Former assembly candidate Joseph Caruso said he had nothing to do with the robocall political consultant Kevin Collins was charged with yesterday.
“I had no clue about this until after it happened, and even when I found out about it I thought [Assemblyman Scott] Rumana did it… It hurt my reputation, not his.” said Caruso, who with running mate Anthony Rottino fought an unsuccessful primary against Rumana (R-Wayne) and Assemblyman David Russo (R-Ridgewood) in June.
Caruso said that he kept Collins “at arm’s length” during the campaign, but threw him some work as a favor.
“People were telling me the guy was hard up, was going to lose his house – ‘Could you give him something?’ It’s the last time I’m going to be nice to somebody,” he said.
Caruso said Collins was primarily involved with GOP Strong, a splinter Republican group that supported Caruso and ran parallel campaigns against Rumana’s slate of county candidates and to knock him off as Passaic County GOP chairman.
The robocall repeated points made in controversial flyer distributed by GOP Strong that criticized Rumana over his abstention on a bill that would allow people convicted of certain crimes to have their records expunged. The flyer quoted Assemblyman Gary Chiusano, a conservative, saying “a vote against this bill means you are allowing the expungement of sex crimes.” But Chiusano did vote against the bill. Chiusano said his quote was taken out of context because he meant that, since the bill exempted sex offenders and terrorists from having their records expunged, a vote against expungement for other criminals could be construed misleadingly as a vote favoring sex offenders and terrorists.
In June, Caruso disowned the flyer and told PolitickerNJ.com that there was “a little bit of a fight” over it.
Caruso said that he cooperated with the Attorney General’s Office fully in their investigation of the robocall. .
But campaign finance reports filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission show that a firm Collins is affiliated with — Dylan, Drama & Miller – received almost $22,000 for “consulting” and “auto calls” from the Caruso and Rottino campaigns, while they do not appear to have been paid anything by GOP Strong. The last payment was on May 18,– two weeks before Election Day, when the Attorney General’s Office said the calls were made.
Caruso said that he never authorized the robocalls that landed Collins in legal trouble.
“At no time did I or anyone in our District 40 campaign authorize Kevin Collins or his associates to make and distribute a robo call on our behalf that featured an impersonation of our opponent or any member of his staff,” he said in a statement issued later.
GOP Strong Chairman Mike Mecca said that the group had “nothing to do with” the robocall and never paid Collins as a consultant.
“Why would Joe say that?” said Mecca.