George Norcross’ Slippery Insurance Deal with Delaware River Port Authority Legal in N.J., For Now

April 01, 2012 at 6:13 AM
The political boss George Norcross holds no job or title at the Delaware River Port Authority. Yet in the state comptroller’s scathing report about financial mismanagement there, guess who plays a starring role?

Turns out, Norcross got kickbacks for steering insurance contracts from the state agency, according to the report. And what makes it worse is that using political juice like this, while a crime in some states such as New York, is apparently legal in New Jersey. That clearly needs to change.

State Comptroller Matthew Boxer has just completed an investigation — ordered by the governor — of the DRPA, the agency that controls several bridges connecting South Jersey to Pennsylvania. He found that it’s wasted millions. It sunk tollpayer money into the pockets of friends, political allies and profiteering middlemen, he found. And lo and behold, Norcross stands tall among them.

Not surprising, since the Democratic power broker runs South Jersey — but prefers to do so behind the scenes. Norcross, also the biggest name in the state’s insurance brokerage business, allegedly orchestrated a payment of $410,000 to his own company in return for recommending another insurance broker for the authority.

An additional payment went to a second broker, Michael Martucci, who happens to be an acquaintance of Norcross’ wife. When asked by the comptroller exactly what work he did to deserve his $45,000 cut, Martucci was succinct: “I performed nothing.”

Norcross, of course, disputes this version. He concedes he may have recommended these firms for the insurance work. He didn’t want the “reputational risk” of doing business with the tainted DRPA himself, he said, because it was under federal investigation. But Norcross insists he had no role whatsoever in the final selection.

The payments to his firm and Martucci were part of a broader agreement on sharing business, Norcross says. And even if we believe the most sinister interpretation of these facts, there’s nothing illegal about it.

Sadly, he is right on that last point. New York has a law that requires full disclosure of commission-sharing on local government contracts. It demands not only transparency, but evidence of actual work being done.

New Jersey has no such law and needs one badly. Over the past decade, more than $1.5 million in insurance commissions from DRPA contracts was shared among various brokers, but only some were doing actual work, the state comptroller reported. If others are being paid to do nothing, the state surely isn’t getting the best possible deal.

It took a two-year probe to pull the curtain back on these South Jersey shenanigans. Now imagine how many other backstage handshakes we pay for in this state.

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