NJ’s Most Notorious Crooks: 10 Politicians Who Knew the Art of Reciprocity

Longtime Jersey City mayor Frank Hague's custom desk, which had a two-way drawer installed for kickbacks. Click through to see who else made the list.
Harold Hoffman, the man who died before his own investigation. Hoffman had been serving as the state’s Unemployment Compensation Commission Director, and was suspended by Governor Robert B. Meyner in 1954 after Meyner’s administration found that he had embezzled public money. The disgraced former governor admitted to the scheme in writing shortly before his fatal heart attack in a New York City hotel room. Hoffman had served as governor himself from 1935 to 1937.
Hugh Addonizio. U.S. District Judge Herbert J. Stern accused this one-time Newark mayor of ”literally delivering the city into the hands of organized crime.” An investigation into Addonizio’s administration in the aftermath the city’s 1967 riots revealed that he and other city officials had accepted kickbacks from contractors. He faced corruption and conspiracy charges from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison for his plan to make a $1.4 million profit.
Jersey City
Harrison Williams fell prey to a sting operation orchestrated by the FBI in which convicted swindlers posed as Arab sheikhs. The investigation, codenamed “Abscam,” led to the longtime U.S. Senator from New Jersey’s 1981 conviction on bribery and conspiracy charges for attempting to use his office for monetary gain. Williams had promised undercover FBI agents lucrative government contracts in exchange for taking out an 18 percent share in their fictional mining company. Though he argued that the prosecution was motivated by his support for Ted Kennedy over Jimmy Carter during the primary, he served two years in prison.
David Friedland, the Hudson County state senator who faked his own death, and became the U.S. Marshal Service’s most wanted fugitive before his 1987 capture in the Maldive Islands. Friedland was awaiting sentencing following his 1980 conviction for racketeering when he staged his own drowning while scuba diving in the Bahamas. During his disappearance, Friedland opened a chain of scuba shops under an assumed name and even posed for a post card where he was pictured feeding a shark with food held in his own mouth.
County Democrats could be on the verge of winning one of two available seats in Atlantic.
A Hudson County politician of a more recent vintage, Robert Janiszewski has the dubious honor of being the highest-ranking elected official in New Jersey ever to go undercover for the FBI. While serving as County Executive he accepted more than $100,000 in bribes — $10,000 of which came from an F.B.I. informant. Janiszewski wore a wire during meetings with associates, and was moved out of state under the Bureau’s protection. He was sentenced to 41 months in prison in 2005 after pleading guilty to extortion and mail fraud.
Sammy Rivera stepped down as the mayor of Passaic in 2008 when he was arrested for accepting bribes from an F.B.I. informant. He had been plotting to direct city contracts to an insurance broker who was, in fact, a cooperating witness in the investigation. In the negotiations over the bribe, he said "I can get four votes easy, easy, easy” of the necessary approval from city council. Rivera pleaded guilty to attempted extortion and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.
City of Passaic
Tony Mack, the Trenton mayor who was removed from office by the state Superior Court. Mack was found guilty of six corruption charges in 2014 after investigators uncovered bribery, extortion, and fraud. Facing personal debts that led him to take out nearly $400,000 in loans in just one year, Mack turned to cronyism and kickbacks before F.B.I. investigators raided his home and office in 2012. He was sentenced to five years and is still in prison.
City of Trenton
Frank Hague, the mayor who purportedly kept a custom-built desk with a outward-facing bribe drawer. The longtime Jersey City mayor was also the living prototype of the kind of political bosses that have dominated the state ever since. Despite a paltry salary that never amounted to more than$8,500 a year during his thirty-year reign between 1917 and 1947, Hague laid claim to luxury vacations, a sprawling estate and a private suite at the Plaza Hotel. With no other source of income on record, his net worth came to over $10 million when he died in 1956.

Sliding in just behind Kentucky and Illinois for the title of most corrupt state this year, New Jersey has a reputation for venality and malfeasance for a reason. With a long and colorful history of politicians who never let their scruples get in the way of a better deal, these are the standouts who wore wires, faked their own deaths, and made their peace with the mob to try and stay away from federal lock-up.

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