Why corruption thrives in N.J.

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Why corruption thrives in N.J.
Associated Press Writer
April 26, 2008

You’d think a six-year streak of corruption convictions by federal prosecutors would be a powerful deterrent to New Jersey officials who consider abusing their power for personal gain.

But the Garden State outpaced its neighbors in federal corruption arrests last year, and the state’s top prosecutor expects just as many officials collared this year.

Since 2002, 128 public employees in New Jersey have been convicted on federal corruption charges. About a third of those were elected officials, including state lawmakers, mayors and town council members.

Those numbers back up New Jersey’s reputation as a corruption hotbed, fueled by TV shows like “The Sopranos.” Experts say the state’s labyrinth of local boards, commissions and councils has created fiefdoms where fraud and abuse flourish.

Even high-profile corruption cases like this month’s conviction of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James won’t end the culture of corruption rooted in many levels of New Jersey government, according to U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie.

“In parts of the state, there have been decades and decades of corruption through generations of public leaders,” Christie told The Associated Press. “I don’t think you’re ever going to end it.”

Since taking office as the state’s top federal prosecutor in 2002, Christie hasn’t lost a corruption case. But he said putting corrupt politicians behind bars is only part of the solution _ to make a measurable dent in the political culture, citizens must hold their elected officials accountable.

“What we’ve been able to do over the past six and a half years is shine a really bright light on the problem,” he said.

Making his task tougher is the shape of New Jersey government itself. Political experts say political power is scattered among the state’s 21 counties, 566 municipalities and 616 school districts, giving corruption more pockets in which to hide.

“There’s an inordinate number of boards, commissions and regulatory authorities,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “The sheer complexity of New Jersey’s municipal government makes for an atmosphere where it’s much more difficult to identify corruption.”

In 2007, corruption arrests in New Jersey’s single federal district outpaced New York’s four combined districts and Pennsylvania’s three. Compared to 44 federal corruption charges in New Jersey last year, federal prosecutors charged 23 public officials in Pennsylvania and 36 in New York.

U.S. attorney’s offices in Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut each reported a dozen or fewer public employees facing corruption charges last year.

Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, a Chicago-based public watchdog organization, said three states, New Jersey, Illinois, and Louisiana, stand out as the nation’s corruption capitals.

“It’s always the same trifecta,” Stewart said. “It’s become part of the political culture _ part of the flavor of the state.”

New Jersey’s federal corruption arrests in 2007 included:

_ Six former mayors, including James, who was convicted of steering cut-rate city land to a one-time mistress.

_ Assemblymen Alfred Steele and Mims Hackett, Jr., charged with trading public influence for bribes. Steele pleaded guilty in October. Hackett has pleaded not guilty.

_ State Sen. Wayne Bryant, charged with steering millions to a medical school in exchange for a no-work job worth tens of thousands of dollars every year. He has pleaded not guilty.

_ Five Pleasantville school board members convicted of steering public contracts in return for bribes.

Of New Jersey’s 150 public employees facing federal corruption charges since 2002, 49 held elected office, including 18 mayors, 15 councilmen and six state lawmakers. All but 20 defendants pending trial were convicted by plea or by jury. Two officials charged in 2005 died before they were tried, according to an AP analysis of U.S. attorney arrest announcements.

The corruption cases ranged from Motor Vehicle Commission employees selling fraudulent licenses to politicians peddling their influence for kickbacks.

The elected officials included 28 Democrats and 16 Republicans, but Christie _ a former top Republican fundraiser appointed by President Bush _ insists his prosecutions are not influenced by his political affiliation.

“If we were just going after people based on their political party, then where is the line of innocent people who were acquitted?” Christie asked. He said the bigger share of Democratic defendants results naturally from prosecuting in a state with a Democratic majority.

Democrats control both houses of the New Jersey Legislature, the governor’s office and both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. Registered Democrats in the state outnumber registered Republicans by a 3-to-2 margin.

Few of Christie’s critics question his record, but some point to a lucrative contract awarded to his former boss as a sign that the U.S. attorney isn’t above the backroom politics he prosecutes.

Last fall Christie picked former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s legal firm to monitor an orthopedics manufacturer that settled a federal lawsuit. Democrats say Ashcroft’s firm wasn’t qualified for the job, which was worth an estimated $27 million.

“I applaud the work Christie does as prosecutor, but the bottom line is: He doesn’t get a free pass,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J. “Contracts like this invite favoritism and backroom politics _ the very thing he is fighting against.”

Christie has denied any conflict of interest in the decision and said the former attorney general and his firm were qualified for the monitoring work.

Last month, the Justice Department began requiring that contracts for federal monitoring of corporations

  1. Just a word of warning to all. The myth that corruption exists in new jersey because there is alot of towns is just being fostered by those that want to consolidate more power and corruption for themselves, i.e., the county and state politicians. We see corruption from the top down, not the bottom up in this state. All positions of power are politically appointed here. The attorney general/judges/prosecutors etc., are determined by the ruling party bosses, not the electorate. All eligible candidates for election are dictated by the party bosses, not the elctorate. Since this is a one party state it stands to reason that the corruption is endemic in one party politics. Now that wheeling has been mandated to be hidden in local political organizations, the corruption that is necessary to maintain control in this one party states follows it into the local elections. Hence, we have party moles popping up in all local elections to eviscerate any local control. This will now bring the statewide corruption firm roots in local politics. All pay to play participants on the county and state level will now be ascending into local areas to feed off of the contracts available and use the idea of efficiencies of consolidated services to cement foreign control over local concerns such as sewerage/water/school contracts. They’ll get fatter and more corrupt while we, the residents, continue to pay through the nose for things we have given up control over. If it looks too good to be true, it is.

  2. its in all bizz,do you live under a rock.go smoke a joint would you.come on.

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