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
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.”