HOW NJ CORRUPTION WORKS CAUGHT ON TAPE.
THE NEW TAMANNY HALL MUST FALL.
By Carl J. Mayer
After a pitched court battle, the public last year got a staggering glimpse of New Jersey politics’ brutal and corrupt underside. The New Jersey Attorney General released surreptitious tape recordings prepared during a political corruption investigation. The transcripts were only coughed up when reformers and news organizations, including the New York Times, brought a lawsuit.
Listening to these tapes, citizens in New Jersey and around the nation should seethe with indignation at the perversion of American democracy by corporate lobbyists, political bosses and criminal wrongdoers. They should be doubly indignant that State Attorney General Peter Harvey refused to bring an indictment as did US Attorney Chris Christie. Shame on them for taking a dive while New Jersey power brokers continue to intimidate the public.
The recordings, for example, capture New Jersey political boss (and bank executive) George Norcross instructing a councilman in Palmyra, a diminutive New Jersey municipality (pop.7091), to fire the town attorney, because he dared criticize Norcross’ control over South Jersey politics: "I want you to fire that f---[Y]ou need to get this f--- Rosenberg [the town attorney] for me and teach this jerk-off a lesson. He has to be punished."
"A lot of people don't like John Harrington," Norcross is heard saying of an attorney then being considered for a judgeship, and who is now a state court judge. "The best thing you do . . . Make him a f------ judge and get rid of him. . . Harrington disappears… whatever the case. We move on."
Later, Norcross explains how he handled a member of the New Jersey legislature: “I sat him [the legislator] down and said … ‘don’t f--- with me on this one... Don't make nice with Joe Doria [a Norcross enemy and Assemblyman] …if you ever do that and I catch you one more time doing it, you're gonna get your f------ b---- cut off.’ He got the message."
Norcross brags that his political enemies will always respect him “[b]ecause they know we put up the gun and we pulled the trigger and we blew their brains out. . . “
Nobody can dismiss these tapes as the vulgarian rantings of a would-be mafia-don. They demonstrate how malevolent power politics works in New Jersey and, increasingly, the nation.
Who is George Norcross, anyway? He is one of the dozen or so most powerful men in New Jersey, more powerful than Governors or Senators, and he doesn’t hold any office. He is the new face of American politics: meet the CEO as political boss. By day, Norcross sits on the board of Commerce Bank and controls $60 million of that company’s stock; by night, he ladles out corporate cash to political candidates and rules with an iron fist.
Apparently, devoting attention to even the tiniest New Jersey municipality is quite lucrative for Commerce Bank: one fifth of the bank’s business is government deposits, a cool $4 billion of taxpayer dollars. The $17.7 billion-a-year financial behemoth has ladled out more campaign cash and received more government no-bid contracts than any financial institution in New Jersey. The new suburban corporate Tammany Hall would make portly old Boss Tweed salivate.
This is no petty corruption. It is systemic, its tentacles radiate from top to bottom, it reaches across all three branches of government and it is bi-partisan. Graft is destroying democracy in New Jersey. Boss Norcross, himself, sums up the deal. “[I]n the end,” says Norcross on the tapes, “the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they're all going to be with me. Because not that they like me, but because they have no choice." (Again, no idle boast: Corzine is one of Norcross’ largest contributors and Norcross and his bank shower millions on Republicans and Democrats, alike.)
The Garden State has become the Graft State, and news organizations have documented, in series after series, the corrupt -- often criminal-- payoffs that corporations like Commerce Bank make to extract millions in government favors. The results have also been detailed: searing poverty in New Jersey’s inner cities, including Newark (the second most impoverished American city) and Camden (the most dangerous city in the land); worst-in-the nation environmental problems that ravage middle-class communities; and the highest property taxes in America.
It is long past time for prosecutors to deal with the George Norcross’s of the world and crack down on boss-led political crime with the same ferocity that they attack mob-led street crime. The citizens of New Jersey and the nation will not long tolerate the tyranny of the new corporate Tammany Hall.
That the New Jersey Attorney General refused to indict Norcross when two members of his own party offered to testify that Norcross bribed them is an outrage. Even more contemptible is the Attorney General’s refusal to release hundreds of additional hours of tapes (only ninety minutes were made public), allowing citizens, finally, to listen to how their own leaders enrich themselves and their corporate benefactors at the expense of taxpayers.
The Justice Department should move with a bi-partisan coalition of U.S. Attorneys from New York and Pennsylvania to jointly subpoena Norcross and the other bosses before a Grand Jury now that U.S. Attorney for New Jerey Chris Christie has refused to indict.
At the very least, Boss Norcross and his brethren should be brought in for questioning.
The new Tammany Hall must fall.
The Untouchables Group recently moved before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals to allow citizens to directly present evidence of crimes to Grand Juries. We will keep you posted.
Carl J. Mayer, an attorney, is the author of “Shakedown: The Fleecing of the Garden State.” He is a former professor at Hofstra Law School and former Special Counsel to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. As a town councilman in Princeton, he was featured on the news program Sixty Minutes for going undercover to fight corruption in New Jersey.