two decades.
"There obviously are risks associated with stun guns," Assistant Attorney General Ronald Susswein told the Senate Law and Public Safety and Veterans' Affairs Committee.
"I, for one, would like to learn more about these devices," Sen. John Girgenti, D-Passaic, the committee chairman, said as he opened the hearing. (Baldwin, Gannett)
SOAP OPERA DIGEST
They've bickered over whether she knew he was gay, whose tell-all book would sell better, whether a poster of a nude man hanging over his new lover's bed had to come down before she'd allow their 6-year-old to visit.
When Jim and Dina Matos McGreevey head back to court today for the umpteenth round in their drawn-out divorce proceeding, they'll argue over whether she has to cooperate with the experts he hired to bolster his claim for shared custody.
New Jersey's estranged former first couple is headed for a May trial unless they resolve the custody and money issues that have arisen since their acrimonious parting. They split three months after he came out on live television, acknowledging a gay affair with an ex-staffer and saying he would resign as governor. (AP)
TRENTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Josh Lichtblau, the state Department of Gaming Enforcement's acting director, to hold the job permanently. The nomination now goes to the full Senate for a final vote.
Lichtblau called the DGE office essential because it upholds the public confidence in Atlantic City's casinos.
Questioned repeatedly by senators about his interpretation of the law, he said he would strictly follow the Casino Control Act. "There is no wavering," he said. "We go wherever the facts lead us, and we take those facts to the (Casino Control) Commission."
Asked about offshore gaming interests, he said they must be closely looked at and that criminal behavior would be dealt with. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
“PROBLEMATIC” = RIPPING OFF COLLEGE KIDS
The New Jersey agency managing billions of dollars in student loans and aid has agreed to a year of oversight by an independent monitor after the state attorney general uncovered "problematic" lending practices.
The New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority and 41 colleges also agreed to enact codes of conduct after the nine-month investigation revealed that financial aid officers were "wined and dined" and given trips by loan companies that influenced the advice given to students.
Attorney General Anne Milgram said the institutions agreed that their financial aid officers would no longer take gifts from loan companies.
"What we want is to ensure that students in New Jersey are getting the best advice for financial aid," Milgram said. (Alaya, Star-Ledger)
The former chief of Linden's federally funded home improvement program pleaded guilty in federal court to taking $189,000 in bribes yesterday in a scheme that also brought down another city official — his younger brother.
Frank Rose, 52, who resigned as head of the Neighborhood Preservation Program in November, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Trenton to accepting payments to steer 126 contracts, valued at $5.2 million, to six separate contractors, including his brother.
Anthony Rose, 48, who resigned last month as head of Linden's Department of Parking and Transportation, appeared in the same court and pleaded guilty to mail fraud in a scheme that defrauded a federal program that helps low- and moderate-income people repair their houses. The younger Rose said he bribed his brother to have 37 contracts valued at $1.33 million steered to two construction and maintenance businesses in which he had an interest.
One of the firms was Zawacki Construction of Clark and his partner there, Walter Zawacki, 56, also pleaded guilty to mail fraud yesterday.
"These guilty pleas prove just how deeply corrupted this program had become. We have further to go in our investigation," said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie in a prepared statement last night. (Murray, Star-Ledger)
IN MERCER COUNTY
The field vying to take over a soon-to-be-vacated freeholder seat is growing every day as five candidates have launched campaigns for that spot.
The five, Hamilton resident and former councilman Dan Benson, former Hamilton council candidate John Cimino, Princeton Borough Councilman Andrew Koontz, Mercer County Central Labor Council President and Hamilton resident Mike Maloney and Trenton civic activist Alysia Welch-Chester all hope to replace outgoing Freeholder Elizabeth Muoio. She is leaving to become the county's director of economic development and sustainability.
All five are Democrats and at least two — Cimino and Welch-Chester — have said if they are not named to succeed Muoio, they hope to get the party nod to run on the November ballot for two additional freeholder seats.
Koontz has said he is undecided on whether he would continue his bid if not chosen to fill Muoio's spot, and Maloney and Benson have indicated they are only interested in filling the open seat.
The candidate chosen to replace Muoio will serve on the freeholder board until November, when a special election will be held to fill the final year of her term. (Isherwood, Trenton Times)
AN INVESTIGATION IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY
VINELAND — Police Chief Timothy Codispoti on Thursday stated Vineland Lt. John Fresne was one of many people the state Attorney General's Office has targeted for questioning regarding a 2003 land deal.
While Codispoti declined to give any specifics on the conversation between Fresne and state investigators that took place last Thursday, the police chief did say the meeting focused on "some property issues."
He later added, "From what I understand, they're talking to a lot of people."
Vineland Councilwoman Sheena Santiago has previously announced she had been contacting both the state and U.S. Attorney General's Office "for quite a while" about various land deals and other issues where she believed wrongdoing had occurred.
The subject of land deals became a regular point of contention at city council meetings late last year, when it was revealed a single property on Ascher Road — purchased by Fresne and his daughter at a public auction in December 2003 — had been wrongly subdivided into two properties on the city's tax map. (Laday, Bridgeon News)
DOES HE GET TO KEEP HIS OTHER JOB?
Lincoln Park's former chief financial officer, who resigned last week to take the same post in another Morris County town, was charged yesterday with stealing about $10,000 from a borough bank account last month, officials said.
Dennis Gerber, 57, who worked in Lincoln Park for 10 years, was charged with official misconduct and theft, Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said in a statement. The borough and investigators are reviewing other borough financial records to determine if the alleged theft was an isolated incident, officials said.
Gerber resigned from his $84,000-a-year job in Lincoln Park on Friday and had been hired as CFO in Rockaway Township.
Gerber, of Saddle Brook, admitted taking the money in a conversation with Lincoln Park Administrator Joseph Maiella that Maiella allowed police to record on Wednesday, according to the arrest affidavit filed in state Superior Court yesterday.
Apologizing, Gerber "explained that he needed the money for personal reasons," the affidavit said. (Alloway and Frank, Star-Ledger)
AREN’T CONFLICTS OF INTEREST PAR FOR THE COURSE IN ATLANTIC CITY?
ATLANTIC CITY – A possible conflict of interest with a politically active attorney representing a Pennsylvania gaming company could obstruct a proposed $800 million deal between the company and the resort for a prime city-owned development site.
City Council President William Marsh said in an interview earlier this week that attorney Dan Gallagher, of the resort-based Miller/Gallagher law firm, has a conflict of interest between his legal work with the city and his representation of Penn National Gaming. The company recently submitted a proposal to get exclusive rights to buy, then subdivide, Bader Field for as many as four new casinos.
"That could get us into some trouble," Marsh said. "And that could keep them from being at the (negotiating) table." (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
Mayor William Pikolycky filed an ethics complaint Thursday against the borough's solicitor just days after council hired him.
Pikolycky filed an ethics grievance with the Office of Attorney Ethics of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. The mayor claims Baldini cannot represent the borough since he simultaneously represents Lower Township in a lawsuit against Woodbine's engineer over a botched ballfield project in Erma.
Baldini disputed that the case poses a conflict. Regardless, he said he has already made arrangements with Lower Township to have another firm represent it in the engineer lawsuit. He did likewise with two other cases in which he represents clients suing Woodbine. (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)
IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY
BRIDGETON — The budget for the county prosecutor's office has gone up since 2004, but the number of cases the office disposed has gone down, according to report unveiled Thursday by the county freeholder board.
The statistics come within two months of Prosecutor Ron Casella's term as prosecutor expiring, but Freeholder Director Lou Magazzu said whether Casella is reappointed or a new prosecutor is appointed has nothing to do with the timing of the report.
Magazzu said the freeholder board hopes the statistics will show reform is needed of a current law which allows county prosecutors in New Jersey to sue county freeholder boards over lack of funding.
County Solicitor Gary Wodlinger, who represented the county when Casella sued the county freeholder board in 2004, said laws governing lawsuits by county prosecutors against counties over lack of funding don't take into account a county's ability to pay.
"We haven't gotten our bang for the buck," he added. (Dunn, Bridgeton News)