THE ENCAP DISASTER
The financial and environmental disaster known as EnCap was created by a handful of deceptive lawyers and corporate executives who parlayed their insider access to subvert state policies and win millions in financial favors from government officials.
That is the recurring theme throughout a 277-page report issued Thursday by state Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper, who spent a year investigating the Meadowlands golf and housing project.
Cooper referred her findings to state investigators for possible criminal prosecution. The Attorney General’s Office said Thursday it is reviewing the report and declined further comment.
Her investigation was commissioned by Governor Corzine in the wake of a series of investigative reports in The Record. (Pillets and Brennan, Bergen Record)
UH OH, CONIGLIO
Joseph Coniglio, the former Democratic state senator from Paramus indicted two weeks ago on federal corruptions charges, formally proclaimed his innocence Thursday during a brief court appearance in Newark.
Coniglio waived a reading of his indictment and entered a plea of not guilty during his arraignment on eight counts of mail fraud and a single count of extortion.
U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh set a tentative trial date of April 22, subject to the availability of Coniglio’s lawyer, Gerald Krovatin, who is about to start trial in the federal corruption case against Shape James.
James, the former Democratic mayor of Newark and state senator is accused of rigging city land deals for Tamika Riley, a 38-year-old publicist with whom James allegedly had an intimate relationship. Krovatin represents Riley. (Sampson, Bergen Record)
KROVATIN IS A BUSY GUY
Federal prosecutors plan to use tickets to a boxing match in Tennessee to help prove that former Newark Mayor Sharpe James had an intimate relationship with a city businesswoman who allegedly reaped nearly $700,000 in profits from questionable land sales.
As opening arguments approach in James’ federal corruption trial, attorneys for the defense and the prosecution hammered out details yesterday of what they will be allowed to say to jurors who eventually will decide whether the former Democratic mayor and state senator engineered illegal land deals.
Key to the government’s case will be convincing a jury that James, who is married, had an affair with Newark businesswoman Tamika Riley, and therefore had a motive to steer city property to her at discount prices.
Riley, 38, who also is charged and is James’ co-defendant, is accused of conspiring with James between 1999 and 2006 to fix the land transactions so she could quickly sell the properties for a huge profit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Kwon told a federal judge he wants to tell jurors in opening statements about $4,300 worth of tickets Riley allegedly bought for James in June 2002 for boxing matches in Memphis, Tenn. (Spoto and Whelan, Star-Ledger)
Robert Stears, the political operative who confessed to routinely billing the Burlington County Bridge Commission for work not performed, will be sentenced today in federal court in Camden.
In December 2006, Stears pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and income tax evasion, admitting that he regularly submitted “overstated and inflated hours” for lobbying and public relations work.
In the wake of that guilty plea, George Nyikita, the executive director of the bridge commission, resigned and the commission’s longtime chairman, J. Garfield DeMarco, was not reappointed by the county freeholders.
Stears, who could receive up to 25 years in jail, was originally scheduled to be sentenced in March 2007.
The sentencing has repeatedly been postponed, fueling speculation that Stears has been cooperating with federal authorities in a broader investigation of the bridge commission. (Pearsall, Courier-Post)
THIS WILL SURELY SAVE CLINTON’S CAMPAIGN
Senator Bob Menendez will campaign for Hillary Clinton in Texas tomorrow to help turn out the state’s huge Hispanic community, just as polls show Obama closing in on Clinton’s lead there.
Menendez plans to lead a group of Hispanic elected officials on campaign stops through the cities of San Antonio, Brownsville and Houston until Monday.
Hispanic voters make as estimated to make up about one-third of Texas’s Democratic electorate and are considered crucial to Clinton winning the state. Recent polls show her with as much as two-thirds of Hispanic support, although Clinton and Obama are running neck-and-neck in the Lone Star State. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
YOU COULD SEE THIS ONE COMING
Bergen County Democrats endorsed Dennis Shulman, a legally blind rabbi and psychologist from Demarest, to run against Republican Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, in the 5th Congressional District.
Shulman, who has been picking up endorsements from numerous elected officials in recent weeks, secured the party line in Bergen County for the November election in a nominating convention at Hackensack Middle School.
Shulman defeated Camille Abate of Glen Rock.
The district also includes parts of Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties……….
Democrats critical of Bergen County Democratic chairman Joseph Ferriero, protested at the site, saying conventions under him have become coronations. They demanded new rules. (Carmiel, Bergen Record)
GOOD LUCK WITH THAT
With at least 200,000 newly registered Democrats appearing on the voter roles after this month’s primary, a new hope has arisen in Democrat Josh Zeitz’s campaign to unseat long-time incumbent Republican Chris Smith.
Zeitz estimates that 20,000 of those new Democrats will be in his district, which is comprised of four counties: Ocean, Burlington, Monmouth and Mercer. As of the last count, the district was made up of 17% Democrats, 22% Republicans, and 61% unaffiliated voters. Adding 20,000 new Democrats to the rolls will make party registration in the district roughly equal. Zeitz campaign manager Steve D’Amico added that the district is getting younger, with about 60% of the residents under 50.
“In this kind of atmosphere, in a year that Democrats are surging with these resources, party parity will make the difference. It provides the winning margin,” said Zeitz, 34. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
SPRINGTIME FOR CORZINE IN TRENTON
The public will accept across-the-board pain, if it truly is across the board.
WATCHING GOVERNOR Corzine’s budget address this week was like watching a scene in the original film version of “The Producers.” In the film, a first-night audience sits in silent horror as it watches “Springtime for Hitler.” The musical number ends in silence, until one person applauds and then is quickly booed down.
Downtown Trenton is a far cry from Broadway. On Tuesday, Corzine was greeted with applause at the beginning and conclusion of his address. But in between there was nothing. Silence. You could have heard a pin drop or an approval rating fall.
The governor may be faulted for his delivery and lack of oratorical flourish. But he cannot be faulted for his message. It is not springtime in the Garden State. Winter has come with an icy blast.
The governor has spent the past weeks on the road, meeting with New Jerseyans in town-hall-style meetings, trying to sell the public on his road asset monetization plan. The key component of the plan is toll increases. The more the governor has explained the plan, the more opposition has grown. “Unpopular” is an understatement. (Doblin, Bergen Record)
When a citizen at a Republican forum this month asked U.S. Senate candidate Anne Evans Estabrook where she stood on the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms, she said she supported a waiting period for gun purchases.
What she did next landed her on the Internet.
For 24 seconds, she looked through her notes before saying, “Oh, and the criminal background check.”
Opponent Murray Sabrin’s campaign videotaped the moment and put it on his Web site and YouTube, transforming the ho-hum primary into a heated campaign. The third Republican candidate, State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio of Morris County, also has taken shots at Estabrook in the past days.
Yesterday, her campaign manager attributed Estabrook’s hesitation to her not being a “career politician.”
“You have a career politician in Joe Pennacchio and a perennial candidate in Murray Sabrin,” campaign manager Mark Duffy said. (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)
BREAKING: SIERRA CLUB ENDORSES DEMOCRAT
During a press conference this morning at the Buttonwood Park and Nature Reserve in Eastampton, state Sen. John Adler accepted the Sierra Club’s endorsement for his third district Congressional campaign.
“Not only has he been a leader and a champion of environmental causes, he also knows how to get things done,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel in a press release. “We believe that he will be a great asset in Washington and will take his proven legislative experience and environmental leadership to the Congress of the UnitedStates.”
Although the Sierra Club endorses Democrats more often than Republicans, outgoing Republican Rep. Jim Saxton had repeatedly received the group’s backing in this district that covers the entire width of the state, including a large portion of the shore. This time, the group passed over Republican Medford Mayor Chris Myers – Saxton’s heir apparent. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
IN PASSAIC COUNTY
Four Passaic County freeholder candidates will appear before the county Democratic Committee on Saturday vying for two endorsements — but some have more advantages than others.
The Rev. Kathy A. Kuykendall of Paterson wants to be a candidate. Her husband, the Rev. James Kuykendall, is one of the Paterson Democrats’ leaders and will cast one of the 23 votes that will determine the committee’s preference for a freeholder ticket in the party’s June primary.
Freeholder Bruce James, whose term is expiring, is Clifton’s Democratic leader, and there is nothing preventing him from voting for himself — possibly twice. Clifton is one of four communities — along with Paterson, Passaic and Wayne — with two votes.
Former Passaic County Adjuster Greyson Hannigan and Paterson Firefighter Lee Mondelli, also seeking the screening committee’s nod, have no such apparent advantages. (Brubaker, Herald News)
Governor Corzine’s budget contains an extra $300 million for employee benefits, but doesn’t acknowledge the spending as an expense for the year.
That means he’s proposing to spend $33.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, not the $33 billion he outlined during Tuesday’s budget address in Trenton.
The discrepancy is less than 1 percent of the total, but comes as Corzine is promoting massive cuts and asking everyone from taxpayers to hospitals to Medicaid recipients to share in the pain of his “cold-turkey” spending plan.
At issue is an “off-budget” fund of $334 million the state is setting up largely to pay for a new early-retirement program designed to trim the state workforce by at least 3,000. To lure workers into retirement, some could get monthly retirement bonuses of $500, while others could see their pension benefits grow dramatically. Another $34 million would be spent on as yet unidentified projects. (Reitmeyer, Bergen Recodr
THE FREE RIDE IS OVER, BRANCHVILLE!
Everybody in Branchville Borough is on a first-name basis: Joe the Barber, Tom the Mechanic, Dee the Diner Lady. This half- square-mile hamlet of 841 souls in Sussex County may be small, but it is proud.
“We have a post office, clothing store, bank, barber shop, deli, pizza shop, restaurant, drugstore,” said Joe the Barber, whose last name is Accetta. “The senior citizens, if they can park in the center, can walk and do most of their business.”
“There’s not too many towns set up like this,” Accetta continued, looking out the window of Johnny’s Barber Shop toward the five-pointed intersection where everything comes together. “It’s kind of unique.”
It is certainly unusual. Residents pay property taxes for schools and county services but nothing to support municipal government, thanks to free State Police protection and $918,059 in state aid — more than $1,000 for every resident.
And it is endangered. Branchville’s municipal finances are about to collide with Gov. Jon Corzine’s plan to balance the state budget and encourage — some would say coerce — small towns to merge. The governor wants to end free State Police patrols and halve or eliminate a particular category of state aid for Branchville and 322 other towns with populations under 10,000.
When the Department of Community Affairs posts new state aid figures Monday, Branchville stands to lose $878,838, or more than two- thirds of its municipal budget. (Schwaneberg and Frassinelli, Star-Ledger)
PAID FAMILY LEAVE
The lobbyists’ feeding frenzy continued in Trenton today as representatives from both the business and labor communities zeroed in on lawmakers in the hallways of power and attempted to elicit the promise of a yes or no vote on the issue of paid family leave.
The measure would extend state liability insurance to employees for up to six weeks, enabling workers to care for themselves, a newborn or a sick relative. Funding would come from the workers contributing what adds up to roughly $33 each per year out of their paychecks.
With the bill successfully emerging from the Assembly Labor Committee today, the Senate is scheduled to convene for a floor vote on Monday. Between now and then those senators seen as fence sitters will be hearing a siren song from labor urging them to vote in the affirmative, even as business just as sweetly tells them they’d better not.
The Democrats hold control of the Senate by a margin of 23-17, but backers of the bill may have to reach across the aisle if they want to pass this one. Senators Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), Nia Gill (D-Essex), Ron Rice (D-Essex), Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and probably others have strong reservations about the bill in its current state.
“I think it will be a squeaker,” admitted Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a co-sponsor of the bill. “I would hope each of these people considers what it’s like with a brand new baby or someone with an illness.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
A Democratic-led effort to make New Jersey the third state to let workers take paid leave from work to care for a sick relative or newborn child received a boost yesterday, much to the displeasure of businesses and Republicans.
The Assembly Labor Committee voted 6-2 to approve legislation giving workers six weeks of paid leave, marking the first time Assembly lawmakers advanced the paid-leave measure.
Legislators have tried to get the measure into law for years, but this proposal hadn’t received Assembly consideration amid worry paid leave could hurt businesses.
The bill is now set for a Monday Senate vote and further Assembly consideration. Democrats control the Assembly and the Senate.
Robert Serrano, of Cumberland County, recalled how he spent months traveling to a Philadelphia hospital to visit his wife as she was treated for leukemia. He worked nights as a grocery clerk and got by, he said, on two-hour naps. Though he wanted to spend more time with his wife, he said he had to continue working to maintain health insurance.
“It just got so overwhelming sometimes,” Serrano said. (Hester, AP)
WHAT’S ROTHMAN UP TO?
Rep. Steve Rothman was chosen Thursday to serve on a special House ethics panel investigating an Arizona congressman who was recently indicted.
Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, was named to an investigative subcommittee that will be determining whether the House code of conduct was violated by Rep. Rick Renzi, a three-term Republican lawmaker whose district covers much of rural Arizona.
Renzi, 49, was indicted on 35 counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, insurance fraud and extortion.
The Justice Department accuses him of engineering a swap of federally owned mining land to benefit himself and a former business partner and stealing from his insurance company’s clients. (Jackson, Bergen Record)
IN HUNTERDON COUNTY
Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout and the freeholders are headed back to court this morning for a rematch of their legal dispute from earlier this month.
Although Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone ruled against Trout on Feb. 5, the sheriff said the motion for reconsideration is worth a shot, even with the taxpayers continuing to pick up the bills on both sides.
At the previous hearing, Ciccone said the courts should not get involved in what she described as budget negotiations involving a separate branch of government. But since then, Trout said, it has become obvious that the freehold ers are trying to control her appointments, not her budget.
Trout pledged to live within the roughly $1.6 million departmental budget established by the freeholders. But even after she reshuffled schedules and assignments, Trout said the county still is not paying her top four appointees. She wants Ciccone to reverse her previous ruling and order the freeholders to re lease the money.
“If worse comes to worst, we’re going to borrow money” to pay Michael Russo, John Maloney, George Muller and Edward Davis until the county money comes through, Trout said. (Tyrell, Star-Ledger)
SOME DAY SWEENEY WILL HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION WHETHER OR NOT TO RUN AGAIN
The three freeholder candidates announced by the Gloucester County Republican Party Thursday say they are the ones ready to defeat the Democrat machine.
Frank Stellaccio of Washington Township, Phyllis Scapellato of Franklin and Larry Wallace of Woolwich said they feel they can all be elected in November.
“We need to win as a team,” said Scapellato. “One at a time is going to take us 10 years to make changes. We’re going to question things and they won’t fall on deaf ears.”
The trio plans to work as a team, focusing on what they called “out-of-control” spending, a lack of open government and a need for balance.
“My goal is to show the residents that this government can be transparent, and work with the residents and municipalities hand in hand,” Wallace said. (McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)
BUT HE SINGLE HANDEDLY STOPPED THE PATH HIKE
The state Election Law Enforcement Commission is reviewing allegedly improper activity by Hoboken Councilman-at-large Peter Cammarano in this past June’s state Senate, Assembly and Hoboken municipal elections.
Eric Kurta, a Hoboken resident and president of the reform group People for Open Government, said he received a letter from ELEC stating it is opening a review to determine if Cammarano violated election law as the chairman of Hoboken Democrats for Hudson County.
Hoboken Democrats for Hudson County was a continuing political committee (CPC) formed last April 18 in alliance with Brian Stack’s Democrats for Hudson County. Cammarano served as the chair of the CPC while in office as councilman-at-large.
That violates state election law, the head of ELEC said.
“An elected official cannot in any way be involved in a CPC, let alone chair it,” said ELEC Executive Director Fred Herrmann. (Baldwin, Jersey Journal)
LOOKS LIKE FONSECA MADE THE RIGHT CAREER MOVE
Pablo Fonseca, the chief of staff to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, was appointed the city’s acting business administrator yesterday. Fonseca is stepping in for Michelle Thomas who is on maternity leave, said Esmeralda Diaz Cameron, a spokeswoman for the city.
Thomas was appointed acting business administrator after Bo Kemp left the job in January. The city council had not voted on Thomas’ appointment yet.
Fonseca was the city’s chief code inspector under former Mayor Sharpe James. In 1999, he was suspended and demoted in what he called a politically-motivated personnel move. After he was suspended, Booker, then a councilman from the Central Ward, hired Fonseca as an aide. (Star-Ledger)
IN MONMOUTH COUNTY
The president of a Monmouth County masonry firm yesterday be came the third construction contractor to admit paying bribes to a Corrections Department employee in return for work with the state’s prison system.
Delfim Rodrigues told a state Superior Court judge that he wrote two checks totaling $9,000 to corrections employee Gerald Kennedy so his company, DEL ROD Inc., would be approved as a subcon tractor on prison construction projects.
Kennedy was the assistant director in charge of the state prison system’s capital construction unit when he allegedly accepted the bribes in 2005 and 2006. Kennedy has not been charged in the ongoing investigation, which began in the summer of 2005.
Rodrigues, 45, of Ocean Township admitted he wrote the checks at the behest of Alfred J. “Buddy” Canale, owner of SBC Construction Corp., who pleaded guilty in December to paying Kennedy $30,000 in return for six contracts worth a total of $169,200. In return for giving Kennedy the money, Rodrigues’ company was named a masonry subcontractor on Canale’s projects. (Hepp, Star-Ledger)
HE’S MOVING THERE TO GET ON THEIR CASES
VINELAND — Mayor Perry Barse and his City Council slate rent their campaign headquarters from the owners of several local properties who owe the city more than $73,000 in back real estate taxes and interest.
The Barse campaign this week moved into the former Five Points West restaurant at Landis Avenue and Delsea Drive.
rothers Carlo and Bruno DeThomasi own the property, as well as eight other commercial and residential buildings throughout the city.
The DeThomasis have not paid taxes on Five Points West since August 2007, city Tax Collector Carmen DiGiorgio said Thursday.
They owe $16,866.42 in back taxes and $957.16 in interest, for a total of $17,823.58, DiGiorgio said.
“They seem to be consistently delinquent,” he said. (Zatzariny, Daily Journal)
IN JERSEY CITY
Jersey City school board candidate Vernon Richardson has been disqualified from running in the April contest because of a residency problem, school officials said yesterday.
State law requires candidates for school board to be registered voters in the district they are running in for at least a year before the election.
A check by the Hudson County superintendent of elections turned up that Richardson voted on June 12, 2007 in Hillside, said Joann Gilman, the school district’s business administrator. (Thorbourne, Jersey Journal)
Attending Parsippany council meetings as a spectator just wasn’t enough, so former councilman James Vigilante yesterday threw his hat in the ring for the board of education seat vacated Wednesday by John Montefusco Jr.
Vigilante, 43, who had been on the all-Republican governing body since 1996, said he “missed helping people” and touted his prior experience as an asset that would enable him to “hit the ground run ning” if selected to serve on the nine-member school board.
“I am a product of the Parsip pany school system, and I would like to ensure that the children today are afforded the same quality education coupled with a safe and productive environment that I had,” Vigilante said. (Frank, Star-Ledger)