Chris Christie’s Extramarital Affair Under Scrutiny In Gay Marriage Appeal

October 1st, 2013

Chris Christie and Michele Brown

Can Governor Chris Christie appeal the gay marriage ruling based on protecting the sanctity of traditional marriage while having a highly visible extramarital affair? This is a question many in New Jersey are asking as the Christie Administration launches an appeal of a same-sex marriage ruling. Christie’s longtime mistress, Michele Brown, has been a fixture throughout his career as both a US Attorney and Governor of New Jersey.

Brown first came into the public eye during Christie’s campaign for governor when it was revealed by the New York Times that Christie had been providing Brown with “improper aid” including special monetary favors that were not appropriately disclosed.

When news broke in August that the former United States attorney, Christopher J. Christie, had lent $46,000 to a top aide in the federal prosecutor’s office, he said he was merely helping a friend in need. He also said the aide, Michele Brown, had done nothing to help his gubernatorial campaign.

But interviews with federal law enforcement officials suggest that Ms. Brown used her position in two significant and possibly improper ways to try to aid Mr. Christie in his run for governor.

Christie put Brown in charge of reviewing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for his US Attorney office where she also served as a lawyer. Brown attempted to stymie requests for Christie’s travel records. As would later be revealed, the travel records that Brown initially blocked would show that Christie and Brown traveled together frequently, often staying in the same hotels.

Brown would later resign from the US Attorney’s office over the scandal but her role as Christie’s mistress was never made an issue by the Jon Corzine campaign due to a an agreement with Christie’s campaign. The agreement was essentially a non-aggression pact on the issue of inappropriate professional relationships – that for generally leaving the Brown issue alone the Christie campaign would not invoke attacks involving Governor Corzine’s questionable relationship with Carla Katz.

Despite resigning from the US Attorney’s Office over suspicious conduct, (now Governor) Christie provided Michele Brown with a job in his administration. Brown was recently implicated by the Newark Star-Ledger as being the government official that approved a controversial ad campaign.

Instead, Christie’s appointed cronies chose to spend $2 million more for a campaign produced by MWW, a public relations firm based in East Rutherford that’s known for its abundant political connections in both parties.

Why? The governor’s office dances and shuffles around this point, and the woman in charge of this selection process, Michele Brown, wouldn’t comment.

Now the question is whether or not Governor Christie can have credibility fighting for traditional marriage while having his mistress in such a high and visible position.

Must Read Norcross Expose By Steve Volk Of Philadelphia Magazine

May 12th, 2013

As has been written about here a year ago in DRPA and the Norcross Question, the Norcross Machine has essentially suspended democracy in large parts of New Jersey.

Now Philadelphia Magazine, in the tradition of Richard Rys, published an extensive expose on George Norcross which includes interviews with Norcross himself.

The writer, Steve Volk, asks the fundamental question.

Is this democracy?

It’s a question I asked pretty much all my interview subjects for this story, and the answers ranged from an emphatic “Of course not!” to a meandering “Ye-es” to a grossly realistic “It’s the only democracy we have.”

Norcross admits he is a political boss something he fought successfully to have removed from Courier-Post profiles

“My biggest mistake was allowing myself to be defined and branded in the ’90s,” he continues. “I stayed in the background because I thought that’s what political bosses did. And I got portrayed, you know, as the guy with the cigar and the horns.”

The Norcross machine raises oceans of money to bury opponents – money gained in pay to play contracts.

For the next 20 years, Norcross focused on the battlefield of New Jersey politics, to the point that he is now said to “own” South Jersey. The Camden County Democratic party has ratcheted down its fund-raising in recent years—incumbents don’t need as much money—but still ranks fourth among all the counties in the state, and when he wants a race badly enough, he flattens opponents under the heft of cash. He raised $2 million, for instance, for the 2003 state senate race that installed unknown challenger Fred Madden over incumbent George Geist. It was the most expensive senate race in the history of New Jersey, which raises a question: Is this d­emocracy—or an auction?

Norcross steered money to his daughter’s private school.

Famously, during the trial of state senator Wayne Bryant, we learned that the State of New Jersey had been doling out what government officials dubbed “Norcross Grants.” These were discretionary funds to be given to worthy causes. Norcross said that he received a phone call in 2004 from then-governor Richard Codey telling him that he—George Norcross III, a private insurance executive—could steer $500,000 in public money any way he saw fit. Norcross chose Pennsauken High School, his alma mater, and the private Lawrenceville School that his daughter Lexie attended.

And finally Governor Chris Christie more or less admits Norcross broke the law.

For students of Jersey politics, the elephant in the room, of course, is Christie’s role in the Palmyra investigation, and those notorious tapes of George Norcross practicing politics. I ask Christie to discuss the subject.

“I made it a practice not to talk about that kind of stuff from when I was U.S. Attorney, in terms of ‘shining any new light’ on things,” he replies. “I think if you want to know what my view of the investigation was, then read the letter I sent to the acting Attorney General.”

In that letter, addressed to the state Attorney General’s office, and ultimately disseminated to the media, Christie explained that he would be unable to prosecute Norcross because investigators bungled the case. They failed to obtain wiretaps on their principal subjects, including Norcross, and didn’t equip an informant with a wire at one key political function. Christie even wondered, in print, if the investigation had been purposefully undermined for political reasons.

Federal prosecutors, as a rule, don’t discuss their decision-making. So the New York Times covered the largely unprecedented event. “In a scathing letter,” reads a 2006 Times story, “Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, wrote that his office would be unable to bring charges against Mr. Norcross because lawyers for the state attorney general had mishandled their investigation before turning it over to his office in 2004.”

“Reviewing the letter again,” I say to Christie, “as I did this morning … you look like a guy lamenting the one that got away. Right? And one of the ones that got away there was George Norcross.”

The entire time I speak, Christie sits there nodding. Then he responds: “Well, listen, you know, you change roles. Um, I’m now—here I was the United States Attorney, a prosecutor, and I was doing my job as I saw it. And now I’m the governor. And now I’m a political leader, on top of being a governmental leader. And so certain things that I couldn’t do as a prosecutor, I can do now, and I’m really obligated to do, and certain things that I could do as a prosecutor I can’t do anymore. So, you know, your power is in some ways expanded and your power in some ways is limited, as the governor, as compared to being U.S. Attorney.”

As close as anyone is going to get, the article is definitely worth a read.

Governor’s Brother’s Ties To Solar Industry Raise Questions Over Bailout

August 23rd, 2012

 

 

Governor Chris Christie’s public persona has been built around a free market small government agenda. According to Christie, state government wrongly interferes in market processes while correspondingly spending taxpayer money with little oversight or care.

This agenda, this persona, stands in stark contrast to the bailout of New Jersey’s solar industry that Governor Christie signed into law. Not only an act of big government but a direct intervention in the marketplace using the taxpayer’s credit card. This action left many of Christie’s supporters confused and upset, from Save Jersey Founder Matt Rooney:

The part that really confounds me is that Governor Christie argued so effectively in 2009 against healthcare mandates. Why can’t he see the analogous qualities between (1) forcing a 21 year old male to pay for breast cancer examination and (2) forcing an electricity supplier to purchase useless green energy credits?

This is just another example of government making life more expensive — for job creators and market consumers – all in the name of “job creation.” Exactly what we worked so hard in 2009 to stop? Correct?

In his remarks memorialized in the video below, the Governor says “this is not a Democratic or Republican issue.” It sure is when you’re asking taxpayers to foot the bill!!!

Ugh…. just ugh, folks.

But other conservatives are going further and not just claiming Christie betrayed campaign promises but that he may have intervened to help relatives. From Conservative New Jersey:

Since he took office, Governor Chris Christie has promoted “green” energy projects throughout the state.  Unlike true conservative Republicans who know that the free market should determine which technologies are developed, he acts just like a liberal democrat and uses taxpayer monies to fund corporate welfare.  But is this the only reason he has taken this liberal, RINO stand on green energy?

Chris Christie recently signed into law a bill that will require the electric ratepayers in New Jersey to subsidize the construction of solar projects, just like the ones that Vanguard Energy Partners installs.  I wonder if his brother Todd handed him the pen to sign the bill.

Todd Christie, Governor Christie’s brother, has considerable experience in the New Jersey solar industry.

After his brother was elected Governor in 2009, Todd became a “clean energy consultant” founding S.G Builders LLC a company whose main client was Vanguard Energy Partners. Vanguard Energy Partners, with an office located in Branchburg, does considerable business in New Jersey including business with the state and various municipalities and authorities – business that reportedly ticked up after Todd Christie became Vanguard’s consultant.

This not the first time Todd Christie has become an issue for his brother. During both the primary and general election in 2009 Todd Christie’s involvement in a securities fraud scheme became part of the campaign. From the New York Times:

Todd J. Christie, the brother of Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, was among 20 specialist stock traders charged with civil fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, accused of cheating their customers to benefit their firms…

Mr. Christie, 40, of Mendham, N.J., is the youngest brother of a prosecutor who has built a reputation for aggressively rooting out political corruption in the state. He is also a major political donor, having contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and committees in recent years, according to state and federal election reports…

While Mr. Christie faces only civil penalties and fines as a result of the charges, 14 of the 20 brokers cited by the S.E.C. were also indicted on Tuesday on criminal fraud charges by the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. The practices outlined by federal prosecutors in the criminal cases largely mirror those in the civil complaints. Those charged criminally face jail terms of up to 10 years if convicted…

Asked why Todd Christie had not been charged criminally, Mr. Shecktman [Todd's Attorney] said: “I’m confident that Todd was not the beneficiary of his brother’s government position because I’ve known the Southern District long enough to know that they made their decisions on who to prosecute on the merits. At the end of the day what mattered to them was the strength of the evidence for a criminal conviction and not a numbers issue.”

But that very charge would resurface when then US Attorney Chris Christie gave the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, David Kelly, a sweetheart appointment as a federal monitor. From the New York Times:

Mr. Christie, who was appointed United States Attorney for New Jersey after serving as a major fund-raiser for George W. Bush, appointed former Attorney General John Ashcroft, his onetime boss, as the monitor of a medical-supply company that had been accused of paying kickbacks to doctors; the contract was valued at $28 million to $52 million.In settling a similar case, Mr. Christie awarded a contract to David N. Kelley, another former United States attorney appointed by President Bush. Mr. Kelley, as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, had declined to prosecute Mr. Christie’s brother, Todd Christie, in a 2005 stock-fraud investigation involving his trading firm, Spear, Leeds & Kellogg.

It remains unclear what amount of money, if any, went in Todd Christie’s direction due to the law his brother signed. What does remain is a highly suspect flip flop from Governor Christie on government’s role in the economy and a question about what led to such a radical change in position.

 

New Jersey Democrats’ Convention Delegate Tied To Spoiler Campaign

July 31st, 2012

According to the website of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee one of the party’s district delegates to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this year is Brian McGinnis, who also serves as a political appointee for Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt.

In 2012, while in government service, McGinnis was reported to be linked to a spoiler campaign launched in the 3rd Congressional District by the John Adler’s 2010 re-election campaign. From “Dems picked spoiler candidate” Courier-Post, October 8, 2010:

Other names on the petition include relatives of Brian McGinnis, a [Camden County Democratic Committee]  CCDC volunteer and chief of staff to Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt and Budget Committee Chairman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Camden.

The plan, as revealed by the Courier-Post, was to put Peter DeStefano as a “Tea Party” candidate on the ballot in order to take votes from then candidate and now incumbent Congressman Jon Runyan. In order to place the spoiler on the ballot signatures had to be collected which reportedly McGinnis and other Adler supporters assisted in.

The DeStefano candidacy immediately raised questions as no one in the Tea Party movement or New Jersey politics generally had ever heard of him – perhaps best exemplified by PolitickerNJ’s early story on the candidate “Who in the hell is Peter Destefano?

The Courier-Post story would also reveal that the Adler campaign was involved, as high up as the campaign manager, in the spoiler campaign. The story went national and became the subject of posts from Politico and lead to Mother Jones citing the Democrats for “dirty tricks”:

Republicans have a long history of such shenanigans, typically propping up the Green Party in recent election cycles. In Arizona, a Republican operative was particularly brazen in recruiting three homeless people to run for state office. And in Texas, Republicans spent a half-million dollars in an effort to put the Texas Green Party on the ballot in the state race—backed by sketchy operatives who also tried to help Ralph Nader in the 2004 race.

Such dirty tricks obviously have a chance of backfiring, so the Democrats really shouldn’t be in a rush to match the GOP in resorting to such tactics. And it looks particularly bad when the candidate himself seems to be complicit.


The vote for convention district delegates is not a highly scrutinized vote (to put it lightly) which this year was part of a primary election in which voters in the district had no alternative names to vote for. So the process for selecting nominees to appear on the ballot is an insider affair and the nominees run unopposed once nominated.

This then leads to the next and most important question – does the New Jersey Democratic Party think it should be represented by “dirty tricks” at the national convention?

 

PAYMENT METHOD: Jason Method Leaves Journalism For Norcross-Connected Mutual Fund After Puff Piece

July 11th, 2012

After rewriting history in a Norcross puff piece Jason Method is leaving his career in journalism to work for a Norcross-connected Mutual Fund, the Vanguard Group. Leaving a rather obvious question – was there a quid pro quo?

methodvanguard
Difficult to surmise at this time if there was any explicit deal but what is known is that Mr. Method went out of his way to not only take the favorable view of Mr. Norcross’ intentions but actually distorted previous reporting. If Method was not acting on direct instruction as part of a backroom deal, he was most likely auditioning for something given that we now know he has jumped ship – a process requiring months of preparation. When did Jason Method decide he was leaving journalism and did he know when he was writing the Norcross article that he would end up working for a company with close ties to George Norcross?

The DRPA Report and The Norcross Question

April 2nd, 2012

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The law is like a spider’s web; the small are caught and the great tear it up. – Solon

An investigation of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) by the State Comptroller’s office has yielded an incendiary report on the practices of the bi-state instrumentality. One of the most explosive revelations was a kickback scheme orchestrated by none other than the South Jersey maestro himself, George Norcross III. From the Comptroller’s Report:

In an effort to understand why Willis would have been selected and notified of the appointment in this way, OSC interviewed Norcross. Norcross stated that at some point prior to the December 30, 2002 e-mail, someone from Governor James McGreevey’s office had offered Norcross’ insurance company the opportunity to be DRPA’s New Jersey insurance broker. Norcross could not recall who that person was, but stated that it was not the Governor himself…

Norcross acknowledged sending Willis the e-mail informing them of the appointment, explaining that he probably would have learned of Willis’ appointment from someone at the Governor’s office or DRPA. Norcross said he could not recall the identity of that person.

DRPA Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash told OSC that shortly after Governor McGreevey took office in 2002, the new administration directed DRPA to appoint Willis as its New Jersey- designated insurance broker. Although Nash could not specifically recall the person from the Governor’s office who had directed the appointment...

While it may not be entirely clear how, why or by whom Willis ultimately was selected as DRPA’s insurance broker, it is clear, based on contemporaneous documents and OSC interviews of Willis officials, that Willis believed that Conner Strong took action to secure its appointment and compensated Conner Strong accordingly.

A rather stunning case of collective amnesia as to who in the McGreevey administration both offered the deal then informed Norcross and Nash about the contract. Though such cases of temporary and clearly self-interested amnesia have yet to be documented medically, they often occur in the course of investigations into the Norcross Machine.

And while Norcross has claimed there is no connection to the payments to Norcross’ firm and Willis receiving the contract through McGreevey officials, the other player in the scheme had no such illusions:

Both Willis and Conner Strong agree that Willis paid Conner Strong $410,000 over the course of six years and paid Michael Martucci $45,000 over the course of two years. Willis attributes the payments to Conner Strong’s efforts in securing the DRPA business for Willis. In contrast, Conner Strong takes the position that the payments to Conner Strong were attributable to general marketing and referral efforts and had nothing to do with DRPA…

Ultimately, though Conner Strong provides contemporaneous documents to indicate that they accounted for the payments as if they were general marketing as opposed to DRPA referral payments, it is clear that Willis paid Conner Strong $455,000 of DRPA-originated commissions and that Willis considered this to be a referral fee. As Willis stated in its response to our draft report:

Willis: (1) made such payments to Conner Strong and/or Mr. Martucci because Willis reasonably believed that Conner Strong and Mr. Martucci played a role in having Willis appointed as a broker for the DRPA and continuing to act as a broker for the DRPA; and (2) made such payments solely in connection with the DRPA account.

So Norcross tried to pretend the payments were for “North Jersey Marketing” despite it being clearly understood that the payments were a reward for Norcross securing Willis the contract from the McGreevey administration. The official within the McGreevey administration who consulted with Norcross and secured the contract for Willis remains unknown, for now.

But is this the first instance of George Norcross being caught red handed manipulating public contracts? Hardly.

From Richard Pearsall “Norcross again denies alleged contract-rigging”, Courier-Post, Apr. 7, 2005:

On Jan. 3, 2001, Norcross is heard on a secretly recorded tape describing a meeting at which he told Voorhees Committeeman Harry Platt to hire JCA as the township engineer. This despite an interview process that had the township committee leaning toward another firm, Norcross said on the tape.

“. . . we said to Harry, wait a second, JCA was going to be the engineer of record. I don’t care about your f—— review process,’ Norcross said.

Also present at the meeting with Platt, according to Norcross, were Camden County Clerk Jim Beach and Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Voorhees…

Voorhees Township Committee appointed JCA as its engineer on the evening of Jan. 3, 2001…

The contract was originally going to go to another firm, Norcross said, because three “do-gooder’ committeemen wanted to name another firm “based on the interviews.’

But at the meeting attended by Platt and the others, Norcross said, he set Platt straight that, regardless, “JCA was going to be the engineer of record.’

And a mere year later Norcross was arranging the kickback scheme with Willis for their DRPA contract. Busy busy.

But there is no need to reach so far back to see Norcross’ modus operandi. From the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 25, 2012:

Consider Cooper’s heavy borrowing to pay for all that expansion. In the last decade, Cooper’s bond sales have generated $5.1 million in fees to a variety of law firms, title companies, and financial advisers. On top of that, the hospital has handed out big-ticket contracts for other legal work, such as malpractice defense, its public disclosures show.

Many of those who received work via Cooper are major political donors, giving across the state to both parties. But they have been especially generous in Camden County, Norcross’ home base.

During the last decade, firms involved with Cooper have given more than $1.5 million to Camden County Democrats.

As an example, lawyers at Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia firm that worked on four Cooper bond issues, have given Camden Democrats $115,060 since 2002. That represented more than 70 percent of its local political contributions in New Jersey. A Cozen spokeswoman said all donations reflected candidates’ merits.

In interviews, Norcross conceded he had input into who was selected to work on hospital bond issues, managed by state and local authorities.

“Have I made recommendations of quality firms?” he said. “Absolutely.

There is of course little doubt that Norcross steers money in Cooper University Hospital as chairman – but where does Cooper get the money Norcross directs from? Same article:

Late last year, the Delaware River Port Authority, its once-vast development kitty finally running dry, approved its last round of project spending. Among the lucky few recipients: Cooper University Hospital. It got $6 million for the cancer center.

No other hospital in New Jersey or Pennsylvania has ever received DRPA assistance, the authority says.

The DRPA money was one of many ways in which Cooper has benefited from government action during the Norcross era. This year, Cooper received $52 million in state funding, more than any hospital in South Jersey – and in the top five for all 72 New Jersey hospitals.

OK. So where does some of that DRPA and State Budget money that flows through Cooper go? From “George’s grand vision: Norcross sees Camden rising” Courier-Post, Feb. 11, 2012:

Norcross is not paid as chairman of Cooper, according to the nonprofit’s 2008-2010 tax returns, the latest publicly available. But those returns also showed that the hospital did nearly $1.6 million worth of business with Norcross’ insurance firm over those three years.

Kickbacks from the DRPA insurance contract and a cut of Cooper’s DRPA funds, now that is quite a business model!

 Is George Norcross Above The Law?

It is Norcross’ control of the state budget and agencies that allows him to accumulate wealth and influence. This unchecked power has now culminated in perhaps the most craven of all Norcross looting operations: the Rutgers-Rowan (-Cooper) merger. With his cronies that were specifically mentioned on the FBI tapes now in positions of power, Norcross has made a bold move to grab even more state money for himself by giving Cooper Hospital access to enormous sums of money. From the Star Ledger:

The report, never made public but obtained by The Star-Ledger, warns that creating another “major research university” will mean a “substantial augment in the funds available to the New Rowan University to build the infrastructure a successful major research university will require.”

That is serious money that the Norcross Machine can siphon off of, just in the nick of time too as the DRPA buffet is shutting down and Cooper Hospital has borrowed so much money for graft and other expenses its credit is at risk, from Philadelphia Inquirer, March 25, 2012:

In 2008, Cooper’s revenue exceeded expenses by 5 percent. Last year that edge had shrunk to just 1 percent.

And Cooper’s bond rating is one level above junk status.

That is what happens when you need to keep bonding and building so the lawyers, insurance firms, and other consultants who kickback to the machine have money to kick back – your credit sucks. So here comes a poorly planned merger, a Norcross Bailout, to make sure Cooper can still pump out the fees and the machine can keep rolling on.

And the question remains, why isn’t George Norcross in jail? What exactly would he have to do at this point? He has been caught numerous times, once even on tape, corrupting public officials and receiving personal benefits for doing so. The answer seems to be if you have enough money and power you are above the law in New Jersey.

Even Chris Christie has changed his tune. Christie once publicly admonished Attorney General Peter Harvey for not prosecuting George Norcross and went so far as to accuse public officials of taking a dive. From the New York Times:

In a scathing letter dated Tuesday, Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, wrote that his office would be unable to bring charges against Mr. Norcross because lawyers for the state attorney general had mishandled their investigation under two administrations before turning it over to his office in 2004…

His letter also harshly criticized state prosecutors for deciding not to secretly tape conversations at a Camden County Democratic fund-raiser in 2001, where Mr. Norcross and his associates were expected to discuss a wide variety of political deals. Mr. Christie said that that decision was so inexplicable that it raised the possibility that state investigators were trying to shield political figures.

Very strong charges. But what does Christie say now that Norcross can advance his political career? From “George’s grand vision: Norcross sees Camden rising” Courier-Post, Feb. 11, 2012:

“You know, I think there has been a lot of mythology built up around George Norcross,” Christie says through a spokesman. “I think the reality is he is someone with passion about things that are important to New Jersey.”

That amnesia must be going around. And this while his own Comptroller is exposing kickback schemes. Pathetic. But not just pathetic, a clear indication that Christie and his Attorney General will not be doing much vis a vis Norcross. It is a free ride. In truth, they have not been doing much at all about public corruption it seems Mr. Christie was apparently only interested in doing that when it advanced his political career (notice a pattern?).

So George Norcross is apparently above the law, at least for now.

 A Question of Legitimacy

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Who elected George Norcross? Who appointed George Norcross? America was founded on the idea, first articulated by John Locke and later enshrined by the founding fathers in the Constitution, that political legitimacy comes from the consent of the governed. Who consented to have George Norcross in charge? The answer is no one.

Norcross’ power is illegitimate by American standards and values. His power not only equals that of elected representatives but easily exceeds it as those politicians beg for his campaign money which in a tragic and ironic twist they provide much of by allowing Norcross to control government finances.

George Norcross’ constant refrain of “defending South Jersey” as justifying every greedy and selfish act he engages in is a sad and tired tune after 20 years in power. In the final analysis it is really about him and his gang defending their fiefdoms not improving the lives of others. Just ask the people of Camden City.

But let us imagine Norcross isn’t lying to camouflage his corruption – why then doesn’t Mr. Norcross take his argument to the people of South Jersey? Stand for office; Freeholder, State Legislator, Mayor of Camden City. If he is only looking out for the people they should gladly elect him.

Aye there’s the rub. The people of South Jersey, about whom Norcross claims to care about so deeply, are so woefully ignorant they would probably not sign on to his agenda or his grand “visions.” They would probably even ask why all that money Norcross promised went to “North Jersey Marketing.”

 

Courier-Post Gives Conflicting Accounts of George Norcross

February 22nd, 2012

An alliance with a powerful person is never safe. – Phaedrus

Long time readers of the Courier-Post were surely surprised to read the Feburary 11th printing of the paper. On the front page was an amazing sight, a flattering portrait and headline of a man the paper had railed against and investigated for the past 20 years – exposing his corruption and decrying him as a “machine boss.” The portrait, headline, and subsequent story of February 11 bore no resemblance to the man previously reported on. He was no corrupt machine boss, but a civic minded benefactor, nay a visionary. The piece was titled “George’s Grand Vision: Norcross Sees Camden Rising”

Within the article are a series of statements that are directly contradicted by established facts, many of which were reported by the Courier itself and other Gannett publications.

The story was written by Jason Method whose byline lists New Jersey Press Media not the Courier, the story also ran in other Gannett publications like the Asbury Park Press. It is not surprising that a Courier reporter was not the author of this story given the reporter the Courier had previously assigned to cover the machine, Jane Roh, had been fired from the paper principally for conflicts created by the Norcross Machine who demanded her firing on a continual basis – at one point with the threat of legal action.

This is actually not a new tactic by the Norcross Machine regarding reporters whose coverage it disliked, as recounted by Philadelphia Magazine:

Other journalists have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Norcross behind the scenes — he shovels them dirt on his opponents, they get a few days of copy. Reporters who are perceived to betray Norcross are dealt with in kind. His cordial relationship with the Courier ‘s Alan Guenther ended when Guenther wrote a revealing three-part series calling him “Boss Norcross.” This was followed by a smear campaign aimed at Guenther and his father, a local architect whose firm donated more than $11,000 to the Camden County Democrats. Always standing in the background, Norcross let his lawyer do the dirty work, sending the newspaper a seven-page letter that attacked Guenther’s father for “solicitation of no-bid contracts” and other offenses, while outlining the reporter’s “conflicts of interest” and “vigilante tactics.” Guenther declined to comment on the matter, and despite Norcross’s efforts, he remains at the Courier .

Guenther is no longer at the Courier. Though the story itself received a Public Service Award from the Philadelphia Press Association.

Conflicting Accounts

Let us review Guenther’s award winning journalism from his series “Boss Norcross”, Courier-Post, Feb. 16, 2003:

 He can make or break careers with a single phone call. He’s so powerful that mayors, governors, senators – even state investigators – all want to hear what George E. Norcross III has to say.

Because more than 50 elected and appointed officials in South Jersey owe their careers to him, he can pull strings to influence who gets hired, who gets contracts and whose legislation sees the light of day.

Through a network of of Democratic Party and labor union loyalists, he works behind the scenes. Even though he holds no position in government, he is able to exert more influence over public spending in South Jersey than any any politician. Parks, bridges, roads, hospitals – practically nothing gets built without his input.

That does sound like a machine boss.

As the unquestioned leader of a Democratic political machine that has annihilated opposition in Camden, Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland counties, Norcross has also managed to win scores of local government insurance contracts. Under one of his biggest contracts, his company provides training to help workers avoid injury in 305 New Jersey communities…

When Norcross won control of the Camden County Democratic Party in 1989, he accepted no county insurance contracts. He said he wanted to avoid any conflict of interest.

But since resigning as county chairman in 1995, he’s gone after county and local government contracts with a passion. In his home base of Camden County, 31 of the 37 municipalities use Norcross’ risk management services, the Courier-Post found…

Of the 312 municipalities that share insurance costs, no fewer than 305 use Norcross’ company to train workers to avoid injury, according to David Grubb, executive director for the Municipal Excess Liability joint insurance fund.

For those wondering whether Norcross has ever profited off of his “grand visions” for New Jersey you may have your answer.

Norcross is so welcome at the State House in Trenton that he uses a private entrance to gain access to McGreevey’s offices.

His alliances are well known, though he said he strictly adheres to New Jersey’s notoriously weak campaign finance laws.

Contractors who make campaign donations to the Camden County Democrats often get professional contracts where competitive bidding is not required by law. Union workers loyal to him get jobs…

Norcross tried to get the Legislature to consider building an arena in Newark, even getting into a shouting match in the private office of Republican Senate President John O. Bennett.

Published reports called it a shoving match. Bennett declined comment except to say, “It got ugly.” Norcross wouldn’t talk about it.

Pay to play, intimidation tactics and this is before the infamous “Tapes.”

Now let us compare Guenther’s award winning account with Mr. Methods puff piece. “George’s grand vision: Norcross sees Camden rising” Courier-Post, Feb. 11, 2012:

Vilified as an iron-fisted political boss and master of pay-to-play politics for more than two decades, Norcross has focused his efforts in recent years on improving Camden.

“Vilified”… Really? It would seem the definitive story from Mr. Guenther and other stories featured by reporters did their homework and tried to report fairly not slander and/or abuse anyone.

Ironically, in Method’s own story one can see evidence of the “vilifying” narrative.

Norcross is not paid as chairman of Cooper, according to the nonprofit’s 2008-2010 tax returns, the latest publicly available. But those returns also showed that the hospital did nearly $1.6 million worth of business with Norcross’ insurance firm over those three years.

Or what of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), noted in Guenther and other’s stories as a Norcross Machine patronage den, from Method’s piece:

Cooper also has received substantial government help, including $6 million that the Delaware River Port Authority provided in December to help fund the planned cancer center.

Cooper, like other hospitals, borrows money through taxpayer-backed bonds. Such bonds have financed Cooper projects worth $266 million since 2004, according to its tax returns.

Who gets fees from financing those bonds and other bonds in Camden County?

Never mind, back to the “vision.”

Norcross also speaks passionately about the need to find some way to help parents who struggle with low-income jobs and who were not well educated themselves…

Norcross has advocated for the emergence of a South Jersey university — separate from Rutgers — because he believes the state has neglected higher education needs in the region. If the plan comes to fruition, Rowan University will become exactly that. Rowan will have two major campuses, in Glassboro and Camden, that will include a medical, law and business schools.

Sweeney, the state Senate president, announced last month that he intends to push for a higher education bond issue that will pay for capital projects.

Norcross says he looks forward to seeing South Jersey get its share of that money.

Is “South Jersey” a euphemism for the machine? Don’t think about it, this is about the children always the children.

Norcross has long been portrayed as the dark master of New Jersey politics…

Norcross became Camden County Democratic chairman in 1989, and quickly built a campaign fund-raising machine that critics alleged was fueled by pay-to-play contributions from government contractors.

Welcome to Oz. Guenther’s story was not true it was a portrayal and pay to play donations – which are documented by law – are only alleged to have happened. No Mr. Method those donations are a matter of public record not an allegation.

In rare instances when Norcross spoke to the press, it was on an off-the-record basis. Stories written about him painted him as the sharp-tongued and powerful political boss in the image of former Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, who helped elect Franklin Roosevelt as president.

Why is notoriously corrupt Frank Hague’s assisting a member of his party to become President relevant? Is that some sort of excuse? Talk about spin.

But then Method’s odd portrayal moves from the theater of the absurd to downright misleading.

 ”Far from slam-dunk proof of criminal conduct.”

It is truly surprising the Courier agreed to run Method’s story or at least this part of it.

Norcross was under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office from 2000 to 2001, when John Gural, who was then Palmyra’s mayor, secretly recorded Norcross and others. Gural alleged Norcross first threatened, then bribed him to fire a municipal solicitor who had angered Norcross.

But no charges came of it, and a federal judge threw out a lawsuit by the solicitor, Ted Rosenberg, against Norcross.

Some tapes were released in 2005. They displayed Norcross as a bare-knuckled and foul-mouthed political boss capable of intense anger, but they were also far from slam-dunk proof of criminal conduct.

There is a lot of things wrong with those statements. Some are omissions like those tapes were only released after the Courier and other newspapers sued to get them. A key point. Another problem is the implication that because the lawsuit by one of the people mentioned on the tapes was thrown out this is some sort of validation. But the clearest most obvious problem is that the tapes were “far from slam-dunk proof of criminal conduct.”

On this point Mr. Method is simply incorrect.

While it is true that the majority of the tapes mostly surround back room politics – appointing judges, destroying enemies, warning allies, the pratfalls of Burlington County Democrats – a good deal of the tapes also involve influence peddling and quid pro quo business dealings.

Norcross is not a registered lobbyist and so does not have to conform to those regulations. That being said much of his conversation on the tapes could be said to fall under lobbying (not a crime) such as asking Remington and Vernick to give Assemblyman Louis Greenwald a job to build “good will” or invoking Senator/Gloucester County Freeholder Steve Sweeney regarding a loss of insurance business. But then Norcross starts toeing the line.

In the Tom Foy discussion Norcross says he essentially told Foy he would not “do anything” unless Foy comes to a Camden County Democratic Committee fundraiser – which would likely require a donation. After having relayed this information Norcross then says to Gural that helping Mr. Foy would be “good for your business.” Once again, Norcross is not a public official, not even technically a party official at this point, so it is not so clear if this a violation of the law or Honest Services Fraud which was the law at the time of the conversation.

But, contrary to Mr. Method’s claim, there was another instance on the tapes that was in fact quite close to a ‘slam dunk’ regarding an Honest Services violation.

What is interesting is that Norcross, through his attorney, did not dispute that what was said on the tape would have been a crime – instead, Norcross’ attorney said that Norcross was not being truthful on the tapes.

From Richard Pearsall “Norcross again denies alleged contract-rigging”, Courier-Post, Apr. 7, 2005:

Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III, speaking through his attorney, continues to deny he ever met with a Voorhees committeeman and told him to hire a Moorestown company as the township engineer, something the Democrat boasts of having done in the recently released “Palmyra tapes.’

“He misspoke,’ said Norcross’ attorney William Tambussi. “There was no meeting.”

To be clear, that is not denying what was said on the tapes was criminal conduct that is saying what was said on the tapes is not true.

On Jan. 3, 2001, Norcross is heard on a secretly recorded tape describing a meeting at which he told Voorhees Committeeman Harry Platt to hire JCA as the township engineer. This despite an interview process that had the township committee leaning toward another firm, Norcross said on the tape.

“. . . we said to Harry, wait a second, JCA was going to be the engineer of record. I don’t care about your f—— review process,’ Norcross said.

Also present at the meeting with Platt, according to Norcross, were Camden County Clerk Jim Beach and Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Voorhees…

Voorhees Township Committee appointed JCA as its engineer on the evening of Jan. 3, 2001…

The contract was originally going to go to another firm, Norcross said, because three “do-gooder’ committeemen wanted to name another firm “based on the interviews.’

But at the meeting attended by Platt and the others, Norcross said, he set Platt straight that, regardless, “JCA was going to be the engineer of record.’

That is not “far from slam dunk proof of criminal conduct” regarding Honest Services fraud. Interference with a bidding process to give favor to political allies is denying residents Honest Services. Which may be why Norcross did not fight the accusation on those grounds rather he claimed he “misspoke” because if he did not “misspeak” and was relaying an accurate portrayal of events he would have broken the law.

For Mr. Method to now write revisionist history is either very dishonest or very sloppy, or perhaps both. In either case the readers of the Courier were not well served and if they were long time readers were probably also confused.

It Takes A Village

There is a long standing notion that for corruption to triumph good people have to do nothing – what if they just refuse to remember?

Courier-Post readers would probably find a lot of interesting reversals or political amnesia in Method’s cover story. Perhaps the most obvious and cynical would be Governor Chris Christie:

“You know, I think there has been a lot of mythology built up around George Norcross,” Christie says through a spokesman. “I think the reality is he is someone with passion about things that are important to New Jersey

… And before, from the New York Times:

In a scathing letter dated Tuesday, Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, wrote that his office would be unable to bring charges against Mr. Norcross because lawyers for the state attorney general had mishandled their investigation under two administrations before turning it over to his office in 2004…

His letter also harshly criticized state prosecutors for deciding not to secretly tape conversations at a Camden County Democratic fund-raiser in 2001, where Mr. Norcross and his associates were expected to discuss a wide variety of political deals. Mr. Christie said that that decision was so inexplicable that it raised the possibility that state investigators were trying to shield political figures.

So is Christie upset about building this “mythology” up? What vilification! Seems like the Courier is not the only one changing their story.

How can a figure so thoroughly and continuously articulated by the Courier in award winning journalism be so comprehensively redefined? There is no evidence that Mr. Norcross has metamorphosed so completely whether it be inserting benefits into legislation or having his machine pals helping spread the wealth around which goes up to and includes Norcross family members.

So if George Norcross has not changed what has?

This is a difficult time for the newspaper industry, actually it is a difficult time for many industries as disruptive technologies sow volatility into established orders. The dynamism of innovation, while profound to consider and often exhilarating to observe, carries within it dangers and pitfalls none of which are more perilous than the destruction of common understandings and trusted sources of information. The writers and publisher of the Courier-Post know this all too well.

But in the struggle to survive, to find their footing on ground that is shifting beneath their feet, has the Courier sacrificed some integrity? There is a tradition in Western culture, even predating the newspaper industry, of inquiry and skepticism regarding the claims of political elites when pursuing public power and influence. Whether it be in the time of antiquity or in the information age. Whether it be for the glory of Rome or the glory of “South Jersey.”

The question guardians of the public interest must ask when a would be king struts into the commons – claiming the mantle of legitimacy and a deep passion for the common good if only he be allowed to operate unchallenged – is …

Qui Bono?

THE NORCROSS MERGER: They Have No Choice

February 7th, 2012

 

In the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me – not because they like me – but because they have no choice.

- George Norcross, FBI Recording

 

 

South Jersey Political Boss George Norcross is used to getting his way.

George Norcross, besides controlling the South Jersey political machine, is also Chairman of Cooper University Hospital. Cooper Hospital has aggressively sought expansion under Norcross’ reign and through his political influence has usually achieved it. The cost of that expansion is usually borne by the poorer residents of Camden City who have little to no political clout, especially when compared to Boss Norcross.

And how has Norcross amassed this power? From Philadelphia Magazine:

This is where hardball politics ends and a culture of intimidation, dubbed “La Cosa Norcross” by his enemies, looms. His name is invoked in threatening phone calls, senators are F-bombed, and if his opponents are still kicking once they lose, he steps on their throats.

Norcross has long denied that side of his personality, and other than one slip-up in the statehouse a couple years back, it’s been tough to prove its existence. Then came the Palmyra tapes. A town councilman who claimed he was being threatened and bribed by Democratic loyalists to oust two enemies was wired, and in a recorded meeting, Norcross ordered him to “fire that fuck … get rid of [him] … and teach this jerk-off a lesson,” and said of the other that he was doing “everything humanly possible … things that are distasteful” to install him as a judge, which Norcross said was “the only way I can get rid of him.” More important, in light of this year’s governor’s race, was this: “In the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me. Not because they like me, but because they have no choice.”

“The Tapes” tell a rather clear story – Norcross uses intimidation to extort money and compel obedience. Norcross brags about getting unqualified politicians jobs with vendors interested in government contracts, leverages his relationship with now Senate President Sweeney in a dispute over a government contract he is involved with, claims he threatened to castrate an assemblyman for not doing his bidding, details pressuring a local businessman into giving his political organization a donation then suggests that the businessman be brought “into the fold” and concludes by uttering the now infamous words regarding two Governors “they have no choice.”

This is the man pulling the strings behind the Rutgers-Camden takeover.

 Strange Bedfellows

Governor Chris Christie, now a key Norcross ally, attempted to bring a case against George Norcross when he was US Attorney. In fact, US Attorney Christie was so convinced of Norcross’ guilt he publicly condemned Peter Harvey the State Attorney General for not making the case against Norcross, from the New York Times:

In a scathing letter dated Tuesday, Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, wrote that his office would be unable to bring charges against Mr. Norcross because lawyers for the state attorney general had mishandled their investigation under two administrations before turning it over to his office in 2004…

His letter also harshly criticized state prosecutors for deciding not to secretly tape conversations at a Camden County Democratic fund-raiser in 2001, where Mr. Norcross and his associates were expected to discuss a wide variety of political deals. Mr. Christie said that that decision was so inexplicable that it raised the possibility that state investigators were trying to shield political figures.

So according to then US Attorney Chris Christie, George Norcross was guilty.

Now Governor Chris Christie is happy to work with Norcross and political allies despite Christie’s former convictions.

All Power To Cooper

The takeover “merger” of Rutgers-Camden, Rowan and Cooper Hospital is about as subtle as a knee to the groin. To the point that Norcross, who usually likes to hide his hand, has stepped out of the shadows and tried to define the power grab before others can, writing op-eds for the besieged Courier Post and New Jersey’s premiere political blog, PolitickerNJ.

But it did not take long for the press (and anyone who knows anything) to put two and two together.  From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Few people in and around Camden immediately applauded the prospect of restructuring one of the city’s few assets; Mayor Dana L. Redd released a statement so generically equivocal, it might have been about anything, or nothing.

But there was no such caution on the part of the Democratic majority of one named George E. Norcross 3d, whose fingerprints are magically everywhere and nowhere on the merger proposal.

Norcross is the chairman of Cooper University Hospital, which already plans to open a city medical school in partnership with Rowan this year. He predicts the merger will be “great for Camden and for South Jersey.”

And the Philadelphia Daily News:

Yesterday hundreds of students, faculty and alums gathered inside the Walter K. Gordon Theater, most dressed in Rutgers scarlet, all concerned that their small campus, their paradise near the Ben Franklin Bridge, was being threatened by Gov. Christie and by South Jersey power broker George E. Norcross III.

It is no mystery to anyone how this plan came about.

What is perhaps even more strange is the notion that Mr. Norcross has a plan for South Jersey and Camden yet to be fulfilled. A vision if you will…

But Norcross and company have had control of Camden City for a generation. That is up to and including the State Takeover where a Norcross ally Randy Primas had top-down authority. The takeover poured $175 million into the City of Camden much of it into the projects and campaign coffers of the political class of Camden County, which George Norcross heads. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Signed into law by Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2002 and renewed by Corzine in 2007, the takeover eliminated the authority of Camden’s mayor and City Council in exchange for providing $175 million in city rehabilitation projects.

Based on the extent of the powers ceded by elected leaders and the number of years that it lasted, it was the largest municipal takeover in U.S. history. But it failed to reduce Camden’s dependency on state funds, and city residents are as destitute and beset by crime now as they were before it.

Though long defended as successful by the Democrats who created it, opinion about the takeover had shifted in recent months.

The “shift in support” not surprisingly parallels the change in party of the Governor’s office. Norcross opposed a State Takeover under Governor Whitman (R), championed its enactment and renewal under Governors McGreevey (D) and Corzine (D) respectively, then quickly ended it before the next Republican took the Governor’s chair.

Why? Because during Democratic administrations Norcross could trust a hands-off policy from Trenton while pursuing his interests (while also disenfranchising local Camden opposition via a takeover) but once a Republican came back to power he retreated to his position of running the South Jersey Democratic Machine and opposing Republican state control in favor of local/his control.

The truth is George Norcross has long had a disproprotionate influence in South Jersey and has had a generation to “inspire” a “Renaissance” in Camden City which is his claim on why his authority is justified and why this merger was right to be engineered. This “Renaissance” has not happened in 20 years under his rule, why is it going to work now? But… what has happened in that time? From Philadelphia Magazine again:

[Norcross] doesn’t separate what’s best for him from what’s best for South Jersey because he truly believes it’s one and the same. Good politics, good government, the best and brightest, join the can-do club, with us or against us, help me help the kids and the cancer patients or we’ll fucking destroy you. Running counties like businesses comes at a price — Commerce Bank isn’t a democracy, and right now, Camden County doesn’t look like one, either. They know what South Jersey needs, and if you don’t like it, well, tough shit; they can direct you to the bridges their friends oversee. As deeply entangled as Norcross has become in the fibers that hold South Jersey together, his is a dangerous point of view to hold. He and his friends have done plenty to improve life in South Jersey, and guys like Jim Beach and others seem to have the best intentions. They, however, are accountable. George Norcross is not considered a lobbyist under New Jersey law. You can’t get him on the phone. You can’t vote him out of office.

It looks like South Jersey and Rutgers-Camden students are going to receive another kind of education with this merger. Lesson? They have no choice.

 

 

What Times Is It? Sweeney Spends Over $15,000 of Campaign Funds On Watches and Cigars For Friends

February 3rd, 2012

(Star Ledger)

Senate President Steve Sweeney has been living the high life on someone else’s dime – spending campaign funds on himself and his friends.

First from his old Freeholder Campaign Fund, from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Senate President Stephen Sweeney hasn’t been a Gloucester County freeholder since December. But he still talks politics with his freeholder pals at restaurants like Filomena’s in Deptford – and he pays the tab with money from his Sweeney for Freeholder account.

Since January, the account has been tapped for $765 for cigars, $1,118 for a dinner at the Prime Rib in Washington, and more than $10,000 for political meetings at South Jersey restaurants, including a $471 caucus meal last month at Di Paolo’s Italian Ristorante in Penns Grove.

Also last month, Sweeney for Freeholder paid $16,000 for polling.

And his new digs as Senate President, from the Star Ledger:

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), even after leaving his post as Gloucester County freeholder director, used leftover money from that campaign account for expensive meals and spent $756 of it on fancy cigars for supporters.

While it’s illegal to use campaign cash for personal use, the politicians say what they did was perfectly proper…

DiVincenzo’s records also show how he used $90 in campaign funds to repair his bicycle after crashing it while inspecting a county park in June, and $810 to attend the 2008 U.S. Open tennis matches. DiVincenzo has referred questions about his campaign finances to Genova, who says he will deal with the state’s campaign finance watchdog on the matter. South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross said he and DiVincenzo met at the 2008 open to discuss political matters, including the eventual elevations of Sweeney to Senate president and Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) to Assembly Speaker…

Sweeney said he racked up the expenses because he does not accept gifts and insists on paying for meals that double as political meetings. “I look at it this way: as long as you don’t start writing stories about me where I’m having lunch with somebody and they buy me a cheeseburger, and I’m getting accused of stealing, or I’m giving someone a contract because of a cheeseburger,” Sweeney said.

Can haz corruption?

 

 

Christie Announces Contracts Review: Will Boxer Finally Investigate Lumberyard?

January 23rd, 2012

New Jersey Comptroller Matthew Boxer Promised To Clean Up Pay To Play

 

Chris Christie ran for Governor on a platform of reforming Trenton, draining the swamp if you will. Christie appointed Matthew Boxer as his Comptroller. Comptroller Boxer put on a grand show in September regarding the problems with the pay to play reforms New Jersey has enacted, namely that they do not do anything substantial to curb corruption.

Now Governor Christie has ordered a complete review of the public contracting process on the state and local level, from the Star Ledger:

Gov. Chris Christie has ordered a complete review of state purchasing laws and the public contracting processes, prompted by a report that showed one in five multimillion dollar purchases made by governments in New Jersey broke the law…

Towns, where many professional services contracts are not subject to the same stringent rules as state departments thanks to the “fair and open” exemption, are under increased pressure to voluntarily improve the transparency of their bid processes.

Interesting claim, but where is the evidence for that pressure?

While Comptroller Boxer was busy posing for the cameras to decry the sorry state of affairs in New Jersey the town of Collingswood was watching its Bond rating go to Junk and become a national joke being labeled by Reuters as the Absurdity of the Year for such gross financial mismanagement. But was it mismanagement or corruption, or both?

It would later be revealed that the developer which bankrupted the project, and subsequently the town, had received a no-bid contract at the Mayor’s urging, from Collingswood’s local paper the Retrospect:

[Collingswood Mayor] Maley said that the borough is currently finalizing an agreement with Costanza Residential LLC, to redevelop the Peter Lumber site. Costanza was awarded a no-bid professional service contract in Jan. 2004 to act as development manager to oversee the project. Costanza receives $5,000 a month from the borough, plus expenses.

This same developer, John Costanza, paid to play, donating money to Mayor Maley’s campaigns:

Photobucket

[Source: NJELEC]

If Governor Christie is serious about honest public services its time for his administration – of which he has designated Comptroller Boxer to represent – to get to the bottom of the Lumberyard Boondoggle.