The State Senator who went to jail for being a pirate

New Jersey’s history of corrupt politicians even included a State Senator who went to jail for being a pirate.

During the energy shortage in the 1970’s, former State Sen. Jerome Epstein (R-Scotch Plains) was sentenced to nine years in prison after a jury convicted him of pirating about $4 million worth of oil from Exxon tanks on the Arthur Kill in Linden.

Epstein, whose family owned fuel oil companies and gas stations, rented a 115-foot barge, the Luzitania, recruited a crew, and stole about 12 million gallons of oil during a systematic series of thefts that began in 1968. He rigged gauges on the barge so that he could take 4,000 gallons of oil and have it look like he only took 2,000. After a nine week trial, the former Senator, his father and uncle, were sentenced to prison terms.

A rising star in Union County Republican politics, Epstein served as an aide to State Sen. Nelson Stamler (R-Scotch Plains) and was elected to the Union County Board of Freeholders in 1967, at age 30. Four years later, Epstein won a seat in the State Senate, running on a GOP slate with Matthew Rinaldo and Frank McDermott. Among the Democrats he beat were Christopher Dietz, who would go on to serve as Chairman of the state Parole Board, and John Connor, whose father served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Johnson administration and whose brother served as Commissioner of Banking under Gov. James Florio.

Epstein became involved in a feud with Gov. William Cahill over a judicial appointment in Union County. The Senator wanted former Assistant Prosecutor Leslie Glick appointed to a judgeship, but Cahill, reportedly after consulting with Connor (who had joined the Nixon administration as Deputy Director of the Wage and Price Control Board after losing his Senate bid), instead named former Elizabeth Mayor Stephen Bercik. Epstein retaliated by using senatorial courtesy to block the reappointment of James Kellogg (a former New York Stock Exchange President) as a Port Authority Commissioner.

Amidst feuds with other Republican leaders, Epstein lost party support for re-election to a second term. New legislative districts were drawn for the 1973 elections, and the Union County GOP went with Assemblyman Peter McDonough (R-Plainfield) as their candidate for State Senator in the 22nd district.

The State Senator who went to jail for being a pirate