Category Archives: Camden News Archives

Former New Jersey State Senator Wayne R. Bryant and Attorney Eric D. Wisler Indicted on Corruption Charges

U.S. Attorney’s Office

September 27, 2010


PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Acting United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, MICHAEL B. WARD, the Special Agent in Charge for the New Jersey Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and VICTOR W. LESSOFF, the Special Agent in Charge of the New Jersey Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (“IRS-CID”), announced today an Indictment charging former New Jersey State Senator WAYNE R. BRYANT and attorney ERIC D. WISLER with multiple counts of fraud and bribery.

According to the Indictment filed today in Newark federal court:

BRYANT was a State Senator representing New Jersey’s 5th District, which included Camden, and served as Chairman of the Senate’s Budget and Appropriations Committee. BRYANT also was a named, equity partner at a law firm in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. WISLER was a named, equity partner at a law firm in Teaneck, New Jersey. Among WISLER’s clients was a private equity investment firm located in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a management firm that undertook several “brownfields,” redevelopment projects in New Jersey by which contaminated land was to be made suitable for development.

In 2004, WISLER arranged for his firm to enter into a retainer agreement with BRYANT’s firm, which called for BRYANT’s firm to be paid a retainer fee of $8,000 per month. The payment was purportedly to cover fees for legal work relating to land use, condemnation, and other matters for a development project in the New Jersey Meadowlands. In truth and in fact, however, the payments made under the retainer agreement were actually bribes paid in exchange for official action that BRYANT took in favor of the various redevelopment projects undertaken by WISLER and his clients, including a proposed $1.2 billion redevelopment of Camden’s Cramer Hill neighborhood, which sat in BRYANT’s legislative district. BRYANT rendered his approval and support for this project despite significant backlash among his constituents regarding the use of eminent domain and relocation of residents in that neighborhood. BRYANT also expressed support for funding from the New Jersey Department of Transportation and Camden’s Economic Recovery Board, whose function was to allocate $175 million in funding that Camden received under the 2002 Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act (“MRERA”), which BRYANT sponsored.

BRYANT provided a consistent vote for legislation that was favorable to WISLER’s clients, such as a 2004 amendment to the Redevelopment Area Bond Financing Law that facilitated bond financing for the Meadowlands project, appropriations legislation by which the Meadowlands project received more than $200 million in loans from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (“NJEIT”) and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”), and “fast-track” legislation that required the NJDEP and other state agencies to expedite their review of applications for permits or have those permits deemed granted. BRYANT also sponsored a bill in 2005 for a $112 million loan from NJEIT to be used for the Meadowlands project.

BRYANT’s firm was paid approximately $192,000 in fees between August 2004 and August 2006. However, no actual legal work was performed under the retainer agreement. No attorneys at BRYANT’s firm performed any services under the retainer agreement, and no attorneys at WISLER’s firm interacted with attorneys of BRYANT’s firm with respect to the Meadowlands Project.

According to the Indictment, both WISLER and BRYANT took steps to conceal the existence of the retainer agreement. Despite working extensively with colleagues at his law firm on a variety of matters pertaining to the Cramer Hill and Meadowlands developments, WISLER failed to inform any of them about the existence of the retainer agreement. WISLER specifically drafted the retainer agreement to be for work on certain phases of the project for which the invoices were not reviewed by the public agencies that loaned money to the project. BRYANT failed to inform Camden’s Chief Operating Officer (“COO”) of the retainer agreement, despite his friendship with the COO and regularly interacting with the COO on matters regarding Cramer Hill.

In addition, the Indictment alleges that WISLER and BRYANT caused false invoices to be drafted that fraudulently indicated that BRYANT’s firm was performing legal services under the retainer agreement. These invoices formed the basis for false and fraudulent billings to the Raleigh investment firm by which it paid the retainer fees to BRYANT’s firm through WISLER’s firm.

The Indictment charges BRYANT and WISLER with twenty counts of honest services mail fraud and one count of receiving bribes. It charges BRYANT with extorting payments under color of official right. It also charges WISLER with 17 counts of mail and wire fraud in connection with the false and fraudulent billings to his client. If convicted, BRYANT and WISLER face a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison for each count, except for the receiving bribes charge, for which each faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. The Indictment also seeks the forfeiture of the approximately $192,000 in illicit payments made to BRYANT.

This investigation is being supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York due to the recusal of the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. PREET BHARARA was named Acting United States Attorney for the case under Title 28, United States Code, Section 515.

Mr. BHARARA praised the investigative work of the FBI and the Criminal Investigations Division of the IRS in this case. He also thanked the New Jersey Department of Labor and Public Safety, and the Criminal Investigators assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey for their outstanding work.

This case is being supervised by the Public Corruption Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Assistant U.S. Attorneys JAMES B. NOBILE, BRADLEY A. HARSCH and JENNY R. KRAMER of the Special Prosecutions Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, are in charge of the prosecution.

Original Source:

Camden Parking Authority Probed

Courier-Post Staff

The city’s Parking Authority received a subpoena from the state Division of Criminal Justice Wednesday, less than a week after two agency employees filed a civil lawsuit that alleged financial mismanagement and bid rigging.

A division spokeswoman refused to comment on the nature of the subpoena, saying only that the authority is being investigated.

The authority’s executive director, Anthony Scarduzio, said he had heard about the subpoena from his receptionist, but had not seen it.

Scarduzio is off from work this week because his niece and his great-nephew died in an arson fire in Gloucester Township Sunday.

“We’ll give them whatever they want,” Scarduzio said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’re anxious to cooperate.”

Carmen Otero, chairwoman of the Parking Authority Commission, said she was unaware a subpoena had been issued.

The authority’s lawyer, Carlos Morcate, did not return phone messages.

The Parking Authority is an independent city agency that oversees and operates two garages, 10 lots and 800 meters.

The five-member commission is appointed by the mayor and city council.

On Friday, authority employees Thomas Del Rosario and Joseph Bowen filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Camden claiming they suffered retaliation for blowing the whistle on what they say is illegal activity within the agency.

Bowen, a property manager, was fired in August. Del Rosario, a systems specialist, was suspended without pay pending a hearing.

The far-reaching lawsuit includes accusations that Scarduzio tipped off a favored vendor about another vendor’ s low bid in exchange for box seats to sporting events.

It also alleges Scarduzio looked the other way when Bowen complained about another employee skimming money off parking meter collections.

Scarduzio has described the suit as insider bickering and said Bowen is in fact the one who tried to steer business to his personal associates.

The Parking Authority had seemed to be back on track after spending years under the state’s watch because of corruption and mismanagement.

In 1993, it went $1 million into debt, which forced the state to take it over in September 1994. The state handed over control to the city in 1997.


Ex-Camden official found dead; whistle-blower shot and beaten

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Courier-Post Staff

The former director of the Camden Parking Authority, Anthony Scarduzio, was found dead Monday at a friend’s Monroe home of a gunshot wound to the head, just days before the state was to bring criminal charges against him. A 12-gauge shotgun was found at his side.

About the same time, an authority whistle-blower who had accused Scarduzio of corruption lay critically wounded outside an ice cream parlor 2.5 miles away in Washington Township. He had been shot several times and beaten with a baseball bat.

Gloucester County Prosecutor Andrew Yurick said the shootings of Scarduzio, 47, and former Parking Authority employee Joseph Bowen, 50, were related but that the sequence of events was unclear.

“I can’t tell you what happened when,” Yurick said at a news conference five hours after the shootings.

Authorities said they were investigating whether Scarduzio assaulted Bowen, then committed suicide. A neighbor of the ice cream shop, which was leased by Bowen to another operator, said Bowen told police Scarduzio had shot him.

The shootings were reported within minutes of each other about 10 a.m. The prosecutor’s office and county dispatch gave conflicting accounts of which call was received first.

Bowen was in critical condition late Monday at Cooper Hospital/University Medical Center in Camden. Doctors were able to stabilize the gunshot wounds, but the beating to his head left him with a fractured skull and brain contusion, said Bill Bowe, Bowen’s attorney.

Police had stepped up patrols around Bowen’s home in the Sewell section of Washington Township after he was notified in May that threats had been made against him by Scarduzio and others, authorities said. He was also under police protection at the hospital, Bowe said.

Asked about his reaction to the shootings, Scarduzio’s brother, Jack, said: “I never thought he had the guts do do something like that.” He did not elaborate, saying only that when his brother made up his mind to do something, he did it.

Scarduzio took a buyout and resigned from the Parking Authority on May 31 while a target of a state criminal investigation.

“Our investigation into the Camden Parking Authority, the portion involving Mr. Scarduzio, was going to be completed imminently,” said Emily Hornaday, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Criminal Justice. “He was looking at a significant charge, there’s no doubt about it, and I’m sure he knew that.”

Scarduzio was facing one or more charges of official misconduct, Hornaday said.

Bowen, a property manager, was fired from the Parking Authority last August. He and a co-worker sued Scarduzio and the authority two months later, accusing them of bid- rigging, money laundering and mismanagement. Bowen was to give a sworn statement in the lawsuit Thursday.

Bowen was attacked while outside the former Casablanca Ice Cream parlor on Hurffville-Cross Keys Road; the shop was renamed Aaron’s Ice Cream by a tenant who now runs the business. Bowen operated a landscaping business and kept his equipment in three trailers in a field behind the ice cream parlor.

Warren Plank, 47, who lives next to the store in another property owned by Bowen, said he was working in an office at the front of his house when Bowen banged on his back door about 10 a.m.

“As soon as I got to the kitchen, I could see he was bloody,” Plank said. “He said, `I’ve been shot.'”

Bowen lay down on a chaise lounge on the back deck while Plank called 9-1-1. He said Bowen had two bullet holes in his left shoulder and had blood dripping down his face.

Bowen told officers that Scarduzio had attacked him, Plank said. Bowen also told police, Plank said, that he wrested a gun away from Scarduzio and threw it out of his reach.

But a police source said late Monday that no gun was found at the scene, and that search warrants had been issued for Scarduzio’s Scotch Drive home in the Turnersville section of Washington Township, and for the house where Scarduzio’s body was found.

Scarduzio was discovered just inside the front door of the home of Butch and Edna D’Alessandro at 1965 Pitman- Downer Road by the couple’s son, Anthony, who had come to mow the lawn. Anthony’s 5-year-old son was with him.

Yurick confirmed the couple were not home at the time. They were at the nearby Whitman Diner when they received a frantic call from their son.

The elder D’Alessandro said he did not know why Scarduzio was in his home. “I don’t have the slightest idea,” he said.

The elder D’Alessandro said he always kept a loaded shotgun by the back door, as well as four or five other loaded guns elsewhere in the house.

“Everyone here knows we have guns,” D’Alessandro said.

Scarduzio, a friend, would occasionally stop by for a visit, D’Alessandro said. Both were former Democratic committeemen.

A family spokesman, attorney Mike Fritz, said Scarduzio appeared to have broken the window in the rear door to enter the house. But Yurick said investigators had not yet determined how Scarduzio got in.

The D’Alessandros sat outside their home for hours as officers secured the crime scene.

Authorities towed Scarduzio’s maroon Buick from the D’ Alessandro residence.

In a written statement to police, Anthony D’Alessandro offered to have his hands tested for gunshot residue and gave a voluntary taped statement. Fritz said Anthony D’ Alessandro did not enter the home after finding his way blocked by a body.

Anthony D’Alessandro said he knew by the size of the hands that the victim was not one of his parents.

Said Fritz: “Clearly what has occurred is a burglary and suicide in the aftermath of a shooting where the motive is easily identifiable.”

Scarduzio is survived by his wife, Janet, and two sons, Christopher and Matthew.

Former Mayor Jerry Luongo was friends with Scarduzio for about 20 years and has known Bowen for at least six years.

He said he was shocked by the shootings because Scarduzio and Bowen were once best friends.

“They were inseparable,” Luongo said.

According to Luongo, Scarduzio helped Bowen get a job with the Parking Authority when Bowen’s ice cream shop was struggling financially. Luongo said he had lunch with Scarduzio at The Pub in Pennsauken about a month ago. During their meal, they talked about Scarduzio’s problems at the Parking Authority.

“He said, `You know, Jerry, I’m just going to put this behind me,'” Luongo recalled. “I can’t believe he reached this level of frustration.”

In 1996, Bowen offered the township advice on how to run the struggling concession stand at Washington Lake Park, Luongo said.

“Joe gave me a lot of insight,” Luongo said. “I had a good rapport with him.”

Scarduzio ran unsuccessfully for the township council as a Democrat in 1996. He also was a former member of the township planning board.

Hornaday, of the Division of Criminal Justice, said the state’s investigation of Scarduzio was not based on Bowen’s lawsuit.

She also said the Parking Authority investigation would continue.

“Law enforcement takes no pleasure in this,” Hornaday said. “It’s turned out to be a very, very tragic situation.”

Milton Milan sentenced to 7 years

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Courier-Post Staff


His voice cracking with emotion, former mayor Milton Milan apologized Friday for betraying the trust of city residents before an unsympathetic federal judge who sentenced him to more than seven years in prison.

“People believed in me and trusted in me. I let them down. I’m sorry to them, to my family and to my children,” Milan said as his wife wept in the gallery.

U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano was unsparing as he castigated Milan for taking mob payoffs, using city contractors to perform free work on his home, laundering money from a drug dealer, committing insurance fraud, using vehicles supplied for free by a towing contractor and selling a stolen computer to an intern.

Milan, the judge said, was “more enamored of the trappings of the office than his duties.”

Because of that, Milan deserved no special consideration, the judge said.

“Your conduct was pervasive,” Pisano said. “It was common knowledge in the city that Mr. Milan’s influence was available. It is self-evident that a dishonest mayor undermines the confidence of the public.”

The judge gave Milan seven years and three months in prison, the maximum allowed under federal sentencing guidelines. He bumped up the sentence proposed by the probation department after agreeing with Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Futcher that the ex-mayor had damaged the public’s confidence in their government.

Milan could be released in less than six years. He will get credit for time served since his Dec. 21 conviction, and defendants can be released after serving 85 percent of their term if they do not violate any rules.

The judge spared Milan a fine, saying he had no ability to pay. But he found him responsible for $14,761 in restitution to three victims who sought it – a towing contractor, an insurance company and a leasing company.

Milan will remain under court supervision for three years after release. State officials have already permanently barred him from seeking public office again.

Milan became Camden’s first Hispanic mayor on July 1, 1997, a relative political newcomer who convinced voters he could turn the city around. His sentencing comes with the city still in a financial crisis and the state considering a takeover of government operations.

The former mayor appeared in court thinner and paler than when he was removed from office. He wore a white, prison- issued T-shirt, khaki pants and blue slip-on sneakers.

“I’d like to apologize to the residents of the city of Camden for my very poor judgment,” Milan said, the closest he has come to admitting guilt.

After Milan’s brief statement, the judge recounted the former mayor’s list of crimes and spoke at length about why he was giving Milan the maximum sentence.

“When you took office, there was no question that Camden was a city of great despair,” the judge said. “But the people believed in you. Your own people believed you. You squandered your opportunities. The people of this city do have a problem, but they do not deserve to be the laughingstock of urban America … you’ve made them that.”

Over the last decade, the city lost 9 percent of its population, dropping to 79,904 residents. The number of vacant houses also soared during the period, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lists the city as the nation’s second-poorest. The state funds 70 cents of every dollar in Camden’s budget.

Pisano told Milan he came into office with great promise ” but violated every oath ofoffice.”

“It appears to me that it was your purpose to achieve personal aggrandizement,” he said.

“You are a remarkable individual, at least you were,” Pisano said, recalling Milan’s rise from a one-parent family living on a blighted North Camden street.

“You had a job as the mayor of the city. You had a salary of $75,000, a driver and a car,” Pisano continued. “You now have nothing.”

After sentencing, Milan was returned to the Federal Correctional Institution at Fairton, Cumberland County, where he has been held since his conviction. It will be up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to determine whether he serves out his term there or at a correctional facility at Fort Dix.

Milan was indicted March 29, 2000, by a federal grand jury in Camden. A jury convicted him of 14 of 19 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, making him the third Camden mayor in 20 years to be found guilty of corruption.

The jury found, among other things, that he accepted as much as $30,000 in payoffs from former Philadelphia/South Jersey mob boss Ralph Natale between 1996 and 1998; laundered a $65,000 cash loan in 1994 from now-convicted drug dealer Jose “JR” Rivera; used part of $7,500 he skimmed from campaign funds to pay for a trip to Puerto Rico with friends and supporters in 1997; and staged a burglary at his business, Atlas Contracting, in 1995 to collect insurance money.

Milan was stripped of his office the day after his conviction.

His court-appointed attorney, Richard Coughlin, asked Pisano on Friday to set aside two of his client’s convictions. The judge turned down therequests.

A pre-sentence report recommended a maximum sentence of 67 months, or five years, seven months. But prosecutors got it bumped up 20 months, to 87 months, by arguing that Milan had abused the public trust and damaged the city.

“The defendant decided that his greed was more important than his duties to the citizens,” said Futcher.

Milan grew up in a tough neighborhood on Bailey Street in North Camden, where homes were as likely to be abandoned as lived in and drug dealers flanked street corners.

He dropped out of high school and eventually entered the Marines, where he learned to operate heavy machinery, became a marksman, went to Beirut, and earned an honorable discharge. He returned home to Camden in the mid-1980s and began hanging around with felons and drug dealers.

He started two construction companies and was elected to city council in 1995. He rose quickly in political ranks and was named council president on Jan. 1, 1996. He was already taking bribes from Natale.

In May 1997, he was elected mayor after a brash campaign that was tainted with accusations that he had been affiliated with Rivera and had been questioned in a 1988 gangland slaying.

Despite those questions, Milan took a firm grip on the city’s helm. In July 1999, he rocked Trenton when he had the city file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, until stopping the proceeding when the state agreed to pay $74 million in aid it had been holding. While the move scored him points in some quarters, it hurt the city’s financial reputation, scaring off investors.

As mayor, Milan lived in a nicely rehabilitated home on North 33rd Street in East Camden. It turned out that much of the work was performed for free by vendors working on or seeking government contracts.

Milan’s name began surfacing in connection with separate federal investigations of Rivera, the drug lord, and Natale, the Mafia boss. Both were key witnesses at his trial.

On Aug. 16, 1999, federal and county agents raided Milan’s home and office, carting away boxes of materials in search of evidence.

Throughout the investigation, Milan maintained his innocence, complaining he was being politically persecuted.

Ex-Prosecutors in Trenton Respond to U.S. Scolding

Two former New Jersey attorneys general on Thursday defended their office’s investigation into the political dealings of George E. Norcross III, the Democratic power broker, and said they were bewildered that federal prosecutors had accused them of botching the case.In a scathing letter dated Tuesday, Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, wrote that his office would be unable to bring charges against Mr. Norcross because lawyers for the state attorney general had mishandled their investigation under two administrations before turning it over to his office in 2004.

Mr. Christie’s pointed critique startled many in the legal community because prosecutors rarely publicly criticize other law enforcement officials or explain their decisions not to prosecute.

While Mr. Christie did not release the letter to the press, his office did give it to two witnesses whose complaints against Mr. Norcross led to the investigation, and who have been aggressive in seeking news coverage about the case.

In his six-page letter, Mr. Christie chastised state officials for failing to use rudimentary investigative techniques like wiretaps and telephone records to corroborate their suspicions that Mr. Norcross and his political allies were engaged in a plot to deprive two political rivals of jobs and government contracts.

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

But John J. Farmer Jr., who was attorney general in 2001, called that suggestion ”utter nonsense.” Mr. Farmer said he was not personally involved in the tactical decisions, but asserted that the two assistant attorneys general who led the case were ”professional and 100 percent nonpolitical.”

”I totally reject any suggestion that any political figure was being protected by anyone in my office,” said Mr. Farmer, a political independent who worked for Govs. Christine Todd Whitman and Donald T. DiFrancesco, both Republicans.

Mr. Christie also said that former Attorney General Peter C. Harvey erred in 2003 when he agreed to allow two figures in the investigation to plead guilty to tax evasion charges, a deal Mr. Christie said was too lenient to yield meaningful cooperation.

But Mr. Harvey said the agreements were fair and helpful. ”These plea agreements were negotiated by experienced former federal prosecutors and helped lead to other convictions in this case,” he said.

The investigation and secret recordings of Mr. Norcross, a bank executive whose prowess as a fund-raiser has given him vast statewide influence, has offered a rare view of the inner workings of New Jersey’s tough, money-driven politics.

The case began in 2000, when John Gural, now the mayor of Palmyra but then a councilman, told the authorities that he had been pressured to fire the town solicitor, Ted Rosenberg, who had opposed one of Mr. Norcross’s allies in a local political race.

Investigators from the state attorney general’s office asked Mr. Gural to wear a concealed recording device. He ended up taping more than 330 hours of conversations, many of them with local officials allied with Mr. Norcross. In some of those conversations, they threatened to withhold government contracts from Mr. Gural’s employer, a local engineering firm, unless he acquiesced.

Mr. Norcross was also caught on tape boasting about his influence with then-Gov. James E. McGreevey and then United States Senator Jon S. Corzine.

Mr. Norcross’s lawyer dismissed his client’s taped comments as idle boasts, and said that Mr. Christie’s letter was proof that no crime had been committed.

Mr. Rosenberg said on Thursday that Mr. Christie, who has been mentioned as a candidate for governor himself, might have released the letter to protect his image as an ardent corruption buster.

”Chris Christie is first and foremost a political animal,” Mr. Rosenberg said. ”He gave us the letter and didn’t say anything about keeping it private, so of course we gave it to the media. The way he handled this he was freed of any responsibility for letting George Norcross get off of the hook.”

But in an interview on Thursday, Mr. Christie said he was proud of his record. Since being appointed United States attorney in 2002, he said he had brought public corruption charges against nearly 100 people. He said he felt that the attorney general’s office deserved a detailed explanation of why he was not pursing charges, since Mr. Harvey publicly referred the case to him in 2003

Lautenberg calls for probe into allegations Christie used office for political gain

Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 7:10 am

TRENTON – U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg is calling for a federal investigation into allegations that Chris Christie, the Republican candidate for governor in New Jersey, used the office of U.S. attorney for political gain.

The call for a Justice Department investigation follows accusations that Christie politicized the office of the top federal prosecutor while serving there for seven years in the Bush administration. Lautenberg is asking the Justice Department to look into whether the U.S. attorney’s office aided Christie’s campaign after he resigned in December to run for governor.

Christie has been dogged for months by the allegations of inside politicking, which would violate Department of Justice policy and federal law.

The allegations against Christie reached a higher pitch Monday when The New York Times reported that a top aide in the prosecutor’s office, Michele Brown, may have tried to steer the timing of a large corruption bust to benefit Christie’s campaign and that she interceded to block potentially damaging travel records from being released.

“It is shocking to learn that a former deputy to Chris Christie was conducting a political campaign within the U.S. attorney’s Office,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “It was particularly distressing that this raw political agenda came into an office with a historic reputation for fair and unbiased dispensation of justice, and Ms. Brown went so far as to try to bring political campaign objectives into the planning of law enforcement actions.”

Christie denied the charges.

“There are a lot of presumptions being made that don’t have the facts to back them up,” Christie said Monday.

“The question was did she give any aid to my campaign, and the answer is ‘no.’ As to the specific questions that were raised in the entire story, I’ll take Michele’s word for it, it looks like she said in the story that the allegations were ‘outrageous’ and ‘inaccurate.”‘

Brown declined to comment when reached Tuesday.

Christie mounted a strong challenge to incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, but has seen his lead evaporate as Democrats have hounded him on a signature issue – government ethics. Polls now show the race deadlocked with two weeks to go.

Corzine, like Lautenberg, said it appears that there were efforts within the U.S. Attorney’s office, even after Christie left, to advance his political career.

“If I were unkind, I would say it was a branch office of the campaign,” Corzine said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Corzine said there were earlier examples, too: He said issuing a subpoena to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez two months before his 2006 election was a political act.

Christie earlier acknowledged having conversations with Bush strategist Karl Rove about a possible run for governor, which may have violated a law restricting political activity by federal employees.

Unnamed federal law enforcement officials told The Times that Brown, who had borrowed $46,000 from Christie to settle credit card debt in 2007, yielded her influence inside the U.S. attorney’s office to aid Christie’s election bid.

The sources said Brown was the lone voice within the prosecutor’s office arguing for more than 40 people targeted in a corruption and money-laundering case be arrested before July 1 so that Christie could reap the credit. The sources also said she took over a request by the Corzine campaign for public records from Christie’s tenure, including travel records for him and Brown.

The release of those records showed Christie and Brown stayed at some of the country’s most upscale hotels. The tab to taxpayers occasionally exceeded $400 per night.

Brown resigned in August after news of the loan – and her ongoing financial relationship with Christie – emerged. She took a job with a Mooristown law firm that had represented one of the medical manufacturing companies Christie had investigated for medical fraud.

On Tuesday, Christie said acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra decided when to bring cases, not Brown.

Marra declined to comment, as did U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman Michael Drewniak.

Christie faults N.J. on probe of JCA

POSTED: January 26, 2006


New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor has offered a scathing critique of the way the state Attorney General’s Office handled a political corruption investigation that included secretly recorded conversations with South Jersey Democratic Party kingpin George E. Norcross III.

Alluding to the “protection of political figures and the manipulation of evidence,” U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said the state had botched its four-year probe of JCA Associates, a now-defunct engineering firm with ties to Norcross.

But after a 10-month review of the case, Christie said, his office will not take up the investigation into allegations of bribery and extortion. In essence, he said the Attorney General’s Office had so muddied the waters that “it would be inappropriate to initiate a federal prosecution.”

Christie’s comments were contained in a letter sent Tuesday to acting New Jersey Attorney General Nancy Kaplan, who took over after Peter Harvey stepped down this month.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said that the letter was being reviewed and that he would not comment.

Christie said the state’s probe, which began in December 2000, “was materially hampered by poor oversight, inexplicable strategic decisions, and a failure to fully develop potential evidence.”

His comments were aimed at the offices of former Attorneys General John Farmer, a Republican, and David Samson and Harvey, both Democrats.

Some of Christie’s harshest criticism was directed at the way Farmer’s office handled the early stages of the investigation. Like Farmer, Christie is a Republican appointee.

He said the “integrity of the investigation” was undermined by the office’s “illogical approach” to the probe, which lent itself “to a number of damaging inferences, including the protection of political figures and the manipulation of evidence.”

The JCA case, which resulted in minor tax charges against three JCA officials, has been a hot-button item in political and governmental circles for five years.

Norcross has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his name has been consistently tied to the probe. He has insisted that the allegations of corruption are without foundation and part of a ploy by two disgruntled political opponents, Palmyra Mayor John Gural and Moorestown lawyer Ted Rosenberg, to discredit him.

William Tambussi, a lawyer for Norcross, said yesterday that Christie’s assessment reinforced that position.

“Christie had ample opportunity to say that a crime had been committed, and he did not,” said Tambussi, who said the federal prosecutor instead had detailed an “unholy alliance between state investigators and Rosenberg and Gural . . . to get George Norcross at any and all costs.”

Among other things, Christie referred to a “conflicted relationship” that blurred the roles of Gural and Rosenberg, who were “initially treated as investigative partners” rather than witnesses.

The case included secretly recorded conversations that Gural made for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice between December 2000 and February 2001, after he alleged that JCA officials had pressured him not to reappoint Rosenberg as solicitor in Palmyra.

Gural was a JCA employee. Rosenberg had fallen out of favor with Norcross, and Gural alleged that his bosses at JCA, in currying favor with Norcross to steer government contracts their way, wanted to scuttle Rosenberg’s reappointment.

In a statement yesterday, Rosenberg and Gural said Christie’s findings “in no way exonerate the culpable parties.”

“The bottom line is that once again in New Jersey politically connected individuals have escaped punishment . . . with the complicity of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.”

In his six-page letter, Christie detailed shortcomings in prosecutors and investigators.

Among other things, he pointed out that they “never sought a court-ordered wiretap,” even though the alleged conspiracy being investigated “was executed primarily over the telephone.”

He said Gural had been encouraged to record many meaningless conversations with “innocent third parties.” Yet, he said, when Gural offered to record conversations at “a political function” with “individuals directly associated with the case,” he was denied permission because of the risk of recording innocent third parties.

Finally, Christie blasted an agreement, negotiated in 2003 by Harvey’s office, that promised JCA president Mark Neisser, director of marketing Henry Chudzinski, and chief financial officer William Vukoder probation in exchange for their cooperation and guilty pleas to minor tax offenses unrelated to the Palmyra allegations.

Christie said the Attorney General’s Office had approved these “charitable agreements before the defendants had provided any information regarding the full scope of their criminal activity or any information about potential coconspirators.”

“Not surprisingly,” he added, the defendants then “provided no valuable information.”

Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or

Inquirer staff writer Jennifer Moroz contributed to this article.

U.S. to probe missing Norcross video

The state said it did not know the fate of the secret recording. Gubernatorial candidates urged an investigation

POSTED: July 07, 2005


New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor took the unusual step yesterday of announcing that his office is investigating the disappearance of a secretly recorded videotape of George E. Norcross III, one of the state’s most powerful political figures.

The announcement was made after the state’s principal gubernatorial candidates, Republican Douglas Forrester and Democratic Sen. Jon S. Corzine, called on U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie to determine how the tape disappeared and who in the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office was responsible.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is fully investigating this matter,” Christie said in a statement late yesterday afternoon. “Therefore, we have no further comment.”

The videotape of Norcross and his attorney meeting with a top state prosecutor was made in July 2001 while the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice was involved in a political corruption investigation of JCA Associates Inc., a Moorestown engineering firm.

The way the Attorney General’s Office handled the JCA probe is emerging as a key issue in the gubernatorial race. Both candidates have spoken out on it.

Yesterday was the first time Christie commented publicly. His office, however, has been gathering information for months.

It recently obtained a court “share order” that allowed state authorities to turn over all material gathered in the two-year probe, including transcripts of grand-jury testimony, according to individuals familiar with the investigation.

The FBI also has begun interviewing individuals and has been reviewing hundreds of hours of conversations secretly taped by state investigators.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said yesterday that the state welcomed federal involvement. John R. Hagerty also said his office would ask the state’s new Office of Government Integrity to conduct an independent examination.

“We welcome any outside review,” Hagerty said.

Yesterday’s political outcry came after state authorities admitted in court papers filed Friday that the hourlong video of Norcross, his lawyer Michael Critchley, and Prosecutor Anthony J. Zarrillo Jr. had disappeared or been destroyed.

At a court hearing a month ago, state authorities insisted that the meeting had not been videotaped and that media reports of the existence of a tape were in error.

“This reeks of Watergate-like corruption,” Forrester said in a letter to Christie. “We need an independent investigation to get the truth before more tapes are lost or altered.”

Forrester called on Corzine to “demonstrate his independence from George Norcross” by joining in asking for a federal probe.

Within hours, Corzine did just that, releasing a letter he sent to Christie asking for “a full and thorough investigation to determine whether any laws were violated and to ascertain why the correct information was not initially provided with regard to the existence of the videotape.”

As a result of civil litigation, the Attorney General’s Office has already released dozens of tapes from the JCA investigation. But until it was reported in The Inquirer, the office never disclosed that Norcross had met with a top prosecutor and that authorities had secretly audiotaped and videotaped that session.

At that meeting, Norcross urged Zarrillo to discontinue the JCA investigation, contending the allegations were politically motivated.

After the report of the meeting, the Attorney General’s Office released an audiotape of the session but denied that the meeting had been videotaped.

Last month, in fact, a state investigator and a state prosecutor told a state Superior Court judge that there was no videotape. After Judge John A. Sweeney asked for further proof, the prosecutor and two investigators reversed the state’s position, acknowledging that a videotape had been made. They claimed, however, that it had been misplaced or inadvertently destroyed.

Norcross has never been charged with a crime and has insisted that the investigation was sparked by two disgruntled political opponents, Palmyra Mayor John Gural and lawyer Ted Rosenberg.

Gural and Rosenberg contend that the Attorney General’s Office failed to diligently pursue a probe into bribery and influence peddling.

Three JCA executives pleaded guilty to minor tax charges.

“Long before this became a political football, George Norcross called for the release of these tapes,” William Tambussi, another Norcross lawyer, said yesterday. “Now he is suffering the brunt of this comedy of errors.”

Rosenberg said yesterday that he intended to file a motion in Superior Court, where the tape issue is being argued, asking that the Attorney General’s Office be held in contempt for misleading the court about the existence of the videotape.

In his filing, Rosenberg said he will ask for permission to depose all the Attorney General’s Office personnel involved in the handling of the videotape in an attempt to determine whether it exists within the Division of Criminal Justice.

Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or

In Camden, Another Mayor Is Indicted on Corruption Charges

CAMDEN, N.J., March 30— The ills of this desperate city deepened today with the indictment of its mayor, Milton Milan, on 19 charges of corruption, ranging from laundering drug money and taking bribes from organized crime leaders to stealing his own computer, collecting the insurance and then selling it to a naive office volunteer for three times its worth.

Mr. Milan, who was elected in 1997, is the third Camden mayor to be indicted in the last 20 years. He was ensnared in a rolling investigation into drug dealing and official corruption that federal officials have conducted for more than a year. As one defendant after another pointed the finger at Mr. Milan, the expectation grew that he would one day follow them into the dock.

This morning, trailing a parade of Cabinet members, other city officials and friends, the mayor walked the two blocks from City Hall to the new federal courthouse on Cooper Street to surrender to a United States marshal. He was handcuffed, and entered a plea of not guilty. After he was released on $150,000 bail, Mr. Milan was jaunty at a news conference on the courthouse steps in which he said the charges against him were unfounded and insisted that he would not step down.

”I’m a fighter; I’ve always been a fighter,” said Mr. Milan, 37, who was wearing a Camden Library team jacket. ”And just because you get hit once and fall down doesn’t mean I’m not going to get up and keep fighting.”

Later, Robert J. Cleary, the United States attorney for New Jersey, was just as combative. ”The mayor designed his pay-for-play system for his own selfish benefit, and the rest of the public be damned,” Mr. Cleary read from a statement that touched on elements of the indictment. ”He put the office of mayor in this city up for sale, and anything you wanted, you could buy from him. You want a contract? Buy him a car. You want to get paid faster? Install windows in his house. You want a job? Bribe the mayor.”

The maximum penalties for all 19 counts add up to 119 years in prison, said Renee M. Bumb, the assistant United States attorney and a lead prosecutor in the investigation of Mr. Milan. If convicted, the mayor could also face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

In all, 16 local men have been convicted or pleaded guilty to narcotics distribution in the federal investigation. In addition, the city’s former municipal prosecutor, Joseph S. Caruso, has admitted to conspiring with Mr. Milan to solicit a $5,000 campaign contribution from the public defender, an action that forms one of the counts in today’s indictment. And Mr. Milan’s business partner in the Atlas Construction Company, Gholam Joseph Darakshan, was indicted two weeks on charges that he laundered drug money with the mayor.

The mayor has his supporters on the City Council, but this afternoon several Council members said they would try to seek enough votes to force Mr. Milan to step down. Legally, he can remain in office unless he is convicted.

Mr. Milan’s indictment is one more blow to Camden, the poorest city in New Jersey. With most of its jobs and money having fled to suburbs like Cherry Hill in the last 40 years, the city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy last summer and required a state financial rescue, along with spending controls. Many city police functions have been taken over by state troopers, and Camden’s failing schools were recently investigated by state officials, who urged financial and educational reforms.

Mr. Milan’s predecessor, Arnold B. Webster, pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges in 1998 and was sentenced last August to six months’ house arrest and three years’ probation. An earlier mayor, Angelo J. Errichetti, was convicted of federal corruption charges and went to prison in 1981.

Mr. Milan, the city’s first Hispanic mayor, rose from poverty in Camden to start his own construction company. He ran as an outsider for City Council and, after being embraced by the Camden County Democratic Party, was elected mayor.

His indictment was handed up by a grand jury on Wednesday, and an arrest warrant was issued this morning. The crimes he is accused of committing either before or after he became mayor fall into six broad categories: fraud, accepting bribes, attempted extortion, wire and mail fraud, illegal currency transactions and money laundering. And perhaps the most serious of the charges — one that Mr. Cleary hammered at a news conference — was the accusation that the mayor was involved in taking bribes from associates of the Philadelphia organized crime boss Ralph Natale.

Although today’s indictment was voluminous, it did not mention any of the accusations of drug dealing by the mayor that several of the convicted dealers had made from the stand. And although Mr. Milan is accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash and services, the federal document paints a picture of a corrupt mayor with small-bore ambitions to skim a dollar here and a dollar there — a trip to Florida with his girlfriend, some free carpet for his home — rather than a man bent on a grand criminal scheme.

The indictment charges that Mr. Milan began accepting bribes from an unnamed associate of Mr. Natale as early as March 1996. In exchange, it alleges, Mr. Milan helped crime figures win city contracts that directly benefited Mr. Natale.

In all, Mr. Milan took more than $30,000 from the Philadelphia mobster’s organization by trying to funnel city business to Cosa Nostra operatives, the indictment alleges. Mr. Natale is in prison on a narcotics conspiracy conviction, and newspaper reports have said he is cooperating with federal agents in their Camden investigation.

For example, the indictment alleges that on Oct. 30, 1997, the mayor met in his office with a Natale associate, called an unindicted co-conspirator by federal officials, to discuss the associate’s desire to win a contract to be a collector of fines and other charges by the Camden Municipal Court. When the city’s chief judge later objected to the contract, the mayor wrote a letter asking him to reconsider, and a week later the Natale associate, called Individual No. 2 in the indictment, paid $1,433 for the mayor’s Florida vacation, the indictment alleges.

The indictment also says that the mayor accepted two vehicles from a towing operator with a contract with the city, and that a second contractor seeking city work performed a garage demolition worth $4,000 and installed $700 worth of carpet in the mayor’s home.

A third contractor is said to have installed 25 new windows in the mayor’s North Camden home for the cost of materials only, in exchange for getting speedier payment from the Camden Housing Services Department. In another count, a city heating and air-conditioning contractor is said to have installed a $3,346 central air-conditioning system in the mayor’s home.

The money-laundering charge accuses Mr. Milan of borrowing $65,000 in drug money and then, with his partner Mr. Darakshan, parceling the money out to numerous friends to evade the $10,000 federal threshold for reporting cash deposits. The friends then wrote checks in the amount given them to Atlas Contracting, and the money was used as a surety deposit on a home-building project, the indictment says.

The mayor collected $4,743 in insurance for a staged theft at the Atlas Construction office in 1997, the indictment charges. He then sold one of the ”stolen” computers, worth $500, to a mayoral intern for $1,500, the United States attorney said.

”These crimes, described in painstaking detail, show a mayor more interested in serving himself than serving the people of Camden,” Mr. Cleary said in a statement, adding later, ”We believe this indictment is an important step forward for Camden.”

Photo: Mayor Milton Milan of Camden, N.J., on his motorcycle, said the charges against him were unfounded. (Associated Press)

Former New Jersey mob boss takes witness stand against Camden mayor

Published: Tuesday, November 21, 2000


CAMDEN, N.J. {AP} Mob boss Ralph Natale used code names when he talked on the telephone. Whenever he discussed Mafia business at his apartment, he would crank up the TV or the radio. At his “office” a restaurant at a racetrack he would whisper or take associates for a walk down the hall. “And I was right, because I’m sitting here,” he said earlier this month, eliciting chuckles from a standing-room-only crowd in the federal courtroom where he testified for the government in the corruption trial of Camden Mayor Milton Milan.

The former boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey mob has become the highest-ranking American Mafia figure ever to turn government witness.

Natale began cooperating with prosecutors in 1999 after being charged with running a methamphetamine ring. Apparently, Natale wasn’t paranoid enough: His telephone had been tapped, his kitchen, TV room and balcony were bugged, and, worst of all, a top associate had worn a wire and recorded hundreds of conversations with Natale and other mob figures.

Milan’s trial is the first in which Natale testified. He is expected to take the stand in a series of trials that could put organized crime figures from Philadelphia to Boston behind bars.

During four days on the stand, Natale, 65, pleasantly explained the workings of the underworld to jurors and a gallery that included mob wives and girlfriends, FBI agents, and attorneys of former associates.

Natale was a mix of braggadocio and charm full of hubris one moment, contrition the next as he detailed his efforts to tuck the mayor of New Jersey’s poorest city into his pocket.

A fit-looking figure with a shaved head, a gray goatee and crisp, tailored suits, Natale sometimes bragged about his prestige and position, and told of how his underlings needed his approval before acting.

In a 1996 conversation recorded by the FBI at his apartment in Pennsauken, a city across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Natale talked about beating up some guy “cause he answered me in a tone that he wasn’t supposed to be doing.”

Natale told of how friends and associates would keep their distance from him to avoid overhearing any conversations. “When I always talk to anyone, being the boss of the Mafia, they would never stand too close to me,” he said. “They would always stand 5 or 6 feet away.”

Natale detailed for jurors how, through an intermediary, he gave $30,000 to $50,000 to Milan to steer city contracts to mob-backed businesses. The bagman, Daniel Daidone, allegedly gave the money to Milan in $100 bills in white envelopes.

“I wouldn’t insult the man by giving him 20s,” Natale said.

Natale said he wanted Milan to be beholden to him. “I wanted him to feel he had to rely on me and nobody else,” Natale said. “If he had a headache, I would send him an aspirin.”

Under cross-examination by one of Milan’s lawyers, Natale admitted involvement in nearly a dozen murders committed as retaliation, during battles for control or simply to save face.

“Failure to pay homage to you was a death sentence, correct?” asked Carlos A. Martir Jr.

“Correct,” Natale answered.

The defense failed to rattle him. When pressed to remember a date, he said with a shrug and a grin, “If I thought I was going to be up here, I would have marked it down.”

Milan, 38, is accused of taking payoffs from mob figures and others seeking contracts or favorable treatment, and laundering drug mon Prosecutors are still presenting their case.

The mayor has denied the allegations and has said all along that the government “made a deal with the devil.” After Natale took the stand, Milan said: “The devil himself came up to testify.”

Natale pleaded guilty in May to murder, attempted murder, extortion, gambling and drug trafficking. Prosecutors have said he would be spared the death penalty. He could get up to life in prison instead.

He is expected to testify next year against his reputed handpicked successor as mob boss, Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, whose lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., was unimpressed with Natale as a witness.

Jacobs gave the government credit for “cleaning up” Natale, but called his testimony “fiction.”

“It’s theater,” he said. “The government has dressed him up, taught him to enunciate, glossed over his criminal background and his propensity for violence. None of that means he’s telling the truth.”

Natale said it was the looks on his family members’ faces when he went to court on the methamphetmaine charges a few years ago that made him decide to give up his life of crime.

“I found out, truly, what I did to them, and right then and there, I did enough for La Cosa Nostra,” he said. “No more. I said, ‘If there’s any life left for me, I’ll give it to that family. No more La Cosa Nostra.”‘

Original Source:

“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.” – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

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