Ashcroft not happy to testify over Christie contract, Codey offers advice to the man who could be New York’s next Governor, prosecutors grill “turn coat” witness in Sharpe James trial, lobbyists spend less on lawmakers.
APPARENTLY ASHCROFT READS THE BERGEN RECORD
In a combative exchange with Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), former Attorney General John Ashcroft jumped to U.S. Attorney Chris Christie’s defense.
After Sanchez asked whether the selection process complied with the type of guidelines the Justice Department laid out yesterday, Ashcroft said that she was implying that Christie was a “law violator.”
“I really don’t believe that Mr. Christie is a law violator. His record as a prosecutor is an outstanding record,” Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft then held up two copies of Bergen Record headlines about Christie’s public corruption convictions and insinuated that there were partisan motivations behind today’s hearing.
“He’s made a major reputation attacking public corruption, and for this committee to attack him is inappropriate,” said Ashcroft. “Here’s Mr. Christie’s record in the newspaper. 140 convictions. No wonder New Jersey’s politicians are nervous.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
In a brief but combative appearance on Capitol Hill, former attorney general John Ashcroft yesterday dismissed suggestions that political favoritism was the reason he got a multimillion-dollar contract to monitor a Justice Department settlement, and he vigorously defended the New Jersey prosecutor who gave it to him, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.
Ashcroft didn’t stay long — enough to field barely 15 minutes of pointed questions from three Democrats and an apology from one friendly Republican — before abruptly excusing himself to catch a plane. He also didn’t add much clarity to how or why Christie picked him for an 18-month assignment expected to earn his firm between $27 million and $52 million.
Instead, Ashcroft used the testimony before a House subcommittee to say, sometimes without hiding his irritation, that neither he nor Christie had breached any laws or ethical guidelines, and that Congress was wasting time and money on an operation that Republicans contend is a political witch hunt.
“Not a single cent of taxpayers’ money is spent for monitors,” Ashcroft said in a sharp exchange with the panel chairman, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.). “This hearing cost far more in tax dollars than my monitorship will cost in tax dollars.”
The proceeding also included testimony from other monitors, law school professors and a Justice Department official. It did little to change the minds of Democrats, who said contracts like the one Ashcroft got from his former subordinate deserve deeper scrutiny. (Martin, Star-Ledger)
WASHINGTON — New Jersey Reps. Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell say they aren’t satisfied by today’s Congressional hearings on deferred prosecution agreements.
The two Democrats hope to investigate the matter further and will continue to push the committee, on which they do not sit, to get U.S. Attorney Chris Christie to testify.
“I’m disappointed that Mr. Christie is not appearing before the subcommittee today,” said Pascrell in his testimony. “He is at the center of this investigation and has thus far failed to enlighten the members of Congress or the general public about the process by which he concluded his deferred prosecution agreement.”
The subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee that conducted the hearing today had originally asked Christie to testify. It settled for U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, David Nahmias, who the Justice Department agreed to send. Christie said he would only testify if asked by the Justice Department. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
CODEY TO PATERSON: NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, YOU’LL LOOK GOOD COMPARED TO YOUR PREDECESSOR
Senate President Richard Codey made it look easy.
After Gov. James E. McGreevey shocked the state and resigned in a sex scandal nearly four years ago, it took Codey (D-Essex) only six months in McGreevey’s chair before he was earning the highest approval ratings of any state politician in 20 years. By the time Codey finished the remaining 14 months of McGreevey’s term, pundits credited him with restoring credibility to the tarnished office.
So it’s no surprise that New Jersey’s accidental governor has some advice to offer New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson, should Gov. Eliot Spitzer resign because of his alleged involvement with a high-end prostitution service.
Codey recommended Paterson set a civil tone, get down to business, and give the press access to shore up public confidence in its leaders.
“The order of business is to restore order,” Codey said. “This is his moment in the sun if he shows he is competent and he can lead. (Livio, Star-Ledger)
23 WITH A 62-YEAR-OLD BOYFRIEND. THAT’S NORMAL.
Six years ago, Cecil Suwal was a senior at the prestigious Blair Academy in Warren County.
She had run track and played softball at the academy, where the gray stone buildings and walls are reminiscent of a New England prep school. Her schoolmates included future National Basketball Association stars Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva.
Yesterday, Suwal sat in a New York jail cell, unable to make bail, a pivotal but overshadowed player in the prostitution scandal threatening to bring down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Suwal, 23, and her boyfriend, 62-year-old Mark Brener, are charged with running the high-priced call girl ring to which Spitzer has been linked as a client.
“She’s a 23-year-old girl scared out of her mind,” her lawyer, Daniel Parker, said in a telephone interview. “As this case continues to spiral, I would imagine everybody who the government says is associated with it is probably more and more worried.” (Sterling and Frassinelli, Star-Ledger)
THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY
Federal prosecutors challenged their own key witness in the corruption trial of former Newark mayor Sharpe James yesterday, after testimony by the city’s former housing chief unexpectedly threatened the underpinnings of the government’s case.
him as a “turncoat witness” in court filings, the U.S. Attorney’s Office questioned inconsistencies in the testimony of Basil Franklin, a key government witness, and gained approval to confront him with what he told a grand jury.
Franklin, who was responsible for shepherding development proposals through the approval process, caught prosecutors by surprise on Monday after he buttressed the defense with assertions that the 72-year-old mayor had never used his considerable influence to steer lucrative city properties to Tamika Riley, a younger woman with whom James had a personal relationship.
Riley, a co-defendant in the case, quickly flipped the properties for thousands in windfall profits. Prosecutors claim that Riley was having an affair with the mayor and was fast-tracked in several land deals by virtue of her connections with him — despite a lack of any experience as a developer and no ability to finance any sort of redevelopment project. (Sherman and Whelan, Star-Ledger)
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME…. NEVERMIND
Lobbyists last year shelled out more than $53 million trying to sway lawmakers and state officials in Trenton, but the amount they spent on wining and dining those in power plunged to its lowest level in at least 15 years.
New annual state lobbying reports released yesterday show the business of lobbying — launching public campaigns for legislation, buttonholing lawmakers, making a special interest’s case before regulators — remains healthy. The $53.5 million spent last year is just slightly less than the record $55.3 million in 2006.
But the freebies that lobbyists once regularly showered on officials — trips, dinners, tickets to plays and ball games — have slowed to a trickle because of tighter restrictions fueled by public outrage.
Last year, only $31,666 was given to state officials — down from $45,508 in 2006. And accounting for how much officials reimbursed special interests, last year’s total drops to $23,621. That’s in sharp contrast to just six years earlier, when one lawmaker — then-Assembly Speaker Jack Collins — got $15,207 in gifts as lobbyists handed out a record $115,442 in freebies. (Donohue and McNichol, Star-Ledger)
The chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee accepted more gifts from lobbyists last year than did any other New Jersey legislator, and all but $280 of the $1,126 came from industries that his committee oversees, according to state reports released yesterday.
Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D., Somerset) said the gifts had not affected his decisions. “All the legislation, all the hearings I’ve held are open,” the six-year lawmaker said. “All the supporters and opponents have equal opportunity to speak on the legislation. No legislation has been rushed through.”
But Ev Liebman of watchdog group New Jersey Citizen Action said: “It’s very troubling when we have a system that allows special interests and their money to dominate the legislative process and to get the kind of access to legislators, particularly powerful legislators, that’s simply not available to rate payers, those of us who pay the bills.”
In all, lobbyists gave New Jersey lawmakers and state officials nearly $32,000 in gifts last year, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission reports. That was down from about $45,500 the previous year and $115,500 in 2001 (AP)
DEMOCRATS MAY SAY IT A LOT, BUT APPARENTLY IT DOESN’T HOLD WATER IN COURT
A federal judge rejected arguments yesterday that Wayne Bryant, a once-powerful Democratic state senator who retired in January, was unfairly singled out for prosecution on charges of misusing his office to pad his pension.
But U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson agreed subpoenas issued for the grand jury that indicted Bryant almost a year ago may have intimidated witnesses in the case from sharing information with defense lawyers.
The judge ordered the U.S. Attorney’s Office to draft a letter to those witnesses informing them the grand jury was concluded and they are free to talk, or not, as they like.
Wolfson’s ruling on the selective prosecution argument vindicated U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, a Republican mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate. Defense lawyers had accused him of targeting his much-heralded corruption prosecutions at Democrats, Bryant in particular.
“More Democrats have been prosecuted. Obviously, they can point to an isolated Republican here or there,” Cherry Hill lawyer Carl Poplar, who represents Bryant, argued yesterday. He said he was entitled to a court hearing to determine why other lawmakers who, like Bryant, held multiple government jobs, but had not been investigated. (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
A U.S. District Court judge today heard pre-trial motions in the case against former State Sen. Wayne Bryant and co-defendant R. Michael Gallagher, a former dean at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Lawyers for Bryant, a Lawnside Democrat, and Gallagher, a Haddonfield resident, have filed numerous motions since a 20-count federal indictment was filed against their clients in March 2007. Today’s hearing before Judge Freda Wolfson was an effort by the judge to sort them all out in preparation for the trial, which is scheduled to start in April.
Today, Wolfson heard arguments from the government and the defendants’ attorneys related to the first eight counts of the indictment, which mainly involve allegations Bryant defrauded the public of his honest services. (Grzyboski, Courier-Post)
Governor Corzine called Tuesday for a two-pronged state investigation of the EnCap project, saying New Jersey deserves more answers about how and why its government promoted the troubled Meadowlands venture.
During an interview in his State House office, Corzine said he would ask state Comptroller Matthew Boxer to examine more than $300 million in low-interest public financing that propped up the landfill-to-golf course project.
Corzine also said Attorney General Anne Milgram should aggressively explore the possible role of improper political influence in the stunning string of regulatory waivers and fast-track approvals granted to EnCap.
“I want the attorney general to give us, and the public, assurance that this project has been properly reviewed by people who are out to protect the public interest,” Corzine said. “We’re not looking for a witch hunt. But we need to take appropriate steps to find out what happened.” (Pill
ets, Bergen Record)
SARLO’S QUESTIONS WILL BE INTERESTING
Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper will face state Senators at hearing Monday in Trenton to discuss her investigation of the EnCap golf and housing scandal.
The hearing will be run by state Sen. Bob Smith, D-Piscataway, chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee. The Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, which is led by state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, also will question Cooper at the hearing.
Cooper concluded in a 277-page report that the EnCap company vastly overstated its credentials in winning the right in 1999 to develop atop Rutherford and Lyndhurst landfills. She also found that EnCap, in its 2004 talks with borough officials about turning over nearly half their future site-related tax revenues, did not tell them it had been offered $300 million in state incentives. That happened, Cooper wrote, because a variety of state agencies failed to communicate sufficiently during an extended period.
Real estate developer Donald Trump took over management of the project in November, and his company has been attempting to clean up the landfills ever since.
“The goal of the hearing is to flesh out where things went wrong, because we cannot repeat those same mistakes,” Sarlo said. “Before Trump goes any further, we have to be sure where the pitfalls are. But it doesn’t seem like anybody was communicating with anybody else on this.” (Brennan, Bergen Record)
DENVILLE — Voters recalled 2nd Ward Councilman James McCluskey from office in a special election Tuesday. He had been targeted for removal following his support for a controversial sewer plan in his district.
On the same ballot, voters also replaced McCloskey, a 12-year Denville councilman, with Gerard “Jerry” Lamonte.
A total of 460 people voted to remove McCloskey from office, while 392 voted against the recall. On the second ballot question, Lamonte received 468 votes to McCloskey’s 385, according to unofficial results from the town clerk’s office.
Early results did not include provisional or absentee ballots, and it was not immediately clear whether additional counting would change the outcome. According to the county clerk’s office, 28 absentee ballots had been requested, and 23 were returned by Wednesday afternoon. (Jennings, Daily Record)
BRIDGETON — South Jersey residents on both sides of the immigration debate came out to address Gov. Jon Corzine’s 34-member Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigrant Policy at Bridgeton High School on Tuesday.
The panel came to the city for the second of three public hearings it will conduct before forwarding its recommendations for immigrant-related policy reform to Corzine’s office in December.
As panel chairman Ronald K. Chen, who is the state’s public advocate, explained at the outset, the panel’s recommendations will have no impact on what most agree is the federal government’s broken immigration policy.
“Immigration policy — a policy by which people are lawfully admitted to enter the United States and the conditions upon which they can remain — is exclusively a federal matter,” he said. “For better or worse, that is clearly the case, and has been so for many years.” (McCullen, Bridgeton News)
THE BATTLE FOR FORT MONMOUTH
The Department of Defense’s inspector general said Tuesday he would investigate questionable e-mails from a high-ranking Army official concerning the closure of Fort Monmouth.
Meanwhile, plans are set for a groundbreaking ceremony next week for new facilities to house Fort Monmouth’s core mission at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Claude M. Kicklighter, the DOD inspector general, made his first public statement about possible interference by Army officials in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process that shuttered Fort Monmouth.
It came during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., a committee member, asked point-blank whether Kicklighter’s office planned to investigate e-mails sent by Craig College, the Army’s deputy assistant chief of staff for installations management.
“Sir, we will,” Kicklighter said. “We had a meeting the other night, and we are in the process of looking into it as we speak.” (Brown and Bowman, Asbury Park Press)
“I’M ASHAMED TO HAVE REPRESENTATION LIKE THIS IN THE STATEHOUSE”
ATLANTIC CITY – A day after a state Senate bill marginalizing the resort’s role in the sale of Bader Field moved forward, Mayor Scott Evans made a calculated effort Tuesday to vilify state Sen. James Whelan and his “plantation politics.”
Evans fired a broad range of allegations at Whelan, the bill’s sponsor, ranging from calling him a hypocrite to implying that the former resort mayor has improper connections with casino mogul Steve Wynn.
“I’m ashamed to have representatives like this in the Statehouse,” he said during a heated telephone interview.
The tirade came after the Senate’s State Government Committee unanimously approved a bill Monday that would require state approval of the sale of Bader Field despite the volatile objections from Evans’ staff and City Council members before the committee. (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
A day after Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy suspended his police chief, he was ordered by Mayor Cory Booker yesterday to reverse his decision on a temporary replacement.
Reached by phone last night to discuss the unusual move, McCarthy said, “I have no comment.” But two law enforcement officials said Booker told McCarthy to rescind his earlier memo naming Deputy Chief Daniel Zieser as acting chief. The officals, fearing reprisal, asked not to be identified.
Esmeralda Diaz Cameron, a Book
er spokeswoman, declined to explain Booker’s decision, other than saying: “Upon further review …the mayor just decided it was best to keep the position of acting police chief vacant.”
The retraction stirred turmoil within the department, where a bitter backroom power struggle has spilled into public view. Cops and city officials yesterday expressed frustration that the feud is threatening to overshadow a historic drop in homicides this year. (Schuppe and Mays, Star-Ledger)
New Jersey’s county clerks remain troubled by the errors uncovered in the February presidential primary election, and yesterday a statewide association representing the clerks called for an independent study of the state’s voting machines.
“We want to make sure there’s absolutely no question about the integrity of the election process,” said Michael Dressler, the Bergen County surrogate who presides over the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey.
Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, who was the first to discover the errors, urged her colleagues in the association to press for the analysis. Rajoppi has already contacted Edward Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University, to test machines in her county. (Walsh, Star-Ledger)
LONG DEAD FORMER GREEN BAY PACKERS COACH RESURRECTED TO DEFEND HOBOKEN’S FINEST, STOPS AT NAMESAKE TURNPIKE REST STOP TO EAT AT ROY ROGERS
HOBOKEN – The president of the union representing Hoboken’s rank and file officers is describing the departmental charges filed by the city against his members in connection with the SWAT team scandal as unfair and is accusing the media coverage of creating a “lynch-mob mentality.”
“The level of recommended discipline is not only excessive but also unfair,” said Vince Lombardi, president of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, in a recent statement.
The city announced last week that nine cops have been accused of violating several provisions of state administrative code and departmental rules and procedures. Officials said sanctions against the cops range from a 10-day suspension to termination, but would not be specific.
Lombardi refused to say which members of his union face administrative charges. (Hack, Jersey Journal)
JACKSON – Former committeeman Michael Kafton went to the microphone at the head of the room in Town Hall on Tuesday and pointed out the camera standing on a tripod in the corner, unmanned, tilted slightly downward and dark amid ajumble of cords.
“That equipment was given to us by Cablevision,” Kafton told the governing body. “When I was up there, the meetings were filmed. You haven’t filmed a single meeting.”
“We don’t have that gentleman you used to pay $60,000 to do that,” shot back Councilman Angelo Stallone. “Didn’t you pay him $60,000 to film the meetings? We don’t have that gentleman.”
“I didn’t pay him $60,000 to film the meetings,” said Kafton.
“$65,000,” put in Jackson Mayor Mark Seda from his seat on the far end of the dais, and Stallone led the hearty chorus of laughter from the council.
“That was his salary,” said Seda. “$65,000.” Then to Kafton directly, the mayor added, “We’re going to set aside time for ‘The Michael Kafton Hour,’ Mike. Just for you. One hour.”
“You’re hiding from the public,” charged Kafton amid the back and forth of several voices that did little to diminish the one overriding and ongoing public duel in Jackson politics.
Seda and Kafton.
Their rivalry goes back several years, these two men who straddle the terrain of this Ocean County town numbering 42,816 residents, which sprawls over 100 square miles at the edges and in the midst of the Pinelands. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
I’M A COMMITTEEMAN, BRO
Washington Township Committeeman Kevin Walsh was charged with driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident after police said he sideswiped a car on Schooley’s Mountain Road Saturday, authorities said yesterday.
Walsh, 43, of the Long Valley section of the township, also was charged with reckless driving, two counts of failing to keep right and failing to report the accident, police said.
The township committeeman was behind the wheel of his white 1997 Nissan Maxima heading north on Schooley’s Mountain Road shortly before 5:23 p.m. when he sideswiped a 2001 red Audi TT driven by John Baker, 44, of High Bridge, 100 feet north of East Mill Road, police said.
Walsh did not stop.
Neither Baker nor Walsh was injured, police said. Both motorists were driving alone. (Swayze, Star-Ledger)
MAYBE THE SWAINS WERE ON TO SOMETHING
CAPE MAY – Terri Swain, who owns and operates the family hardware store that opened in 1896, has roots that go back centuries in this community.
In all that time, there never was a Councilman Swain or Mayor Swain or school board President Swain. The family has always been involved in social and community organizations – her grandfather Charles Swain rose to become the international president of the Kiwanis organization – but no politics.
That may soon change. Swain, 45, of Lafayette Street, is running for a City Council seat in the May 13 election.
“My family has never been political but was involved a lot. My family is interested in having a well-balanced community, because we do care so much about it,” Swain said, speaking from Swain’s Hardware on Tuesday. (Degener, Press of Atlantic City)
NO SNARKY COMMENT
The tax preparer on a series of real-estate partnerships controlled by Charles Kushner pleaded guilty today for aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false and fraudulent partnership tax return, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said.
Anne Amici, 46, of Point Pleasant, entered her guilty plea before Judge Jose L. Linares on Tuesday. At the time of the offense, Amici worked as a tax preparer for a Roseland accounting firm specializing in servicing the real-estate industry.
The count charged that in April 2001, Amici aided and assisted in the preparation and presentation of a U.S. Partnership Tax Return, IRS Form 1065, which falsely characterized gift and and entertainment charges as fully deductible business expenses. The false return had the effect of creating thousands of dollars worth of deductible expenses, Christie said. The charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. (Schaffer, Press of Atlantic City)
LOOK, HE’S FROM JERSEY
WASHINGTON — The Navy admiral in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan said Tuesday that he is resigning over press reports portraying him as opposed to President Bush’s Iran policy.
Adm. William “Fox” Fallon, a South Jersey native, said the reports were wrong but had become a distraction hampering his efforts in the Middle East. Fallon’s area of responsibility includes Iran and stretches from Central Asia across the Middle East to the Horn of Africa.
“I don’t believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility,” said Fallon, adding he regretted “the simple perception that there is.” (Burns, AP)