Category Archives: 2013

Camden Agrees to Pay $3.5M to Victims of Police Corruption

January 10, 2013

 

ACLU filed suit against police department in 2010 for planting drugs on a Camden resident

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CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEWARK – The City of Camden has agreed to pay $3.5 million in damages to 88 people whose convictions were overturned because of widespread corruption in the Camden Police Department. The settlement stems from a series of lawsuits filed against Camden Police in federal district court and state superior court over the last two years, after five officers were charged with a number of federal civil rights violations from conduct involving evidence planting, fabrication of reports and evidence, and perjury.

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of New Jersey filed one of those lawsuits on behalf of Joel Barnes, a Camden resident who was arrested in 2008 after police planted drugs on him.

“This prolonged campaign to plant evidence on innocent people was a true stain on Camden Police and represents one of the most serious forms of police corruption,” said Alexander Shalom, policy counsel for the ACLU-NJ. “Unfortunately, the systems that are designed to prevent corruption and protect the public eroded and allowed rogue officers to operate unabated for years.”

The Camden City Council approved the settlement at its meeting this week. The court still needs to approve the settlement. No date has been set for the court to review the agreement.

Three of the officers involved in the conspiracy, Jason Stetser, Kevin Parry and Dan Morris pleaded guilty in federal court to corruption. Officer Antonio Figueroa was convicted by a jury, and officer Robert Bayard was acquitted. The officers’ actions went undetected because of a breakdown in the department’s Internal Affairs unit, which was understaffed and used antiquated systems.

As a result, the 88 plaintiffs in the cases served a combined 109 years in prison on their overturned convictions. The corruption has also cost the city millions of dollars in legal fees.

“Because of the actions of these officers, and the Camden Police Department’s failure to identify and stop the corruption within its ranks, these men and women were deprived of their liberty and will never recoup the time they lost from their loved ones,” said Jason D. Williamson, staff attorney at the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project and co-counsel on the Barnes case. “We hope that other police departments will take note of what went wrong in Camden and take measures to prevent it from happening in their departments.”

Barnes, 30, a lifelong Camden resident, stopped by a friend’s house on Aug. 2, 2008 to help set up for a barbecue later that day. Police raided the home in search of illegal drugs. Barnes, along with other occupants in the house, was herded into the kitchen. An officer slipped handcuffs on Barnes and emptied Barnes’s pockets. There were no drugs. When officers repeatedly asked where the drugs were, Barnes answered truthfully, saying he did not know.

Figueroa pulled out a bag containing drugs and said, “Tell us where the shit’s at and we’ll make this disappear.”

When Barnes insisted he did not know if there were drugs in the house, the police supplied the incriminating evidence and charged him with possession with intent to distribute. On Feb. 23, 2009, fearing his testimony would not be believed, and facing the prospect of even more jail time if convicted at trial, he pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit.

While in prison, Barnes read about the Camden corruption case and recognized the names of the officers involved. Figueroa and Bayard were among the officers who were present when Barnes was arrested.

On Feb. 2, 2010, the New Jersey Superior Court vacated Barnes’s conviction. Barnes was finally freed on June 8, 2010, with the help of the ACLU, but only after serving 418 days in prison.

Federal grand jury is investigating DRPA spending

POSTED: April 04, 2013

A federal grand jury in Philadelphia is investigating millions of dollars of politically connected “economic-development” spending by the Delaware River Port Authority, The Inquirer has learned.

The DRPA’s chief attorney and inspector general sent a memo to DRPA employees last Thursday warning them to preserve all documents related to the agency’s economic-development projects.

DRPA chief executive John Matheussen said Wednesday, “I can confirm that we have been served with a subpoena by the U.S. Attorney’s office.”

He declined to discuss the timing or the scope of the subpoena issued last week by the office of eastern Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.

DRPA spokesman Tim Ireland said that the DRPA “will cooperate fully” and that “we will make certain our compliance with this subpoena demonstrates a renewed commitment to transparency” by the agency.

The DRPA, which operates four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey, spent nearly $500 million over 15 years to underwrite museums, sports stadiums, a concert hall, a cancer center, the Army-Navy football game, and other non-transportation projects.

Much of the money went to politically influential recipients, as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegations on the DRPA board got equal amounts to spend. Fourteen of the 16 board members are appointed by the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania (two Pennsylvania members, the state treasurer and state auditor general, are on the board by virtue of their elected offices).

Last year, New Jersey state comptroller Matthew Boxer issued a report critical of political cronyism and mismanagement at the DRPA, saying that “in nearly every area we looked at, we found people who treated the DRPA like a personal ATM, from DRPA commissioners to private vendors to community organizations. People with connections at the DRPA were quick to put their hand out when dealing with the agency, and they generally were not disappointed when they did.”

A spokeswoman for Memeger declined to comment on the grand jury investigation.

Sources close to the probe, however, said it appeared to focus on economic development spending in Pennsylvania.

The federal investigators were said to be particularly interested in spending that was funneled through the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a development lender created by the city and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

The PIDC, which is governed by a board appointed by the mayor and the president of the chamber, received more than $13 million from the DRPA in 2010, ostensibly to help “small, emerging and new businesses.”

In fact, most of the money was directed by DRPA officials to well-established tourism groups or nonprofits, some with close ties to DRPA board members. In one case, $500,000 was given to a multibillion-dollar commercial real estate developer.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, the National Constitution Center, public broadcaster WHYY, the Pro Cycling Tour, the Variety Club, the Independence Visitor Center, and other organizations collected $13.3 million in DRPA funds in 2010.

John Grady, president of the PIDC, said Wednesday that he could not comment other than to say that the PIDC “cooperates with all investigations” by law enforcement agencies.

He said the PIDC’s role as agent for the DRPA’s economic-development funding ended at the end of 2011, when the money ran out.

Economic-development spending by the DRPA has long been controversial, as it contributed to a $1 billion debt that now consumes more than 40 percent of the agency’s revenue. Motorists and some board members complained that the DRPA should not spend money on non-transportation projects, while borrowing hundreds of millions to maintain its bridges and rail line.

The DRPA allocated the last of its economic-development money in December 2011. Its then-chairman, Gov. Corbett, said the DRPA would no longer be involved in economic-development spending.

The scope and duration of the federal investigation was not clear Wednesday.

However, sources close to the investigation said DRPA general counsel Danielle McNichol and inspector general Thomas Raftery issued a memo late Thursday, just before the three-day weekend, telling employees not to destroy documents related to DRPA economic-development spending.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

DRPA probe widens with subpoenas

POSTED: December 19, 2013

Federal prosecutors served subpoenas this week on several officials and employees of the Delaware River Port Authority, including at least three board members – Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey L. Nash, South Jersey labor leader Richard Sweeney, and Philadelphia lawyer William Sasso, The Inquirer has learned.

 B9317765363Z.1_20150617134855_000_G21B3UB8R.1-0lawyer-richard-j-sweeney-photo-1024836 (1) Sasso_Sd1

Jeffrey L. Nash, Richard Sweeney, and William Sasso (pictured left to right)

Since April, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been investigating millions of dollars of politically connected “economic-development” spending by the DRPA.

Subpoenas issued Monday to several board members and other DRPA employees demanded materials and testimony related to that spending.

Sasso, who was appointed to the DRPA board by Gov. Corbett in 2011, said he apparently received the subpoena because he is chairman of a DRPA board committee that has been critical of several sweetheart loans granted by the agency.

He said he has been asked to provide information about those loans to investigators and would cooperate.

One of the loans was for the redevelopment of a former Radio Corp. of America building in Camden into the Victor Lofts.

In 2003, the DRPA lent the developer Carl Dranoff $3 million interest-free until 2009 to help convert the historic “Nipper Building” into 341 apartments overlooking the Delaware River and the Philadelphia skyline.

Dranoff was to start repaying the loan in 2009, with monthly installments of $23,259 until the end of 2014, at which time the $2.5 million loan balance would be paid in a lump sum, according to the loan agreement. But the agreement also states that Dranoff’s obligation to make payments is limited to Victor’s “available cash flow.” So far, no payments have been made.

The other loan, in 2001, was for $1 million to redevelop the landmark boxing venue the Blue Horizon on North Broad Street. The Blue Horizon is now closed, the loan is in default, and the DRPA has written off collecting any of the accrued interest in the hope of recovering its $1 million principal.

Nash, the vice chairman of the DRPA board, declined to comment.

Sweeney, an official with the ironworkers’ union and brother of New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger declined to comment, as did DRPA spokesman Tim Ireland.

The DRPA, which operates four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey, spent nearly $500 million over 15 years to underwrite museums, stadiums, a concert hall, a cancer center, the Army-Navy football game, and other non-transportation projects.

Much of the money went to politically influential recipients, as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegations on the DRPA board got equal amounts to spend. Fourteen of the 16 board members are appointed by the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Two Pennsylvania members – the state treasurer and auditor general – are on the board by virtue of their elected offices.

Last year, New Jersey state Comptroller Matthew Boxer issued a report critical of cronyism and mismanagement at the DRPA, saying that “in nearly every area we looked at, we found people who treated the DRPA like a personal ATM, from DRPA commissioners to private vendors to community organizations.”

One of the subpoenas issued Monday demanded records going back at least five years, casting a broad net related to economic-development spending.

Economic-development spending by the DRPA has long been controversial, as it contributed to a $1.6 billion debt that now consumes about half of the agency’s spending. Motorists and some board members complained that the DRPA should not spend money on non-transportation projects, while borrowing hundreds of millions to maintain its bridges and rail line.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com 215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

Rutgers under attack again

Bob Braun’s Ledger

Education, taxes, housing, immigration, politics, and other issues that affect the people of New Jersey

JUNE 30, 2013

The biggest threat to the integrity of Rutgers University has nothing to do with its basketball program. The most shameful scandal involving the university isn’t whether its president, Robert Barchi, did or did not look at a video or properly vet a new athletic director. Rutgers is in deep trouble because the governor of the state, abetted by political bosses, is out to seek revenge. Rutgers

Gov. Chris Christie is out for revenge because, a year ago, the university’s trustees had the courage to stand up to the bully-boy governor and refuse to go along with his plan to ensure a regular revenue stream to institutions favored by the political boss of Camden County, George Norcross. The governor, accustomed to obsequious fawning from everyone around him, got a black eye from a group of men and women whose allegiance was to something other than Christie for President 2016. The Rutgers trustees.

Now, Christie’s surrogate, Steve Sweeney, a creature of the Norcross machine, is trying to subvert both the university’s governance and also the democratic process by pushing for a bill that would eliminate the trustee board. Christie has openly supported Sweeney’s move and the tactics that threaten to make the New Jersey Legislature look about as independent as North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly on a good day.

Christie says Rutgers’ governance is “confusing” and needs to be “streamlined.” Sweeney says it is “cumbersome.’’ Many might remember both Christie and Sweeney last year endorsed a plan for running Rutgers and Rowan that would create nearly a score of committees and panels to run the universities.

“Sweeney’s intentions are transparent,’’ says Linda Stamato, who once led both the university’s trustees and its board of governors. “The plan is to place the governance of the university totally in the hands of political appointees who serve on the board of governors.’’

Linda Stamato
Linda Stamato

“Last year, the trustee board was a voice of reason and acted to protect the integrity of Rutgers as the state university of New Jersey in the face of significant political pressure,’’ says Stamato, who also served on the now defunct state Board of Higher Education.

Stamato calls the effort an “unseemly, unconscionable move, an overt political power play’’ engineered by the “good old boys in the State House and the Legislature.’’

Let’s remember what happened last year. Norcross wanted Rutgers-Camden taken away from the state university and made part of Rowan University. The Cooper Medical School, established when a different man with different debts to Norcross was governor, would become part of this new Rowan—a school once known as Glassboro State College, a teacher training school. No studies were done to determine whether New Jersey needed or could afford a new medical school or a new university.

The Rutgers trustees said no to the university’s dismemberment, despite Christie’s insistence and his typical name-calling tactics. (Remember he called an Iraqi vet a “jerk” and an “idiot” for disagreeing with him about Rutgers?) You cross Chris Christie at your peril. Inevitably, he would have his revenge on the trustees and here it is.

So, the Legislature won’t hold hearings. Sweeney will just force this bill through and the one-party junta that increasingly runs New Jersey policy will demonstrate it is bigger and tougher than all of us, tougher than democracy itself.

And the attack on Rutgers comes in a bad time. The absurd public hanging of Robert Barchi for the basketball “scandal” has weakened him. He may believe he owes his job to the kindness of strangers like Chris Christie and Steve Sweeney and may not feel strong enough to stand up to the bullies. It’s not at all clear that the newly reconstituted Board of Governors—which starts its work today—has the political courage to stand up to the governor and legislative leaders who appoint the majority of its members.

So, it’s up to the trustees again to demonstrate its courage in the face of dictatorial tactics from the Bully Who Would Be President and his cheerleaders in the Democratic leadership.

Commerce Bank, founder Vernon Hill square off in federal court in $20 million lawsuit

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May 09, 2013 at 6:00 AM, updated May 23, 2013 at 9:31 AM

A former giant of New Jersey’s banking sector and the empire he built are squaring off in a trial that quietly got underway this week in Camden federal court.

In one corner is the parent company of Commerce Bank, once the largest and fastest-growing bank in the Garden State.

In the other is Vernon Hill, the hard-charging founder of Commerce whose philosophy of customer-first both upended the staid culture of bank branches and turned him into a wealthy superstar of the banking industry.

At dispute is nearly $20 million that Hill says he is owed as a result of being fired in 2007. He was let go after the bank settled a federal probe into real estate transactions that allegedly benefited Hill’s family.

The jury trial before Judge Robert Kugler is over a lawsuit that Hill filed five years ago. It is expected to last several weeks.

Several notable names are slated to be called as witnesses. These include George Norcross, the South Jersey Democratic power broker, executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew and former member of Commerce’s board of directors. Defense attorneys want him to testify on the impact of the federal probe on Commerce’s business, according to a court filing.

Also expected to be called is Joseph Buckelew, another former Commerce board member and founding member of the Conner Strong & Buckelew insurance agency. Senior officials from TD Bank also will be called to the witness stand. The Canada-based lender acquired Commerce in March 2008 in a stock and cash transaction worth about $8.5 billion.

Hill, too, is slated to testify, possibly as early as today.

An owner of Burger King franchises, Hill started Commerce in 1973 with a single branch in Marlton.

Over the next 34 years, he built his bank business into a vast empire of more than 425 branches, 11,000 employees, $47 billion in assets and 2.4 million customers in the region.

The bank’s rapid expansion and strong profits endeared Hill to Wall Street investors and analysts, at least one of whom hailed him as the Michael Jordan of his field.

Crowd-pleasing tactics were part of the reason for Commerce’s growth: seven-day-a-week operating hours, free coin-counting machines in lobbies and red lollipops helped drive customers to its branches.

But Commerce’s rapid expansion by building brick-and-mortar branches also contributed to Hill’s downfall, and Commerce’s eventual sale to TD, a U.S.-based subsidiary of Canada’s Toronto-Dominion Bank.

In 2006 and 2007, investigators with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board sounded alarms over real-estate dealings to build out Commerce’s branch network in which members of Hill’s family, including his wife, allegedly profited.

The OCC advised Commerce Bank in April 2007 that it would freeze approvals for new branches, attorneys for the bank’s holding company allege in a court filing. Less than three months later, on June 28, 2007, the bank’s board of directors signed a consent order with the regulator over Hill’s alleged dealings. That same day, the board unanimously voted to fire Hill.

Both sides agree that Hill was terminated “without cause,” court filings show.

Hill’s attorneys, who did not return a call for comment, argue this entitles the former CEO to his entire compensation package due through 2010, plus interest, stock options and attorneys fees. That amounts to just under $20 million, according to a court filing.

But attorneys for Commerce Bancorp, which still exists as a legal entity despite being bought by TD Bank, counter Hill’s claims by arguing that federal rules on “golden parachutes” limit its ability to make such a payment, even though it was contractually obligated to do so.

The OCC’s consent order put Commerce in a troubled condition. Under those circumstances, the bank would have to seek regulators’ permission to pay Hill his severance. But as part of that application, the bank would have to certify that it had no reason to believe Hill had committed fraud, breached his fiduciary duty or abused his insider status.

Commerce said it cannot make that certification, particularly in light of a separate OCC consent order it reached with Hill in November 2008. In this case, the regulator said it found Hill had engaged in “unsafe and unsound practices” and breached his fiduciary duty. Hill signed the agreement without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

William Tambussi, an attorney with Brown & Connery who is representing Commerce, did not return a call. A TD Bank spokeswoman declined to comment.

Philly Inquirer owners clashed over editor’s fate

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NOVEMBER 14, 2013, 3:48 PM

PHILADELPHIA — A court fight over control of Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers shows the owners’ feud has been escalating for nearly a year, while their publisher went part-time, working from Florida.

Co-owners Lewis Katz and George Norcross, both wealthy powerbrokers in the region, have sued each other over control of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.

On the witness stand Thursday, Katz said Norcross has sought to fire editor Bill Marimow since January. Katz backs Marimow and refused to sign off on the move. However, Marimow was fired last month by publisher Bob Hall, who has sat beside Norcross during two days of ugly court testimony this week.

“Mr. Norcross felt that Mr. Marimow should be fired because he wasn’t a leader, … (and) he was resistant to change,” Katz testified.

Katz has asked a judge to return Marimow to the newsroom, and oust Hall. Norcross has countersued.

Their rival lawsuits are being fought by at least 18 lawyers, including Philadelphia legal warrior Richard Sprague for Katz and former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff for Norcross.

Marimow testified Wednesday that he was fired after refusing to fire five veteran editors. Katz elaborated, saying the newsroom targets had tangled with members of Norcross’s family.

Norcross’ daughter, Lexie, runs the Philly.com website. Katz has his own personal link to the newsroom, longtime companion Nancy Phillips, a veteran reporter who testified that she facilitated Marimow’s hiring as Katz and Norcross negotiated to buy the company last year. Phillips has since become city editor under Marimow, who won two Pulitzer Prizes — the nation’s top honor in newspaper journalism — during several stints at the Inquirer.

The newspapers have had five owners in seven years, a period when their value dropped from $515 million to $55 million, and workers endured layoffs and pay cuts.

Katz and Norcross invested $16 million apiece toward the $55 million purchase in April 2012, and hold 26 percent stakes. Four other business leaders made smaller investments. But Katz and Norcross set up a two-man management committee to control key business decisions. Katz thought that would force them to get along.

“(Otherwise), Norcross would have full power over the whole operation, including the newsroom,” Katz said. “We would be where we are today, in a terrible situation.”

Katz, a former Democratic party leader in Cherry Hill, N.J., made his money in parking lots and real estate, and also owned the New Jersey Nets. Norcross is an insurance executive and powerful New Jersey Democrat. They had never done a deal together before, Katz said.

His testimony resumes Thursday afternoon before Common Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney.

Cooper Health System Pays $12.6 Million To Resolve False Claims Lawsuit Over Kickbacks Paid To Referring Physicians

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PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 24, 2013 /PRNewswire

A federal lawsuit filed by prominent Delaware Valley cardiologist Nicholas L. DePace, M.D., sparked a multi-year investigation by the United States Department of Justice and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office that has resulted in New-Jersey based Cooper Health System, and Cooper University Hospital paying $12,600,000 to settle Medicare and Medicaid fraud allegations.

The qui tam lawsuit filed in federal district court in New Jersey in 2008 by Dr. DePace alleged that the Cooper Health System and Cooper University Hospital (collectively referred to as “Cooper”) paid millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks to physicians to induce them to refer patients to Cooper for expensive in-patient and out-patient cardiac services.  A copy of Dr. DePace’s qui tam Complaint, which both the United States and the State of New Jersey joined, along with a copy of the Settlement Agreement can be found atwww.falseclaimsact.com; and www.usdoj.gov/usao/nj/The United States and State of New Jersey did not file their own Complaint.

Details of Cooper’s Alleged Kickback Scheme

According to Dr. DePace’s Complaint, since 2004, Cooper funneled illegal kickbacks to referring physicians through an advisory board known as the Cooper Heart Institute Advisory Board (“CHIAB”).  Cooper established the CHIAB in 2004, with the stated purpose of utilizing prominent New Jersey physicians to advise the Cooper Heart Institute regarding innovative technologies, new management strategies, community needs, and appropriate educational and research initiatives.

In reality, the CHIAB was a sham, in which Cooper paid physicians with high-volume medical practices upwards of $18,500 each to do little more than watch four lectures per year hosted at an elegant banquet facility.  These lectures consisted mostly of marketing presentation on cardiac care at Cooper.  Additional lectures included generic subjects that were irrelevant to the stated mission of the CHIAB, including a 2008 lecture entitled: “The Healthcare Plans of the Two Presidential Candidates.”

Relator Dr. Nicholas L. DePace

Dr. Nicholas L. DePace is a nationally-recognized expert in cardiology, a prolific author, and noted philanthropist.  He runs a busy solo-cardiology practice with offices in Philadelphia and Sewell, New Jersey.

Dr. DePace has practiced medicine in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for more than 30 years.  He is Board Certified in both Cardiology and Internal Medicine.  He is also certified in Echocardiology, Nuclear Cardiology, and Lipidology.  Dr. DePace has, since age 33, served on the faculty of numerous medical schools, including the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University, andDrexel University College of Medicine (formerly Hahnemann University).  He is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Chest Physicians.

Dr. DePace is a prolific and widely-acclaimed author.  He has written more than 70 manuscripts, contributed to 7 medical text books, and was a co-author of the book:  “The Heart Repair Manual: The Philadelphia Formula for Preventing & Reversing Atherosclerosis,” published by W.W. Norton & Company.  Additionally, Dr. DePace has served on the Editorial Board of the American Journal of Cardiology.

Dr. DePace is also a well-known philanthropist.  He has founded several non-profit organizations in the Delaware Valley.  Dr. DePace also received national recognition when, in 2011, he aided the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame by salvaging a failed commitment to purchase a 100-year old Honus Wagner baseball card that had been donated to the Roman Catholic religious order.  See “A Windfall in Cardboard,” New York Times, Jan. 31, 2011.  This aided in subsidizing dozens of foreign missions run by the religious order.  That card, which was later blessed by the Archbishop of Camden, New Jersey, will be included in a sports museum for public display.

Dr. DePace Exposes Cooper’s Kickback Scheme

In the spring of 2007, Cooper invited Dr. DePace to join the CHIAB.  After attending his first CHIAB lecture, Dr. DePace quickly realized that the CHIAB was a thinly-veiled kickback scheme.  Dr. DePace observed that the other CHIAB members were family physicians with high-volume practices.  These physicians were all in the position to direct millions of dollars in patient care to Cooper.

Dr. DePace also observed that the CHIAB physicians were paid $18,500 for doing nothing more than sitting and listening to marketing presentations and lectures on irrelevant topics.  The physicians did not discuss the lecture topics, and were not required to perform any additional work in exchange for the payments from Cooper.

In exchange for Cooper’s kickback payments, CHIAB physicians referred their patients to the Cooper Heart Institute for expensive in-patient and out-patient cardiac services.  At least one CHIAB member admitted to Dr. DePace that, when making referrals, he knew that Cooper, through the CHIAB, “butters his bread.”

Dr. DePace was alarmed by the CHIAB scheme because patients were being referred to Cooper because of the kickbacks paid to physicians, instead of basing that referral on the best medical interests of the patients.  Dr. DePace filed his qui tam lawsuit in 2008 in an effort to stop this kickback scheme.

Cooper’s Scheme Violated Federal and State Anti-Kickback Statutes and Physician Self-Referral Laws

Cooper’s scheme is alleged to have violated federal and state Anti-Kickback Statutes, Physician Self-Referral laws, and the federal and New Jersey False Claims Act.

The federal Anti-Kickback Statute, along with similar state laws, generally prohibits the offering or paying anything of value to induce the referral of a service or item paid for by the Medicare or Medicaid programs.  42 U.S.C. Sec.1320a-7b(b)(1) and (2), and N.J.S.A. 30:4D-17(c).

Because of the extent to which a physician controls the health care decisions of his or her patients, federal and state law regulates patient referrals between a physician and an entity in which the physician (or an immediate family member) has a financial interest.  The federal Stark Law, also referred to as the Physician Self-Referral Law, and New Jersey‘s analogous Codey Law, sets forth extensive civil prohibitions on the referrals that physicians can make to any entity in which they have a financial interest.

Details of the Government Settlement

The settlement with the United States, and the State of New Jersey, announced today, will require Cooper to pay the United States$10,000,000 and the State of New Jersey $2,600,000.  The settlement is one of the largest against a hospital for operating a kickback scheme, and is one of the largest recoveries for the State of New Jersey under its recently passed state False Claims Act.  Cooper denies that it is liable for violating federal or state laws.

As required by statute, Dr. DePace is entitled to receive a minority share of the governments’ recovery for reporting Cooper’s fraudulent kickback scheme.  In addition, the False Claims Act requires Cooper to pay Dr. DePace’s reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs expended in the investigation and prosecution of this case.

In keeping with his lifelong commitment to charity, Dr. DePace plans to donate a portion of his recovery in this case to the Sisters ofNotre Dame along with other charitable organizations.

Dr. DePace was represented by Marc S. Raspanti, Michael A. Morse, and Pamela C. Brecht, of the national whistleblower law firm of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP.

Attorney Marc S. Raspanti praised Dr. DePace’s courageousness in exposing Cooper’s kickback scheme, adding: “Dr. DePace exhibited tremendous courage exposing a kickback scheme run by one of the largest, most-powerful hospitals and health systems inNew Jersey. Dr. DePace’s motivation throughout this case was to ensure that decisions on patient care are based solely on the medical needs of the patient, and not because of the kickbacks Cooper paid to the referring physicians.”

Attorney Michael A. Morse commented: “The government team at the United States Department of Justice, the United StatesAttorney’s Office in New Jersey, and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, have done a tremendous job investigating Dr. DePace’s case and in recovering millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.  The close partnership forged between Dr. DePace, his attorneys, and the tenacious federal and state prosecutors and investigators was essential to the successful recovery reached in this complex case.  It was an honor to represent Dr. DePace throughout this important case.”

Attorney Pamela C. Brecht added: “If every doctor had the courage to do what Dr. DePace did in this case, the Medicare and Medicaid programs would be better protected against fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The Federal False Claims Act

The False Claims Act allows private persons (known as “relators”) to file a lawsuit against those business and individuals that have directly or indirectly defrauded the federal government.  The False Claims Act was enacted by Congress at the request of President Lincoln, who signed it into law on March 2, 1863.  The Act was strengthened in 1986, and again with amendments enacted in 2009 and 2010.  The Act is the government’s primary tool against fraud by its contractors, as evidenced by the recovery of more than $33 billion since 1986.

Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP, is one of the largest and most successful whistleblower law firms in the United States.  Lawyers in the nationwide whistleblower practice group of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti have served for more than 25 years as lead counsel in whistleblower cases that have recovered more than $1.8 billion for federal and state taxpayers.

Inquirer Editor Reinstatement Case Brings Out the Powerful and Connected

Pennsylvania Record Report

Nov. 14, 2013, 11:33am

It was an interesting dichotomy in Judge Patricia McInerney’s sixth-floor

courtroom at Philadelphia City Hall on Wednesday, as veteran newspapermen and women sat near high-profile attorneys and the politically connected, with many of the latter serving as subjects in the journalists’ past news stories.

What brought everyone together on this day, however, was a lawsuit initiated last month by two members of the parent company that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer who are suing other controlling members over the firing of editor William Marimow.

Lewis Katz, who made his money in parking lots, and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, a well-known philanthropist, are two members of Interstate General Media, an investors’ group that last April purchased the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and the website Philly.com.

They are suing their counterpart, George Norcross, and the limited liability company itself over allegations that they were left out of the decision to terminate Marimow’s employment.

Katz in particular takes issue with the firing since he and Norcross are supposedly equals, with each having ponied up the same amount of money to buy the newspapers and website, and each serving as members on a management committee that have equal say on hiring’s and firings.

On Wednesday, what began as a mere procedural hearing turned into a daylong event, as witness after witness took the stand to offer testimony in the case.

McInerney, who late last month ruled the litigation could proceed at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court, despite the fact that Interstate General Media was incorporated in the State of Delaware, is proceeding over an injunction request in which the plaintiffs seek Marimow’s reinstatement as editor.

The plaintiffs also seek declaratory judgment that Robert Hall, the man who canned Marimow, is no longer publisher of the Inquirer.

(Hall’s name still appears as publisher on the Inquirer’s masthead).

At the heart of the lawsuit is the contention by Katz and Lenfest that Norcross and his camp breached a partnership agreement in not informing the plaintiffs of the decision to fire Marimow, who, despite not being a party to the litigation, testified during Wednesday’s proceeding.

The plaintiffs, who are being represented by veteran Philadelphia attorney and octogenarian Richard Sprague, also both testified Wednesday about their involvement with the Inquirer’s still fledgling parent company.

“Our pledge was we would not interfere,” Katz testified.

Katz and Lenfest claim that Norcross broke that pledge to not get involved in the editorial operations of the newspaper.

Norcross says Hall singlehandedly made the decision to fire Marimow.

The defense claims the plaintiffs are the ones who stuck their noses in newsroom business.

On the stand, Lenfest said he never approved of Marimow’s termination.

“I objected to the termination of Bill Marimow,” Lenfest testified.

Lenfest maintains that his colleague, Katz, needed to approve of the firing as per the terms of the management agreement because of Katz’s seat alongside Norcross on the management committee.

(Norcross, who didn’t testify on Wednesday, was accompanied to court by former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. The relationship between the two was unclear, although one individual in court said Chertoff is part of Norcross’s inner circle).

Norcross is perhaps best known for his strong political ties to the Democratic Party in South Jersey.

His brother is New Jersey State Sen. Donald Norcross.

On the stand, Katz said he always wanted to ensure that he and Norcross shared equal power because both had shucked out the same number of dollars to purchase the newspapers and Philly.com.

Katz testified that the reason behind the decision to institute a hands-off approach when it came to newsroom operations and editorial decisions was that some in the community, including reporters themselves, shared concerns that Interstate General Media members would influence news stories because of their political ties.

Katz testified that he had wanted to hire the best editor he could find to help alleviate some of those concerns.

And that man was Marimow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was teaching at Arizona State University when he got the call about returning to Philadelphia in the spring of 2012 to run its newsroom.

Hall, the publisher, who ended up firing Marimow on Oct. 7, had told Marimow that 60 to 70 percent of the newsroom staff had opposed the editor’s return to the paper, Marimow testified.

“I wondered whether I made a mistake in accepting the job,” he said on the witness stand.

Marimow said he was assured by Katz that Katz and Norcross had power over hiring and firing, not Hall.

At the time of his termination, Marimow said he told Hall, “I don’t think that what you’re doing is legal or proper.

“He said, ‘I have my legal opinion and you have your legal opinion,’” Marimow testified.

Marimow said he initially agreed to return to the newspaper to help alleviate some of the tension.

“I care deeply about the Inquirer and this community,” he said. “I knew I could be effective in returning.”

It has been alleged that Hall fired Marimow because of the editor’s refusal to fire top newsroom staff.

In court on Wednesday, Marimow said he believed that the firings were unnecessary to make room for new hires, which is what the publisher gave as the reason for terminating three deputy editors in particular.

It has been said that Hall fired Marimow because Marimow was not on board with the company’s goal of focusing more on local news coverage, rather than something like investigative reporting, which is what the paper is perhaps best known for.

Marimow disputed the notion that he was not on board with the local news focus goal, testifying that he “treasured local news.

“Mr. Hall, I think, knows I love local news,” he said.

Nevertheless, Marimow testified, Hall continued to press the editorial firings.

It was not immediately clear when McInerney, the judge, would rule on the injunction request seeking Marimow’s reinstatement and Hall’s ouster.

Philadelphia Inquirer Chair Testifies Norcross Controls Board, Decisions

The Associated Press

 

on November 13, 2013 at 8:53 PM, updated November 13, 2013 at 9:29 PM

PHILADELPHIA — As feuding owners fight for control of Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers, the board chairman testified that politically powerful co-owner George Norcross runs the show.

Norcross is an insurance executive and Democratic powerbroker in New Jersey. He and five other business leaders pooled $55 million to buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News last year.

However, philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, the board chairman, said that 18 months later, “everything is really done @ the direction of Norcross.”

The declaration came as a judge weighs a lawsuit seeking to undo last month’s firing of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow, and oust the publisher who fired him.

Fellow investor Lewis Katz, the former New Jersey Nets owner, testified that he and Norcross bought equal shares of the company for $16 million apiece, so that they would both have to agree on major decisions. They had never worked together previously.

Yet Katz said Marimow was fired last month without his consent. He and Lenfest have sued their partners over the firing.

Common Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney must decide whether to return Marimow to the newsroom and oust Publisher Bob Hall, who fired him. The Norcross faction argues such a move would cause yet more turmoil in the troubled newsroom.

The hearing continues Thursday, when Katz’s testimony resumes. Norcross may also take the stand. His roster of lawyers in the City Hall courtroom includes Michael Chertoff, the former U.S. appeals court judge and Transportation Security Administration secretary.

Katz, in his testimony, said the owners signed non-interference pledges to assuage concerns that they would meddle in editorial decisions. But it’s unclear whether the pledge was meant to include hiring or firing the editor.

Lenfest called that a business decision under the owners’ domain.

Hall, though, has argued that he had the unilateral power to fire Marimow, who refused to follow Hall’s order to fire five senior editors.

Marimow said he had assurances that Hall did not control his fate.

He testified that he was hired by Katz and Norcross, after conversations mediated by then-investigative reporter Nancy Phillips, who is Katz’s longtime companion. She had worked with Marimow during his previous stints as editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.

Phillips, now the city editor, said she helped work on an “official version” of Marimow’s hiring, for public consumption, that said then-Publisher Greg Osberg had been involved. The story was meant to protect Osberg’s feelings, she said. Osberg testified that he had no part in the hiring, and quit six weeks later.

The media company also operates the free Philly.com website, now run by Norcross’ 25-year-old daughter, and fee-based websites for each newspaper.

It’s changed hands five times in the past seven years and, like its peers in the industry, dropped precipitously in value. The company sold for $515 million in 2006, nearly 10 times its purchase price last year.

George Norcross: The Man Who Destroyed Democracy

Underlings fear his wrath. Governors kowtow to his enormous political power. He might even have been prosecuted a decade ago if not for a bungled criminal investigation. But does all that make the new Inquirer owner, you know, a bad guy?

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In a story this profane, a story about power and legacy, fathers and sons, a story in which F-bombs rain down in a kind of grid pattern designed to make sure offense is taken, it’s probably best to warm up, first, with an inappropriate reference to the female anatomy.

In this bit, George Norcross III, one of the new owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com, calls Bill Ross on his cell phone and asks him to put out a press release.

“I want you,” he says, “to condemn the Teamsters.”

There was an inflatable rat going up outside the Inquirer building on North Broad Street—the why doesn’t really matter—and Norcross wanted Ross’s help. This struck Ross as odd. As executive director of the Newspaper Guild, representing editorial, advertising, circulation and finance employees, Ross generally tries not to hurl invective at the unions representing other disciplines.

“No,” he said.

But the thing about Norcross is, he asks. Then he cajoles. Sometimes, if circumstances dictate, he makes an offer. According to Ross, Norcross called back and said, “Look, if you put out the release, I’ll let you pick the brand of coffee we provide free to employees.”

Now, in terms of incentives to compromise on his union principles, picking a type of coffee doesn’t reach Ross’s bar. He remained a no. The next day, another newspaper union issued a release critical of the Teamsters. So Norcross called again. He made an assessment of Ross, this man with whom he would later be negotiating, and went right after his manhood.

“You’re a pussy,” he said.

The relationship between Ross and Norcross, such as it is, has never really improved, especially considering the thing with the water bottle.

That event took place in person, in the conference room down the hall from Ross’s office, where one day last spring Norcross showed up, unannounced. He told Ross that the new ownership group needed to renegotiate all the preexisting contracts it had inherited when it bought the company weeks before. Moreover, he wanted Ross and the Newspaper Guild to let go of any seniority protections: If there were layoffs, tenure should offer no sanctuary.

He sat there, confident, in French cuffs, swigging from a water bottle, his pile of white hair looming, and he said to Ross, “My father used to say that seniority will be the death of the labor movement as we know it.”

Norcross’s late father, George Norcross Jr., served as president of the AFL-CIO unions in South Jersey. But Ross didn’t believe any labor leader would attack seniority, retorting: “I’m sure your dad never said that.”

“We need to get rid of the deadwood,” Norcross responded. “We’re paying your members just to breathe.”

“You’re talking to me like I’m a jerk-off,” said Ross at one point.

“No, not at all,” Norcross shot back. “I think you’re the smartest labor guy I ever worked with.”

“Now you’re just patronizing me,” Ross retorted. He ended the meeting, “Why don’t you just get the fuck out—and take your water bottle with you.”

Norcross responded by securing his water bottle tightly in his right hand and flinging it off the far wall—nowhere near Ross, but in a sense, right at his crotch. Then he walked out the door.

There are some disagreements over the particulars of these stories. (Norcross, for instance, doesn’t remember offering Ross a chance to pick the brand of coffee.) But what everyone can agree on is that both stories sound just like what we’d expect of George Norcross—a man many of us have heard of, and none of us actually knows.

An insurance executive and the unquestioned leader of the South Jersey Democratic party, Norcross holds unshakable influence over offices from the mayor of Collingswood to the Camden County freeholders to the state senate. Within New Jersey, he boasts true omnipotence—his alliances with North Jersey Democrats are so strong that no governor can ignore his wants, and he is second only to Governor Chris Christie in terms of influence. But despite his great power over public offices, he has seemed to prefer that we not know him. For decades, through the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s, Norcross kept to the shadows. He built a fortune in the relative anonymity of the insurance business. He led meetings in the political back rooms. And the little that leaked out to the rest of us cast him in villainous terms. On clandestine law-enforcement recordings, made public in 2005, Norcross boasted of his power and promised to make a profane end of his opponents—rapid-f­iring F-bombs and saying he’d see to it that those who crossed him were “punished,” “fired” and “crushed.”

He used the kind of language we associate with the Mob, and practiced an old-school bossism in which he engineered and exacted political victories and revenge. And this image of him, as a man reveling in power and gluttonous for more, seemed indelible. But in the past few years, something shifted.

George Norcross III started behaving in new and surprising ways. He emerged from the political back rooms. He started speaking publicly, eloquently, delivering a new narrative, in which he is the devoted son of a dedicated father, in which he has always held our best interests at heart. He started pursuing community-building initiatives in poverty-stricken Camden. He even extended his reach across the river and into Philadelphia, where this past year he became a driving owner behind the new group in charge of philly.com, the Inquirer and the Daily News.

And so the question is how we should react to this change. We could be happy that he has gone public, and we could accept his presence and his aid, gratefully, because cities like Camden and institutions like the Inquirer and regions like ours can use all the help we can get. If that’s the case, what’s a little naughty language among friends? But those who feel run over by the Norcross machine would probably express a different desire: to see their assailant get the same rough treatment he’s so infamous for delivering; to see the rich and powerful George Norcross III finally, as he himself might put it, get fucked.
Mayors, governors, congressmen and senators come and go—striding into the spotlight of public office and toddling off to a comparatively quiet life. But the power of George Norcross III seems only to expand.

Norcross, a millionaire many times over, continues to preside over Marlton-based Conner Strong & Buckelew—an insurance firm on a large campus punctuated by a helicopter landing pad. Residents of the populated area objected to the helipad, but this is Norcross territory, politically, and he won the necessary approvals, enabling him to fly to and from meetings, his arrival announced by the ominous whup! whup! whup! of rotor blades.

Of late, some of his ends—the expressions of his power—are at least arguably, if not definitively, good. He worked with Christie to force a new, closer relationship between South Jersey’s state universities, Rutgers and Rowan, that figures to benefit both. He has presided over a half-billion-dollar expansion of Cooper University Hospital, in Camden, including the opening of a prestigious new medical school. He recently got the go-ahead to build KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy in Camden’s Lanning Square neighborhood. And he has held numerous meetings with prominent South Jersey citizens, passionately extolling the virtues of switching to a county-based police force, a move he believes will bring better services at a reduced cost.

All of these initiatives are aimed, ostensibly, principally, at improving the future prospects of Camden, the most p­overty-stricken city in America. And it seems that if this were the beginning and end of the George Norcross story, he would be in line for some serious attaboys, if not outright tearful hugs.

The issue is that the George Norcross story is so much more, a story in which the ends, while themselves sometimes dubious, are often overshadowed by the means, which are frequently repugnant. Consider the manner in which Norcross’s power seems to threaten, well, democracy, as if the whup! whup! of the rotor blades bearing him aloft signals an invasion from the highest, most distant tax bracket above. In the past few years, Norcross used that lofty power, wealth and influence to direct, if not dictate, the course of lower and higher education, government pensions and health care, and the effective delivery of law enforcement—all without holding a publicly elected office, or even an official position in the Democratic party. (He stepped down as Camden County chairman in 1993.)

Cherry Hill, for instance, happens to like its current Cherry Hill-run police force just fine and has no desire to cede its management to Camden County. But just the same, its leaders found themselves engaged in an odd wrestling match with a “political leader” who can’t be voted out of office and therefore can’t be stopped. They declined a county takeover, for the time being. But every observer believes the subject will rise again and again till—whup! whup!—Norcross wins.

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.”

Some names of the wounded have surfaced over the years. Mark Lohbauer, a Jersey businessman and Republican, has said that 11 years after he ran against one of Norcross’s candidates for county freeholder in the ’90s, Norcross made him pay. Then a planner with the Schools Construction Corporation, a state agency in charge of building schools in low-income neighborhoods, Lohbauer lost his job in October 2002 when he says the CEO told him he had to let him go from the non-politically appointed job. “I like you,” he said. “I want to keep you. But [Governor McGreevey’s office] told me George Norcross wants you gone.”

Today, Norcross adamantly denies the accusation, adding he doesn’t even know Lohbauer. The governor’s office and the CEO denied it, too. The problem is that—true or not—the Lohbauer story, like the pussy story and the water bottle story, sounds just like George Norcross. And the reason I can write that, with authority, is because we can all log onto the Internet, anytime, and hear him for ourselves. In 2000-2001, as part of a corruption investigation, George Norcross III was recorded in conversation with a Palmyra councilman, John Gural Jr., who claimed he was being pressured to fire a political enemy of Norcross, city solicitor Ted Rosenberg.

The Palmyra Tapes, as they are known, are now legendary in South Jersey political circles, capturing George Norcross III in a full-throated political bull roar:

“Rosenberg is history and he is done and anything I can do to crush his ass, I wanna do cause I think he’s just a, just an evil fuck. … ”

In another instance, Norcross talks about making a political opponent he can’t crush a judge, just to get him out of the way: “Make him a fucking judge, and get rid of him! … John Harrington is going to become a judge.” (John Harrington, by the way, became a judge.)

He orders another associate not to fraternize with an enemy: “Finally one day I sat him down … and said, ‘Herb, don’t fuck with me on this one … ’cause I’ll tell you if you ever do that and I catch you one more time doing it, you’re gonna get your fucking balls cut off.’”

He talks about urging a committeeman to hire a politically connected firm as township engineer: “ … [W]e said to Harry, ‘Wait a second, JCA was going to be the engineer of record. I don’t care about your fucking review process.’”

He brags of his political accomplishments: “No one will ever, ever again, not include or look down or double-cross South Jersey. Never again will that happen. Because they know we put up the gun and we pulled the trigger and we blew their brains out.” And he boasts about his hold on the governor’s office: “I’m not going to tell you this to insult you, but 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 investigation languished for years before the state Attorney General’s office effectively punted, asking in 2005 for then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie to review the case. Christie assigned two veteran prosecutors to the task before declining to issue any indictments. The case was so controversial that Christie took the highly unusual step of writing a public letter explaining his position: that the investigation had been mishandled before it ever reached his desk.

Norcross, who says he is “embarrassed” by his language but committed no “illegality,” emerged from the entire stressful affair without any criminal charges, yet still operating under a kind of moral cloud. Why? Well, because even if he committed no crime, his behavior was, not to mince words, frightening, even disgusting. In sum, the Palmyra Tapes make for a kind of holy shit! experience, clueing us in to the fact that if the smaller and weaker among us try to engage in running our borough, our town, our city, some really powerful guy like George Norcross III might chop off our balls.

What is so remarkable is that up close, the man behind all this drama is charismatic, warm, funny, a snazzy dresser, the kind of man you’d like to drink a beer with, the kind of leader you’d follow to hell, profane, volatile and suddenly talking.

At 57, George Norcross III is in impressive shape, with a trim gut and the sleek build of a man who keeps up regular tennis and golf matches. For our first meeting, at Cooper University Hospital, where he is chairman of the board, he dressed in a deep blue suit and French cuffs, his head topped by an avalanche of thick white hair.

I had been warned, by a half-dozen reporters, that Norcross would limit access and insist most of the conversation be kept private. But our two meetings encompassed 10 hours, most of it on the record.

“This is like therapy,” he said at one point, before clarifying that he’s never been in therapy.

Where to begin? Well, Norcross maintains that he is less involved in politics than he used to be. And he denies the existence of the much-ballyhooed “Democratic machine.” In terms of his public history, these disavowals have always seemed the most disingenuous aspect of Norcross’s back pages, since his operation appears to hold great influence over government jobs, contracts and political fund-raising. And what is that, if not an old-school Tammany Hall-style political machine?

In person, however, Norcross holds his ground. “The massive number of government jobs and contracts that used to exist just don’t anymore,” he says. “What we have here, and I say ‘we’ because it’s not just me, is a sophisticated apparatus that … achieves a result.”

A machine performs a prescribed function. The “apparatus” Norcross speaks of adapts to win. The image he conjures is of a political Transformer: It’s a car! It plants lawn signs! It’s a kick-ass purple robot!

The Norcross apparatus, as he describes it, also seems a valid tool to use, whether the goal is winning a race or running a newspaper. And the first thing it allows him to do is climb over his own biases. “We all think we know,” he says. “But until we do the research, we don’t know.”

He pores over the relevant data and, like a military commander, plots out a campaign that will bring victory. It happened in the early ’80s when he won his first big insurance contract, at the Garden State Park race track. He came in better prepared, familiar with every layer of coverage necessary for an idiosyncratic industry comprised of horses, riders and grandstands. But the particular subject is never important. In talking about his career, for instance, he betrays no passion for the industry that provided his wealth.

What engages Norcross is besting a challenge with an apparatus that produces a desired result. He could work in politics, insurance, bomb building, or the construction of a better mousetrap, and he’d enjoy the same electric charge emanating from the same place. “Clearly,” he says, “I like challenges … to a kind of extreme degree.”

The words indicate his meaning. But his body language conveys his feeling: His butt shifts suddenly in his seat. A crooked smile shades his face pink. His eyebrows twist with real curiosity, and his eyes begin casting around, wildly alight, as if the answer to the Riddle of Him might be written on one of the walls in this Cooper University Hospital conference room. In short, it seems Norcross still cannot fully process just why he wants what he wants. But he knows his apparatus is always geared up to produce the result.

One would think there might be great joy in this life, coptering over the common man to make millions; telling the governor what you want and knowing he’ll pay attention; building a new cancer center and erecting a prestigious new medical school—the first in New Jersey in 35 years—in Camden, the land he feels bound to by blood, the land that needs a champion like him. And there is: Norcross grins about as much as you’d expect from a fabulously wealthy, healthy man. But he also grimaces. He is not happy that he has been, as he puts it, “caricatured” as a bad guy. He is, however, resigned to this fate.

“Look,” he says. “In this lifetime, I can’t win. That’s the reality. I just can’t win.”

His image, for too many people, is set.

“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.”

Norcross’s critics believe he’s not difficult to understand. “It’s all about power,” says John Williamson, president of the Camden Fraternal Order of Police. “Wherever he can get it, he wants more.”

But the truth is more nuanced. The wonder Norcross conveys at his own zeal for confronting obstacles suggests that his restless journeying between political, business and social challenges isn’t something he understands or perhaps even controls. On the Palmyra Tapes, between venomous howls, he sounds compelled—a man overwhelmed by his own pace; “I’m up at four o’clock in the morning to go to North Jersey to attend meetings,” he says on the tapes. “Plus this company, plus whatever else I’m doing, and you know I’m nuts, I’m gonna have a heart attack.”

Behind all this striving, Norcross has also maintained a network of admirers. Former Inquirer reporter and current ESPN correspondent Sal Paolantonio, who plays tennis with Norcross, still gratefully remembers how his friend responded when Paolantonio’s daughter was admitted to Cooper in 2005 with a subdural hematoma. Norcross not only made calls about the daughter’s treatment; he showed up at 5 a.m. the morning after the operation to visit the Paolantonios in the intensive care unit.

“I think George is wrong when he says he can’t win,” says Paolantonio. “I think he can win. And he does win. I understand, as a reporter, why the Palmyra Tapes incident has to be part of the George Norcross narrative. But it does not define who he is.”

Norcross’s allies cite his intense loyalty. And they say his primary motivation isn’t power, but his love for his father, which they describe as moving in its sincerity and unusual in its depth. “I think if you know George and you spend time around him,” says one longtime friend, attorney Arthur Makadon, “it’s obvious that he’s just a man who is looking over his shoulder.”

George Norcross Jr., whom admirers called “Big George” and “Chief,” was a longtime AFL-CIO president. Through the ’60s and ’70s, he made a practice of bringing “Young George” to meet New Jersey governors, senators, congressional leaders and business people. Outfitted in a suit and bow tie, Young George sat quietly in meeting spaces all over New Jersey. “Don’t say anything,” his father told him. “You can learn just by observing.”

Afterward, on the way home, Young George would pepper his dad with questions. And the Chief revealed the meanings behind veiled words and silences. The education ruined Young George for college. Norcross remembers sitting in a political science course at Rutgers-Camden, a 19-year-old making mental note of his professor’s ignorance. “Everything he was saying was just … wrong,” he recalls. “He knew less about how politics is actually practiced than I did.”

So Young George dropped out and found his way, ultimately making more money, in the insurance industry, and garnering more power, in politics, than the Chief ever even sought. As the years passed, Norcross sometimes joked that he was different enough from his dad—fierce and ambitious, where the Chief was gentle and content; feared, where his dad was beloved—that he wondered if he had been adopted or left on the doorstep. “I am an aggressive Type-A-on-steroids personality,” he says. “I regretfully do not have my father’s personality.”

His dad knew success. He was a labor leader and served as a trustee of Cooper University Hospital. But as his career neared its end, in the late ’80s, the entire South Jersey region still operated as a kind of beggar in relation to the north. So the softer Chief also knew defeat: When the governor nominated him for appointment to the New Jersey Racing Commission, a Republican senator named Lee Laskin blocked him. When he received the support of governor Brendan Byrne in 1975 for the concept of a med school at Cooper, the Republican legislators of North Jersey made sure nothing got built. The Chief died, in 1998, with that promise unfulfilled.

Ascending to the chairmanship of the Camden County Democratic Committee at the tender age of 31, Young George, a high-school soccer and basketball player, brought the jock-ready jargon and just-win mentality of the locker room to state politics. He called his closest supporters the “Can Do Club” and lived by high-achiever mantras like “Second Place Is First Loser.” In a pivotal 1991 election, he worked with TV adman Neil Oxman and paid for $400,000 in commercial spots to dethrone Laskin, an unheard-of move in a state election. “At the time,” recalls Norcross, “four hundred grand was like $4 million.”

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?

Jay Lassiter, a longtime Democrat in Camden County who’s worked on campaigns for such Norcross-backed candidates as John Adler and Rob Andrews, calls the matter “debatable,” then goes on to count the ways in which Norcross’s critics fail to appreciate his more visionary qualities.

“His candidates do bring a certain level of competence,” he says. “And the stands they take on the issues reflect the values of any true blue-dog Democrat.”

It’s a deep irony that Norcross, so often singled out for criticism in the media, routinely produces candidates who win newspaper endorsements from the Inquirer and Courier-Post. And even his nepotism hasn’t embarrassed him. He cleared the way for his brother, Donald Norcross, to get a state senate seat in 2010 when then-senator Dana Redd was elected Camden’s mayor, but Donald has since earned respect and an Inquirer endorsement.

The problem, then, isn’t that George Norcross is incompetent. He’s not. The issue is that he simply holds too much power for any one man, a state of affairs that South Jersey Dems experience intimately, always aware of who’s sipping from the trough. “I am not in the Norcross bubble,” says Jay Lassiter. “But a lot of people I care about are, so in deference to them, I wouldn’t want to say anything negative. And that said, if George Norcross came at me with some money, to be part of another campaign, I’d do it, gratefully. … For God’s sake, buy me! I’m not that expensive!”

The debate, at least in this instance, is over. This is an auction. And Norcross plays an enviable role as both the highest bidder and the guy who reaps the greatest proceeds. He’s long been criticized for doing insurance business with many of the governments with which he has ties as a political leader. But his power seems to yield various forms of return.

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.

Norcross has also benefited from his connections to the Delaware River Port Authority. When DRPA issued its final disbursements in 2011, Cooper University Hospital received $6 million. The money raised some eyebrows. Indeed, DRPA’s purported purpose was to promote transportation throughout the region, and Cooper was the only hospital ever to receive money from DRPA, the vice chair of which was—go figure—Jeffrey Nash, a longtime Norcross ally.

In another DRPA-related transaction, Norcross’s insurance firm received $410,000—not for actually doing the authority’s insurance work, but for referring that business to another insurance firm, Willis of New Jersey. While a report last year from the New Jersey comptroller was critical of that arrangement, it also noted that there was technically nothing unlawful about it, a point Norcross reiterates when I bring it up. “Look,” he says, “the report itself says nothing happened that was illegal.”

Jennifer Beck, a Republican legislator from Monmouth County, has since proposed a bill to plug up this hole in the public trough. But a year later, her fix continues to languish in a committee chaired by Nia Gill, an Essex County Democrat who is—again, go figure—allied with Norcross’s Southern Jersey crew.

Norcross’s critics remain fixated on these sorts of stories. But there is a larger portrait here—of the political operator as artist, and the artist as an aging, more reflective man. “Things have evolved,” says Norcross. “And … I’m getting older now. It’s only natural to wonder when my number will come up.”

In other words, as the finish line looms in the distance, Norcross has tuned his apparatus to securing a legacy—and the result is his broadest, most civic-minded set of aims yet. Is this altruism? Or self-interest? The best answer might be both: In fortifying Cooper University Hospital, Norcross ensures some vibrant legacy for his family. But to be certain Cooper will succeed, he must consider the health of the city as a whole.

And so Norcross has turned his sights on all of Camden, America’s poorest city. “We’ve got to make it safer here,” he says, “and we’ve got to improve the quality of education, or no one will move here and anyone who achieves any measure of success won’t stay.”

The Camden Norcross seeks to create is both modernized and tech-savvy. Cooper’s medical school yields prestige and a much-needed influx of youth and smarts. His promotion of a biomedical research facility and a closer allegiance between Rutgers and Rowan should yield greater academic status and potentially foster future economic spin-offs. The KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, a five-school, 2,800-student behemoth to be built on land near Cooper, might “stabilize the children and families of an entire neighborhood,” Norcross says. And reframing the Camden city police as a county-led force is, he says, designed to save money and free up budgetary room to put more officers on the street.

But can the guy with “the cigar and the horns” really save a city, or can he only serve himself? “Look,” says Ali Sloan El, a longtime city activist, “George is for George.”

By this theory, the land now set aside for the KIPP Cooper charter might never house a school at all—and instead wind up serving as land on which Cooper University Hospital can expand. And the police force—which has at least temporarily waived the civil-service exam process in order to staff up—will become a giant patronage mill, churning out government jobs for good little Camden County Democrats.

Norcross rejects such talk as “wild conspiracy theories.” But here’s the rub: Camden residents have no power with which to reject him. And yet there he is—influencing even the direction of their police force.

No city, let alone one with Camden’s crime problems, has ever replaced half its force with such speed before. So the risk is simple overreach.

“Nothing he does,” says historian Howard Gillette, “is all bad. He is a smart, competent man. But what’s extraordinary about him is that he has all this wealth, and this power, and this prestige, and there is no effective counterweight to him. That’s, understandably, a concern.”

“A few years ago,” says Neil Oxman, the adman with whom Norcross has continued to work, “George told me there are only two things he still wants in life: to play at the Augusta National golf course, and to have lunch with his father.” Oxman, who moonlights as a caddie for Tom Watson, got him on the Augusta golf course. “But I can’t do anything about that lunch.”

The Chief suffered a stroke in 1996, severely damaging his short-term memory, so Norcross isn’t sure if he ever understood just how successful his son had grown in business. The Chief also never saw the med school he’d pursued finally come into being.

I ask Norcross what he’d say if he could have lunch with his father.

“I heard from some people, after he died, that he had been concerned about me,” he says, “and whether or not I was going to be successful.”

Norcross considers all his words, slowly, then says: “I’d just want him to know that everything worked out all right.”

The new investor group in charge of the city’s largest, most prestigious media property came in saying all the right things. That group, including Norcross, Gerry Lenfest, developer Bill Hankowsky and executive Lew Katz, described themselves as investing “patient capital,” and suggested they would take their time trying to heal a faltering operation out of a sense of civic duty.

A year later, however, their actions seem to belie those words. What they really saw was a business opportunity—and in Norcross’s case, one of those much-beloved challenges.

During our second interview, Norcross seems perhaps more at ease, and excited, discussing his thoughts on his new property more than anything else. “Our position is that we essentially have three products to sell,” he says. “Philly.com, the Inquirer and the Daily News. And the audience for these three products is very different.”

As a result, the new owners want to establish their three products as separate entities. The Inquirer will focus on “local, local, local news,” as Norcross describes it, along with “investigative reporting and sports coverage” around the region. The Daily News will keep to its city focus. Both papers will be tucked behind pay walls, on their own websites. But philly.com will remain free while being recast as a kind of regional Huffington Post.

The same dynamic is in play at boston.com, which publishes a selection of material, for free, from the Boston Globe’s pay site, which went live in September 2011. If that’s the model, and publisher Bob Hall says it’s very similar, it isn’t encouraging. To date, the Globe online edition has only garnered around 28,000 digital subscribers. “If I didn’t think we have a real opportunity to make these publications financially healthy, I wouldn’t be involved,” says Norcross. “The fact that it might be hard is just … a part of what interests me.”

Thus far, Norcross seems to be setting the new ownership’s tone. The political bruiser who took Lee Laskin’s seat with a concentrated TV advertising blitz has linked up with Oxman again to produce ads reintroducing the Inquirer and Daily News. He also seems to have steered the company’s relationship with its new employees. First, he advised Ross in a pair of meetings that the company would be seeking contract concessions—and the elimination of seniority as a consideration during layoffs. Then he removed himself from further contact.

Instead, Lenfest took part—his comments undercutting any claims the new owners initially made about serving as “patient capital.” “This is not a charitable venture for me,” Lenfest told the Guild’s executive board, including Bill Ross. “If we do not get the concessions we need, we will liquidate the company in a week.”

The tough line has gotten the Guild’s attention. To start with, it agreed to begin contract negotiations several months before the previous deal was slated to expire. In those negotiations, the Guild managed to preserve seniority for its members, but offered up a separate concession that may prove even more important. For many decades, the Guild has refused to agree to any sort of formal employee-review. The new deal, however, allows the new owners to develop such a process, with performance standards set at its “sole discretion.” If an employee doesn’t measure up, he or she can be fired.

Bill Ross vows to fight in court if the owners begin using the provision unfairly, but Norcross seems unlikely to stick around for any legal tussles. His words hint at the divisive final solution suggested by Gerry Lenfest: “I’ll tell you this,” he says, in his office at Conner Strong. “We have no intention of fighting with unions. If we can’t get what we need to make this operation successful, we will just walk away.”

A framed, enlarged copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album cover looming on the wall over his shoulder, Governor Chris Christie shakes my hand and sits down in his Trenton office to talk about the only real rival to his power in the state of New Jersey: George Norcross.

In many ways, this should be a triumphant interview for Norcross, in which Christie, the North Jersey Republican, arguably the most popular politician in the United States of America, talks up the civic merits and vision of his unlikely Democratic ally to the south. And for a time, it is just that.

“This is a guy who has a very fertile mind,” Christie says of Norcross, “and is always thinking about things. Whenever I meet with George, he’s got a list of things he wants to go through.”

Of late, the piece of paper Norcross carries into his meetings with the Governor displays a lot of items on which they agree: the radical new changes in the Camden police department, the regionalization of public safety services, the Rutgers-Rowan partnership, K-12 education reform, and tough stances on union pensions and benefits.

The role of a private business executive, in the year 2013, rarely if ever means such deep engagement and power in the realms of public policy. But Christie denies that any problem, any real threat to democracy, is associated with Norcross’s almost paternal role in South Jersey.

“I think,” says Christie, assessing Norcross’s power, “more times than not, George wins these arguments in South Jersey based on the merits. I’ve never seen George in a situation, you know, [say] ‘You’ll do this or else. … ’ And a lot of the stuff [he’s doing] is laudable.”

If “a lot” of the stuff is laudable, I wonder, is the Governor aware of something that isn’t?

“I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that hasn’t been laudable,” Christie replies. “But I’m sure there’s plenty of them over time. He’s been involved in some—some bare-knuckle politics. So I’m sure not all of it was, you know, charitably motivated.”

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.”

When I relay Christie’s answer to Norcross, he contends that the response doesn’t bother him at all. “That’s fine,” he says.

Of course, what the letter said was only that there would be no prosecution, not that there was no crime. So Christie’s response strikes me as a bad one for Norcross—driving us back to his darkest public days. Seeking to influence the dispersal of contracts, to get an enemy fired as a form of political retribution? All Norcross can muster, by way of apology, is to say he remains “embarrassed” by his own foul language. “My wife and mother should have washed my mouth out with soap,” he says. “But there was no illegality, as was determined.”

He smooths his hair back. He shifts in his seat. The conversation about Palmyra goes on for several minutes, but we never get to anything new, and Norcross doesn’t see the need to say anything he hasn’t said already. “It was an embarrassing moment,” he says. “It was certainly my most embarrassing moment in the region.”

George Norcross welcomes me into his private office at Conner Strong & Bu­ckelew, his Marlton-based insurance firm. A table is laid out with fine china, silverware, fruit, raw vegetables and hummus. He takes me on a tour of the photographs lining the walls.

The images cover everything from his daughter Lexie’s graduation from NYU to family vacations, numerous political events, and old sepia-haunted photos of himself, as a boy, with his father. He spends several long minutes narrating the circumstances of each. His tone, at times, grows distant, as though the images on the wall have pushed him from the spot where he is standing to the moments they were taken.

The most moving, in terms of his own personal story, are the ones of him and his dad. In photo after photo, Young George g­azes with innocent eyes at some governor of New Jersey—Richard Hughes in 1966, Cahill in ’63, Meyner in ’62. His dad stands there, beaming, and Young George is learning that the hand of a state governor is accessible to him. The natural question, given how open he’s been, is if he might let me borrow and scan some of these photos to publish as part of the story. “No,” he says.

“Really?”

“Really,” he replies. “They’re off the record. This is all off the record.”

“Why?” I ask. He maintains a steady stream of unrelated patter, clearly sending me the signal to move on. But I don’t. This tour of his past, of photos capturing events we had discussed on the record, is to be put off the record?

“Yes,” he says again.

The moment strikes me as telling. And in the coming days, I decided to write about this exchange. For one thing, by the rules of journalism, a source can’t retroactively put quotes or a scene off the record. He needs to request such an arrangement before speaking with a reporter—and Norcross hadn’t. But I didn’t want to write about this in order to prove any point about journalistic rules. I wanted to convey this scene because of what I thought the moment suggested—that on some level, he needed to reach out and exercise control. He needed to express his power. He needed, in spite of feeling that he had been wrongly defined over the years, to stay, well, as unknown as possible. And as a consequence, he tried to wipe away even these photos that bring some sense of duty and romance to his story—that soften his sometimes brutal image.

The overall effect, not just of this episode but of spending 10 hours with George Norcross III, is that he is asking to be seen in the best possible light without ever really emerging from the shadows. And so, in the end, it might not matter how many medical schools he builds or charter schools he founds or media companies he sells or saves. Because what we really need from him is something deeper and more intimate than all these things.

We need him to step out. We need him to apologize—to openly acknowledge that, crime or no crime, he is guilty. He has done wrong. He has lorded over—whup! whup! whup!—and undermined the democratic process of an entire region.

But the best Norcross can muster is to say he is embarrassed he swore. For that reason, he will likely go on feeling that he can’t win.

Not in this lifetime.

Because without that apology—without him letting go of some of his power—this region’s relationship with him will remain tainted by an unquenched desire: to see George Norcross III climb onstage, stand before a podium, and take a deep and holy breath. To see George Norcross III hang his head—flashbulbs popping—and assume the position.