Saturday, February 15, 2014

New Jersey Updates - not content with dragging the still warm corpse of Chris Christie around , the NJ Legislature decides the Sea of Japan needs a name upgrade ..... Shockingly , Japan is not amused ! A roundup of recent news items on Bridge Gate and assorted scandals .....

(  something must be in the water..... )

New Jersey considers bill to rename Sea of Japan. Wait… what?


New Jersey has a lot on its plate lately, whether it’s the arguments over their Governor’s bridge related activities or a series of winter storms paralyzing sections of the state. The legislature is busy tackling one pressing issue after another, and now they’re working on …renaming the Sea of Japan?
A group of local politicians in New Jersey would like to rewrite maps of Asia.
On Monday, five New Jersey Democrats introduced a bill that would rename the sea between Japan and the Korean peninsula.
Currently, the sea is known as the Sea of Japan. But, according to the Star-Ledger newspaper, the bill would require “the state and all its political subdivisions, ‘to the extent practicable’” to refer to the body of water as both the “East Sea” and the “Sea of Japan.” Textbooks in New Jersey schools would have to adopt the new names starting in 2016.
Did the Garden State legalize recreational pot use and I just missed the story? The initiative was apparently pushed by a “large and politically active Korean-American community.” It seems that they find the name racist, offensive or something of that sort. But it seems to skip over the question of exactly how the New Jersey legislature determined that it had the authority to rename a body of water on the opposite side of the planet. Frankly, I’m not sure they’d have the duly vested power to rename Barnegat Bay. I don’t even know if there’s any sort of recognized process to do this at all, since most of the names of bodies of open salt water have been around since the earliest days of sailing ships.
What’s possibly more amazing is that they actually got Japan to respond to the measure.
According to Kyodo News International, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga discussed the bill at a press conference Thursday.
“It’s extremely regrettable,” Suga said. “We’ll take various steps in response through diplomatic channels while seeking a correct understanding of the name of the Sea of Japan in the international community.”
Let’s put the Russians on notice. They’ve been getting away with having “the Black Sea” for far too long now. It’s clearly racist. New Jersey should rename it the Sea of Equal Opportunity at their next legislative meeting.

Japanese official outraged over proposed NJ bill changing reference to Sea of Japan, report says

Japan and South Korea disagree about what to call the body of water between them. (Google Maps)
Naomi Nix/The Star-LedgerBy Naomi Nix/The Star-Ledger 
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on February 13, 2014 at 9:12 PM, updated February 14, 2014 at 10:45 AM

TRENTON — It appears New Jersey legislators may have stepped into an transcontinental dispute.

Lawmakers in Trenton introduced a bill earlier this week that would require state officials to refer to the body of water between the Korean peninsula and Japan as the "East Sea" as opposed to the "Sea of Japan."

But the name of that stretch of water has been in dispute here and abroad.
In Japan, it is called the Sea of Japan and in South Korea it known as the East Sea, the BBC reports.

South Korea rejects the former name because it became popular when Japan controlled Korea as a colony, the BBC report said. The two countries also disagree about who owns a group of lands in the middle of the, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, BBC said.

The bill's sponsors plan to amend the bill or submit a new one that includes both names, said Nick Mammano, cheif of staff to Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen).
Earlier this month, Virginia's house of delegates gave preliminary approval to a bill requiring its school textbooks to include both the Korean name and the Japanese name for the stretch of water, according to the Washington Post.

The bill drew such intense scrutiny abroad that the Japanese government hired a lobbying firm to advocate against the legislation, according to NPR.
New Jersey's bill has not gone unnoticed in Japan.

"It's extremely regrettable," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Kyodo News International. Suga said the Sea of Japan has been formally recognized by the international community, including the U.S. federal government.

Chris Christie and Bridge Gate news items.....

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board 
on February 20, 2014 at 7:12 PM, updated February 20, 2014 at 9:31 PM
Wednesday’s apology by Port Authority Chairman David Samson, for the agency’s role in the George Washington Bridge entry lane closures, rings hollow. He hit bottom when he called the weeklong traffic bomb his co-workers dropped on Fort Lee last September an “inconvenience.” Mea culpa came five months too late.

Worse still, Samson’s half-hearted attempt at remorse ignored his own failures as head of this hopelessly broken agency — a list of ethical lapses, broken promises and business-as-usual, with new examples breaking by the day.
Samson must step down. His resignation would mark a strong first step in an overdue overhaul of the entire Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Heading the Port Authority isn’t Samson’s only job. He’s also a partner in the powerful Wolff & Samson law firm that has moved heavily into the government lobbying business since Samson’s pal, Chris Christie, was elected governor. It was Christie who appointed Samson, a former state attorney general, to the Port Authority’s top job.
Samson’s jobs are supposed to be separate, but the media’s Bridge­gate spotlight has exposed several instances when his Port Authority role overlapped with the interests of his law firm’s clients — creating clear conflicts of interest. For instance:

• Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer accused the Christie administration of threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t approve a real estate development represented by Samson’s firm. Under Samson, the Port Authority paid $75,000 for a land-use study that recommended the development plan proposed by the Rockefeller Group — a Wolff & Samson client at the time. Zimmer’s charge was credible enough to attract an investigation by the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

• In March 2012, Samson voted for the $256 million reconstruction of the Harrison PATH station just months after a builder, also a Wolff & Samson client, proposed a plan to refurbish a nearby warehouse into luxury apartments.

ed0221samsonbox.jpgView full size 
• A month earlier, the Port Authority voted to give NJ Transit — yet another client of his firm — a 49-year, $1-a-year lease on a North Bergen park-and-ride lot. NJ Transit had been leasing the lot from the Port Authority for $900,000 a year. Despite earlier reports that he had voted for the deal, the Port Authority says Samson recused himself from the North Bergen vote.

Samson appears to treat his Port Authority appointment as an extension of his legal career.
Or is it just coincidence that his firm’s lobbying revenue — just $42,000 the year before Christie was elected governor and hired Samson — exploded to annual revenues of more than $1 million shortly afterward ?

And then there’s that “too little, too late” apology.

When the Port Authority’s executive director, Patrick Foye — an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — found out about bridge-related gridlock in Fort Lee, he was outraged. He ordered all lanes immediately reopened and demanded an investigation.
Samson’s reaction? He was ticked off, too — not at his underlings for orchestrating the dangerous stunt, but at Foye for meddling in the Jersey crowd’s affairs. Instead of matching Foye’s outrage, Samson attacked Foye for talking to reporters. That kind of political sniping, from the Port Authority’s highest office, demands an apology all its own, to Foye and all of New Jersey.

Samson needs to go. Certainly, he’s not the source of all that ails the Port Authority, but he is the guy in charge. Beyond Bridge­gate, his tenure as the Port Authority’s chair has been a failure. Despite promises of transparency and reform, the agency remains a dysfunctional patronage pit. Samson’s conflicts of interest are well-documented, and his resignation would be a fitting first step toward fixing a troubled agency.

TRENTON — The legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closings will take Gov. Chris Christie’s two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and his former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, to court to enforce its subpoenas, a source told The Star-Ledger today.
The joint committee will seek an order from a judge forcing Stepien and Kelly to comply with the subpoenas, which were issued last month and requested records related to the September closings, according to the source, who was not authorized to discuss the action and requested anonymity.
Attorneys for Stepien and Kelly reiterated today — the final deadline set by the committee for the pair to respond — that they would not turn over any records for a host of reasons, most notably that it would violate their clients’ Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"I can think of no lawful way the committee can obtain documents responsive to its subpoena from Mr. Stepien," his attorney, Kevin Marino, wrote in a letter to the committee’s attorney, Reid Schar. "Stated simply, his principled objections to the subpoena raise significant legal issues that are no less valid because they here arise in the context of a politically-charged investigation."
Marino also suggested "that if the committee persists in its refusal to withdraw the subpoena, we confer on an orderly process and schedule for seeking a judicial determination as to the validity of those objections."
An attorney for Kelly, Michael Critchley, said in a statement, "The subpoena as drafted in my opinion is legally defective and I will not comply, respectfully."
The committee voted last week to reject the objections as invalid and empower Schar to take any necessary steps to enforce the subpoenas. Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), said after the vote that any court action would probably be filed in state Superior Court.
Co-chairmen Wisniewski and Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said in a joint statement today that they would continue efforts to enforce the subpoenas, but they declined to discuss specifics. A spokesman for the joint committee declined comment on whether it would seek a court order.
Christie fired Kelly last month after e-mails turned over to the committee revealed she was involved in the decision to close the lanes. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," she wrote to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
At the same time, Christie cut ties with Stepien — who was a consultant for the Republican Governors Association and slated to become chairman of the state Republican Party — because of derisive language used in emails and texts to describe the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich.
The committee did make headway today on receiving uncensored records from Wildstein, the former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority who has been blamed for giving the order to close the lanes, which caused four days of massive traffic jams in Fort Lee.
Wisniewski said the records revealed much of what was blacked out by Wildstein’s attorney, Alan Zegas, before hundreds of documents were originally turned over to the panel in December. He said Schar met with Zegas and reviewed the uncensored material privately. Most of the information was irrelevant, he said, but some items "you could make an argument should be turned over." He declined to discuss specifics.
"According to our counsel, there are a couple things that you could argue should be included, no smoking guns, no big revelations, no ah-ha moments," Wisniewski said. "But pieces of conversation that probably ought to be part of the record."
He said Schar has requested the relevant information from Zegas, but that the unredacted material has not yet been released to the full committee pending Zegas’ response. Zegas today said the matter was still under discussion.
"I’m optimistic we’ll get something out of this," Wisniewski said.

TRENTON — The attorney for the state legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal has received uncensored records from David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official at the center of the lane closings.
A co-chairman of the committee, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), said the records revealed much of what was blacked out by Wildstein's attorney, Alan Zegas, before hundreds of documents were originally turned over to the panel in December.
Wisniewski said the committee's attorney, Reid Schar, met with Zegas and reviewed the uncensored material privately. Most of the information was determined to be irrelevant, he said, but some items "you could make an argument should be turned over."
"According to our counsel, there are a couple things that you could argue should be included, no smoking guns, no big revelations, no ah-ha moments," Wisniewski said. "But pieces of conversation that probably ought to be part of the record."
He said Schar has requested the relevant information from Zegas. The unredacted material has not yet been released to the full committee pending Zegas' response. Zegas did not immediately return a request for comment.
"I'm optimistic we'll get something out of this," Wisniewski said.
He said he was unsure when the new information might be released to the public, adding that no hearings or meetings had been scheduled for this week. He declined to discuss the specifics of the unredacted material.

Chris Christie's office says he never talked to PAPD lieutenant about GWB lane closures

The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has ordered an internal police probe into the conduct of department members during September's George Washington Bridge lane closures. Gov. Chris Christie's office says the governor spoke about the lane closures with a PAPD lieutenant he knows personally, who was reported to have chauffeured a Christie-backed official through Fort Lee's clogged streets on the first day of the closures. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Steve Strunsky/The Star-LedgerBy Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger 
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on February 17, 2014 at 2:21 PM, updated February 17, 2014 at 6:17 PM
Gov. Chris Christie's office says he never spoke about September's George Washington Bridge lane closures with a Port Authority Police lieutenant he knows personally, and whose conduct during the closures is now the subject of an internal review.

Christie's office also said governor had never spoken about the closures to Lt. Thomas "Chip" Michaels' brother, Jeffrey Michaels, a Republican lobbyist and former GOP legislative aide.

"The governor has never had any conversations with either Jeff or Chip Michaels on this topic," Christie spokesman Colin Reed said in a statement this morning.

Christie's office was reacting to word that Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye had ordered the agency’s police chief to investigate the lieutenant's actions during the Sept. 9-13 closures.

"The Governor has never had any conversations with either Jeff or Chip Michaels on this topic."
A source close to the Port Authority Police Department told The Star-Ledger on Sunday that the probe will focus on reports that Michaels, a 15-year veteran of the department and a member of its GWB unit, chauffeured former Port Authority official David Wildstein through Fort Lee's traffic-congested streets on the first of four days of closures.

Wildstein is the former Christie-backed Port Authority official who ordered the closure of two of three local-access lanes from Fort Lee to the bridge. Wildstein, who resigned in December, was the first of several Port Authority and Christie administration officials to lose their jobs amid investigations by the state legislature, the U.S. Attorney's office, and the bi-state agency itself.

Michaels is from Livingston, where Christie and Wildstein grew up, and the lieutenant had coached the governor's son in a youth hockey league.

The probe was ordered by Foye following a report by MSNBC on Sunday that Michaels had driven Wildstein around Fort Lee, where streets were backed up for hours as a result of the local access bottleneck.

Neither the lieutenant nor his lobbyist brother could be reached.

The president of the Port Authority Police Lieutenants Benevolent Association union, Lt. Jeff Baumbach, said in a statement today that it would not be appropriate for his organization to comment.

Foye also ordered PAPD Chief Louis Koumoutsos to look into reports that officers told commuters that if they were unhappy about the traffic during the closures, they should complain to Fort Lee's mayor.

Among other suspected motives, the investigations are looking into whether the lanes were closed in retaliation for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's failure to endorse Christie for re-election. Christie has denied having any advance knowledge of the closures or knowledge of any retaliation scheme.

A lot of people are chattering about the New Republic's lengthy article critical of our governor.

Most of that chatter focuses on an illustration that shows Christie as Tony Soprano. You'll have to read it yourself to form an opinion.

As for me, I found the stuff about his many deals with top Democrats more interesting. I've been writing about how the governor has been paying more attention to Democrats than his fellow Republicans since before he was governor.

Here's a rather prescient piece I did on that just a couple of days after Christie won the 2009 governor's race.

In it, I noted a couple of things. One was that Christie had chosen as head of his transition team a guy who had also served on Jim McGreevey's transition team, David Samson.

Yes, that David Samson, the lawyer and Port Authority board chairman who's in the middle of every slick deal now in the news thanks to the Bridgegate revelations.
The headline on that piece was "Will This Be Chris Christie's First Term or Jim McGreevey's Second?"

"I'm not going to give Newark's money to Toms River." - one of Christie's first comments after winning the 2009 election.
From the very beginning, Christie's obsession with buddying up to Democrats was alarming. I noted that in 2009 Christie scored his biggest wins in Toms River and Brick Township. But after the Republican mayors of those and other towns asked him if he would deliver badly needed state aid to their towns, he replied "I’m not going to give Newark’s money to Toms River.’

In that vein, read this passage about how Christie treated his fellow Republicans last year:
As Election Day neared, you could be forgiven for mistaking Christie for a Democrat. State Republicans were frozen out; candidates were told not to include his name or picture on their literature. “We didn’t get the support,” says George Wagoner, a losing Assembly candidate.
Those observations by author Alec MacGillis are on the money. I think the article goes a bit overboard, though, in labeling as corruption a lot of stuff that qualifies as mere horse-trading.

But then you can't expect the New Republic to get all worked up about the fact that a guy who's been peddling himself as a conservative is not really all that conservative. That's my job.

But most of the debate about the piece focuses on that illustration showing Christie's face Photoshopped onto Tony Soprano's body. That's got a lot of politically correct types screaming about ethnic stereotyping. (Click here to read that and see the illustration.)

Not me, though. I despise political correctness and I vastly enjoy humor. My standard is: If it's funny, it's worth looking at.

And that's pretty funny.


Chris Christie
Photo Illustration by Jacqueline Mellow

TRENTON — Is the state legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal reaching too far with its latest batch of subpoenas ?

Republicans on the panel accused Democrats on Thursday of keeping them in the dark about the fact that the latest records they've subpoenaed concern issues beyond last year's controversial lane closings.

Last September, two of three local access lanes at the nation's busiest bridge in Fort Lee were shut down without announcement last September — a move that caused days of traffic jams. Democrats have accused members of Gov. Chris Christie's administration of orchestrating the plan in a case of political retribution. Christie has denied any knowledge of the closings until after they had occurred.

The 18 new subpoenas also look for information on the now-defunct ARC tunnel project and recent toll increases.

The subpoenas appeared with be within the panel's official mandate, which states that the committee can not only investigate the lane closures but also the Port Authority and any potential abuses of power by any state government officials.

Still, one member of the panel, Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), said the bridge probe should be completed before the committee dives into other issues.

Christie bridge scandal: No deaths, injuries from lane closure traffic, tapes show

A traffic jam deliberately orchestrated by members of Gov. Chris Christie's staff that caused days of gridlock in Fort Lee appeared not to lead to anyone's death or seriously compromise their medical care, according to a comprehensive review by The Associated Press. (John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger)
The Associated PressBy The Associated Press 
on February 13, 2014 at 5:35 PM, updated February 14, 2014 at 7:50 AM
FORT LEE — A traffic jam deliberately orchestrated by members of Gov. Chris Christie's staff that caused days of gridlock in Fort Lee appeared not to lead to anyone's death or seriously compromise their medical care, according to a comprehensive review by The Associated Press of five hours of emergency dispatch audio, interviews and dozens of pages of call logs.

The lack of life-or-death consequences reflects good fortune, not good planning. It would have been impossible for anyone responsible to have predicted that such exasperating traffic would not cause serious emergencies for police, firefighters and paramedics. But the AP's real-world findings could affect the political repercussions for Christie, a presumptive Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
The AP's review sought to identify any emergency situations within a roughly 5-mile radius of the bridge closings where a person's life or urgent medical care appeared to have been directly endangered by stalled response times attributable to the traffic jams — and whoever was responsible for them. The review doesn't suggest who was ultimately responsible for ordering the two lanes closed on the George Washington Bridge.

The 911 records, obtained over several weeks through public records requests, included reports of chest pains, traffic collisions, false fire alarms and a dead goose in a parking lot. Officials in Fort Lee, the epicenter of the serious traffic problems, have yet to release audio from radio traffic among emergency workers during the week of the lane closures, but the AP's review included the dispatch logs of 911 calls that would have been affected.

Christie has since apologized several times for the lane closures and said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by a former aide who called for the shutdown. Still, the Justice Department and New Jersey's legislature continue to investigate whether the gridlock was political retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, by the Christie administration. The mayor did not endorse Christie's re-election.

It could have been worse. The 911 calls and dispatch logs show that police and emergency medical workers warned of "total gridlock" and pleaded for patience responding to 911 calls around Fort Lee, where streets became a virtual parking lot last September after traffic was unexpectedly backed up leading into New York City.
"The George Washington Bridge is totally gridlocked," a first responder said just before 9 a.m. on Sept. 9, the first day of the lane shutdowns. A few minutes later, a 45-year-old man called to complain of chest pains and said he was resting comfortably on a couch until help could arrive.

"We'll do our best," said the dispatcher in nearby Edgewater. The dispatcher noted the emergency crew was delayed in Fort Lee. The AP could not contact the patient or his family in subsequent weeks because his address and other identifying information were not included in dispatch logs. There were no follow-up 911 calls that morning to indicate rising concerns that the situation was growing more dire as he waited.
Fort Lee's EMS coordinator, Paul Favia, complained in a September 2013 letter to Fort Lee's mayor — before the closures were deemed to be politically motivated — that gridlock was "causing unnecessary delays for emergency services to arrive on scene for medical emergencies within the borough." He described minor delays in reaching the scenes of a traffic collision, a patient suffering chest pains and a 91-year-old woman found unconscious and later pronounced dead, although her family said they don't blame the delays for her death.

In Palisades Park, it took responders about 30 minutes to respond to a traffic collision in nearby Fort Lee on Sept. 9.

The AP's review found other instances of the backups spilling into nearby towns affecting emergency runs, including an early morning 911 call from a nursing home about an elderly woman who fell and cut her face.

"She's been waiting for over an hour," the dispatcher said at 6:20 a.m.
Police in the area, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, tried to alleviate the traffic, which clogged local roads and created miles of brake lights for days. Just as rush hour hit in full swing, a police officer radioed his plans to stop at the bottom of a nearby street and "pull some of this traffic through."

Ten minutes later, dispatchers offered a blunt assessment.

"Fort Lee traffic is a nightmare," one said. "You may want to come through Palisades Park today," an adjacent community.

Said another: "You're all aware the town is in total gridlock, right?"

Six commuters who were late to work have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Christie, his former aide and officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Two Fort Lee plaintiffs said their pay was docked because they were tardy.
A former Christie loyalist has said "evidence exists" the governor knew about the closures as they were happening, although he did not accuse Christie of ordering the traffic problems or knowing about them beforehand. In a statement, Christie's office denied the allegation made on behalf of former Port Authority executive David Wildstein.

Documents released in early January showed Wildstein, as Christie's No. 2 man at the Port Authority, ordered the lane closures starting Sept. 9. That was about one month after receiving a text message calling for traffic problems from a Christie administration aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, who was later fired.

Dispatchers sent an ambulance to the home of 91-year-old Florence Fogarty on Sept. 9 after she fell.

"I was pleased with the service," Fogarty said, saying she doesn't remember any unexpected delays. Logs show that it took responders about one minute to get to her house.

TRENTON — Republicans on the legislative panel investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal today accused Democrats of keeping them in the dark about the fact that the latest subpoenas would seek records related to issues beyond the lane closings.

"We didn’t know we were going to do anything beyond the scope of this bridge thing," Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris) said. "We didn’t get text of the subpoenas until after they were issued. We didn’t know what was in them when they were submitted."

Carroll said during the nearly two-hour executive session held by the committee Monday, Republicans received assurances that they would be made "well aware of what was going on, if not full partners, at least fully informed."

"And once again we're finding out stuff from the press," Carroll said.

He said the bridge matter should be completed before the committee dives into other issues, such as investigating the operations of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an action he said he would support.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) declined to say what was discussed during the panel's executive session but expressed frustration with the process.

"This legislative committee is doing one of two things: Either it is conducting a deliberative, thoughtful process, or it is producing a reality TV show," Handlin said. "It can’t do both. The constant leaks are turning the process into a charade, a parody of a serious investigation."

Gov. Chris Christie's office did not respond to a request for comment.

A co-chair of the committee, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), said the Republicans, "got a full discussion of all those subpoenas when we were in executive session." She also said the records requested in the subpoenas were a natural extension of the work that was begun by the Assembly transportation committee before the bridge scandal.
"We might have some communication snafus here or there as we’re getting ourselves together," Weinberg said. "If in fact they have any kind of problems that we might have to continue to straighten out, they should bring those problems to the committee and not try to turn everything into a partisan political undertaking. We are not doing that."
The subpoenas appeared with be within the official mandate of the committee, which was not limited to investigating the lane closings but could also probe the Port Authority and any potential abuses of power by any state government officials.
When the joint committee formed last month, the four Republicans voted no on a resolution outlining the scope of its powers and granting its co-chairs subpoena power, arguing that the broad mandate would allow Democrats to go on a fishing expedition.
But they were far outnumbered by the eight Democrats on the committee.

The resolution states the committee "shall investigate all aspects of the finances, operations, and management of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and any other matter raising concerns about abuse of government power or an attempt to conceal an abuse of government power including, but not limited to, the reassignment of access lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey to the George Washington Bridge."

The director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, Patrick Murray, said Republicans "don't really have a strong hand to play" in the direction of the committee's investigation or the public's opinion of it. But he said the investigation, and in turn Democrats, will be weakened by continued leaks of information.

"The way that they’re dong it smacks of politics," Murray said. "They’re going to hurt themselves if they go way too broad and there’s nothing there. Then it looks like they're on a fishing expedition purely in hopes of bringing down the governor."

He added, "It’s up to Democrats whether they shoot themselves in the foot or not."

St Mary's.....

Union ads question political ties between Christie adviser and Saint Mary's Hospital buyer

christieodowd Sapone.jpg
Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd, seen in this 2012 file photo with Gov. Chris Christie, will receive a recommendation from the State Health Planning Board next week whether she should approve the sale of Saint Mary's Hospital in Passaic to Prime Healthcare Services of California. (Patti Sapone/The Star-Ledger)
Susan K. Livio/The Star-LedgerBy Susan K. Livio/The Star-Ledger 
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on February 14, 2014 at 4:57 PM, updated February 14, 2014 at 9:39 PM
TRENTON — Capitalizing on the scandal surrounding Gov. Chris Christie's administration, a health care workers' union has spent $50,000 on ads questioning why a for-profit hospital chain hired the public relations firm led by the governor's chief political strategist to promote a plan to buy a struggling hospital in Passaic.

The purchase of St. Mary's Hospital by Prime Healthcare Services in California needs the blessing of state Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd to move ahead. The State Health Planning Board will meet Friday to advise O'Dowd on whether she ought to approve the sale.

Health Care Workers United West bought radio and online advertisements coinciding with the meeting to draw attention to "NJ Health Care-Gate" — what it says is Prime's politically motivated decision to hire Mercury Public Affairs, of which Republican strategist Mike DuHaime is a partner, said Chris Salm, research director for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West.

"We wanted to make sure regulators understood what they are getting themselves into," Salm said.

In its home state of California, Prime is at war with labor unions, which have criticized the company for dropping most insurance carriers in order to charge more expensive out-of- network rates. The chain is also the subject of a long-running U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Medicare billing, although there have been no accusations of wrongdoing.

In the ads and on the website,, the union draws parallels between Prime hiring DuHaime's firm with the allegedly politically motivated closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee now known as "Bridgegate." The U.S. Attorney and a joint legislative committee are investigating.

"We’ve seen it before — an aide close to Governor Christie takes action that negatively impacts the health and safety of New Jersey residents," according to the website. "This time it’s Mike DuHaime — Christie’s chief political strategist and a former member of Christie’s transition team. It’s been reported that DuHaime is pushing the sale of St. Mary’s, a non-profit Catholic hospital, to Prime Healthcare, a for-profit hospital chain from California. The problem is that Prime Healthcare has a history of questionable billing practices and is under federal investigation for overcharging Medicare."

The union also produced tax records of a charity founded by Prime's CEO Prem Reddy, showing a $25,000 contribution it made in 2011 to the Drumthwacket Foundation, a nonprofit that maintains the governor's mansion in Princeton. Christie is the honorary chairman and First Lady Mary Pat Christie its president. The contribution was made at about the same time Prime announced its intentions to buy Christ Hospital in Jersey City, although it withdrew the offer after it was criticized by union and community groups.

Prime spokesman Ed Barrera called the ads "nothing more than a desperate act by SEIU in a continuing vicious smear campaign against Prime Healthcare, which has been going on for the past four years."

"Without Prime Healthcare, St. Mary’s Hospital will close," Barrera said. "Prime Healthcare will keep St. Mary’s open and save thousands of jobs. Most importantly, St. Mary’s is the only remaining hospital after three nearby hospitals closed, and it is essential to preserve this safety net hospital to provide critical care for the Greater Passaic area and the surrounding communities. We appreciate that New Jersey officials are doing their due diligence."

The sale has been under state review for 13 months.

Mercury released a statement that says no one from the company was hired to lobby the state, or meet with state officials reviewing the deal. It handles media calls, and has produced mailers and a video promoting the sale.

"Last spring we sent 3 bilingual mailers to 19,500 households in St. Mary’s market area in and around the City of Passaic to educate the public about the sale and the positive benefits of having a Top 15 US Health System close to home," according to Mercury's statement. "As a result of those efforts, we received feedback from patients and area residents who were interested in the issue."

Hunterdon Sheriff case ...


Trout and Russo
Charges against Hunterdon County Republican Sheriff Deborah Trout (right) and Undersheriff Michael Russo were dropped after Christie's Attorney General's Office took over the prosecutor's office.
Charles Ouslander, the Hunterdon County first assistant prosecutor who supervised the 2010 indictment of Republican Sheriff Deborah Trout and two aides for official misconduct, yesterday asked the Legislature’s Select Committee on Investigation to expand its inquiry to include whether Gov. Chris Christie’s Attorney General, Paula Dow, was politically pressured by her boss to take over the prosecutor’s office and kill the indictment.
“As a former career county and state-level prosecutor with firsthand knowledge of the events in question, I again express my belief that the actions of the Attorney General were unlawful and, from my vantage point, obviously influenced by improper political considerations,” Ouslander wrote in a letter to Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the committee’s co-chair, that he emailed to the committee’s special counsel yesterday. “As such, it is of vital public importance that the Committee undertakes an exhaustive investigation into the conduct of the attorney general.”
For Christie and his inner circle, the allegations charging that the governor’s office brought pressure to kill the Hunterdon County indictments are as serious both criminally and politically as Bridgegate and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s charge that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold Sandy aid if she did not approve a high-rise development represented by a Christie insider’s law firm. The administration has been fighting to suppress the release of information on the case, which is the subject of a civil lawsuit that has been winding its way through the courts.
Lawyers for Christie’s Attorney General’s Office have filed 17 motions since August in an effort to overturn a Superior Court judge’s order requiring the release of the grand jury proceedings demanded by Bennett A. Barlyn, an assistant county prosecutor who has sued the state for wrongful firing.

Political Motivation

Barlyn was fired after he complained to Deputy State Attorney General Dermot O’Grady, whom Dow had sent in to run the Hunterdon County prosecutor’s office, that the August 7, 2010, decision to drop the case against Trout, an ally of Christie and Guadagno, without telling the Hunterdon prosecutors who had handled the case was “corrupt” and politically motivated.
The decision by Dow’s office to drop the case against Trout and two aides because of “legal and factual deficiencies” came exactly three months after the May 7, 2010, release of a Hunterdon County grand jury’s indictment of Trout, Undersheriff Michael Russo, and Sheriff’s Investigator John Falat Jr. on 43 criminal counts ranging from hiring sheriff’s officers without proper background checks to forcing employees to sign loyalty oaths and making a fake police badge for a prominent Christie campaign contributor. The grand jury had also issued a separate presentment identifying non-criminal malfeasance by other sheriff’s office employees.
The eventual squelching of the indictment did not come entirely as a surprise to Hunterdon prosecutors and investigators. After all, on the same day that the indictment was released, Dow not only dismissed Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes, a Democratic holdover who had been serving for seven years, but also took control of the prosecutor’s office. She put Deputy Attorney General Dermot O’Grady in charge, announced that the Trout case would be handled by her office, and ordered all case files shipped to Trenton.

Pulling Rank

According to Barlyn, Barnes told colleagues that Dow told him he was being replaced because of the Trout case and that the decision was made by “people above” her; the only two people who outrank the attorney general in New Jersey state government are the governor and lieutenant governor. Further fueling Hunterdon prosecutors’ fears was Russo’s declaration that day to fellow staffers, reported in the Hunterdon Democrat, that Christie would “step in (and) have this whole thing thrown out.”
Barlyn and Ouslander said in interviews earlier this week that they hoped the ultimate release of the grand jury proceedings would prove that the legitimacy of their case against Trout and her aides.
But only a legislative committee armed with subpoena powers could demand the internal memos and other documents showing communications between the attorney general’s office and the governor’s office, and compel key people like Dow, O’Grady, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and Robert Hariri, a prominent Christie donor and biomedical CEO named as a witness in court papers, to testify on why the case was killed in such an unusual way, they said.
The Joint Select Committee on Investigation has been given broad authority to investigate any abuses of power and their coverup by the Christie administration, and it has issued 37 subpoenas in the last month, extending its investigation this week beyond Bridgegate to focus on Christie’s cancellation of the ARC Tunnel, the 2011 Port Authority toll increase and Christie’s placement of patronage appointees at the bistate agency. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has been focusing its efforts on the Zimmer allegations, also could choose to investigate the Hunterdon case if it is looking to establish a pattern of abuse of power for political purposes within the Christie administration.
In his letters to Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the committee’s cochairs, Ouslander notes that he has “gone on record to corroborate the allegations of official misconduct against the New Jersey Attorney General relating to the handling of the criminal case against Sheriff Debra Trout made by two former colleagues: Bennett Barlyn and William McGovern,” a Republican assistant prosecutor who also protested Dow’s decision to kill the Trout case.
Ouslander, now a law guardian for the Office of the Public Defender and a Hopewell Township municipal court judge, volunteered to cooperate with any investigation into the “abuse of law enforcement powers exercised by the New Jersey Attorney’s Office when it superseded the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office in 2010” and its “unprecedented dismissal of the 43-count indictment.”
Ouslander said in an interview Wednesday that Dow’s decision to take over the prosecutor’s office in May 2010 in order to kill the indictment made no sense to him because he, McGovern, Hunterdon County Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes, and Chief of Detectives Dan Hurley drove to Trenton to meet personally with Dow and First Assistant Attorney General Philip Kwon the week after Christie’s inauguration in January 2010 and offered to turn over the case to the attorney general’s office.
“We said you should take this over because we work side by side with the sheriff’s office,” Ouslander recalled. “They said, no, you take it. Philip Kwon, who served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with Christie said it was a legitimate indictment, and that this guy (Undersheriff Russo) shouldn’t be in law enforcement. Once they gave us the green light, we went ahead. It was probably the cleanest presentation of a grand jury indictment I’ve ever seen, and the grand jury obviously agreed.”
That was before Dow took over the prosecutor’s office, however, and before her designee, Deputy Attorney General Christine Hoffman, went into court and announced that Dow’s office had decided to drop all charges. Following the dismissal, Trout, Russo, and Falat filed a $10 million lawsuit of their own in federal court, charging the Republican freeholder board, the county counsel, and a slew of county prosecutors for wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution, and damage to their reputations.

An Out-of-the-Ordinary Decision

Dow’s unusual decision to take over the prosecutor’s office has been the subject of considerable discussion in the legal community, said Robert Del Tufo, a former U.S. Attorney and state Attorney General. Del Tufo said he found the Hunterdon case troubling. He said “taking over a county prosecutor’s office requires the consent of the governor,” and that Dow’s action was a highly unusual step.
“I can only remember two other times over 50 years -- one in Bergen County where the prosecutor was corrupt and another down south – where the state took such a step,” Del Tufo said. “It was also unnecessary. If somebody wanted to get rid of that indictment because it was against a sheriff who was a Christie supporter, the attorney general could have taken the case to Trenton and taken steps to convince an assignment judge to dismiss it. But booting the prosecutor aside and dismissing his assistants seems to be going overboard.”
Barlyn, who was fired after protesting the dismissal of the case, won an important victory in August when a Superior Court judge hearing his wrongful termination lawsuit ordered the release of grand jury documents in the Trout case. But the Christie administration appealed, leading to a January 28 hearing before a three-judge appeals court panel, which is likely to issue its decision in the spring. Either way, an appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely, which means it will be months before the grand jury papers are released, unless, of course, they are subpoenaed by the Wisniewski-Weinberg committee.
“What I really would like to know is who was behind the decision by Attorney-General Paula Dow to take over the prosecutor’s office and kill what prosecutors and grand jurors have said was a proper indictment,” said Barlyn, a former state and county prosecutor with a sterling reputation who coauthored a revision of the state sentencing code, but is now teaching middle school.
Barlyn and Ouslander theorized that Hariri, the Celgene Cellular Therapeutics executive and prominent Christie donor who was named in the indictment as a witness for receiving a phony law enforcement identification, and/or Guadagno, who as Monmouth County sheriff was friendly with Trout before she ran for lieutenant governor, most likely pressured Christie and Dow to suppress the Trout case. “You have to connect the dots,” Barlyn said. He noted that Guadagno thanked Trout, who put together a group of county law enforcement officers to work for the Christie-Guadagno ticket, for her help in an email two nights after the election: “Saw a lot of your staff on the trail – thank you for giving them to us!”
Hariri and Guadagno have not responded to repeated requests for interviews from NJ Spotlight this week nor have they commented previously on the case in the four months since the New York Times broke the story a month before Christie’s landslide reelection or after it became national news on networks like CNN andMSNBC.

Conspiracy Theories

Christie denied involvement in the dismissal of the indictments in late 2010, and Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, attacked Barlyn’s allegations as “wild-eyed conspiracy theories” in the New York Times last October.
However, Barlyn and Ouslander insist that prosecution of the Trout case would have been highly embarrassing for Dr. Hariri, the multimillionaire Celgene CEO. The Hariris, who gave $15,500 to Christie’s campaign and the Republican State Committee, own a Bernardsville estate and were neighbors in 2009 and 2010 of Todd Christie, the “First Brother” who is Christie’s top fundraiser. Hariri served on Christie’s 2009 transition team on health issues.
Hariri’s involvement in the case also would have been embarrassing to his subsidiary’s parent company, Celgene, whose chairman, Dr. Sol Barer, later headed Christie’s panel that recommended the merger of the state’s medical schools into Rutgers University, accompanied Christie on his trip to Israel, and has given at least $102,600 personally to Christie and the state GOP since 2009.

Hariri, a world-famous stem cell research entrepreneur whom Christie named to the prestigious New Jersey Council on Cancer Research, was named in the Trout indictment as a witness after receiving a fake “National Emergency Medical Response Team” badge manufactured for him by Undersheriff Michael Russo and sheriff’s investigator John Falat Jr., the two sheriff’s officers indicted along with Trout, after he flew Trout and Russo to a conference on a private jet.
Hariri was very friendly with Trout, Russo and Falat – a controversial trio who had been part of a rogue Warren County SPCA chapter that the State Commission of Investigation called an “out-of-control . . . paramilitary” organization that existed primarily to enrich its members. Russo, the chapter’s second-in-command, took the Fifth Amendment in the 2000 probe. The extent of that friendship would have come out in any trial or if Barlyn succeeds in getting the grand jury transcripts, which would include details of Hariri’s interview with investigators, unsealed.
Unlike the Bridgegate and Hoboken cases, in which Republicans have defended Christie, Hunterdon County’s Republican establishment says privately -- and one former freeholder says publicly -- that the Christie administration killed the Trout, Russo, and Falat indictments for political reasons.
“This is still very upsetting to me,” said George Melick, a staunch Republican who retired last month after 35 years as a Hunterdon County freeholder. “I can’t imagine to this day the attorney general’s office sending a new prosecutor up here and getting these indictments thrown out after 23 citizens of Hunterdon County spent all that time, listened to all that testimony lined up by very able prosecutors, and decided there was reason to charge the Sheriff’s Office on 43 counts.
“This all goes back to Trenton,” Melick insisted. “That’s where the decisions were made. I’m very supportive of Barlyn and find him very credible. I hope Barlyn is successful in his lawsuit because these grand jury documents should see the light of day so that the public can make its own judgment on the merits of the prosecution.”
One well-placed Republican, an active Christie supporter who asked not to be identified in order to speak candidly, said “I don’t have any doubt the governor’s office wanted the indictment to go away. Dr. Hariri from Celgene was a big donor, and he got in deep with these people, flying them around the country. Deborah (Trout) was the face of the operation, but Russo was the brains. He was a Svengali who ingratiated himself with the governor and his staff and with Hariri too. He could sell ice to Eskimos.”
The Republican said the Sheriff’s Office “operated with the worst kind of cronyism,” and that Trout “gave out ID’s and badges like she was giving out campaign pins.” The source said the trial would be an embarrassment to Hariri. “I would bet this guy went through Todd Christie or Dr. Barer to have them tell the Christie administration to get rid of this thing. We know how this governor operates.”
William Courtney, attorney for Trout, Russo and Falat in their wrongful arrest lawsuit, charged that the original indictment was part of a political vendetta by the freeholders against Trout, who had won an $800,000 settlement in a discrimination suit years before she ran for sheriff.
“The indictment didn’t have any merit and the attorney general’s office confirmed it by dismissing it, Courtney said. “Dr Hariri met Trout and Russo at a function and volunteered to help for free if they were injured or needed (medical) advice and not charge them. My clients feel so bad they’re dragging Dr. Hariri into this. He’s a kind-hearted physician and surgeon. They’re making it sound like Dr. Hariri was in a conspiracy with the governor so he could have a sheriff’s badge.”
Courtney said the badge was “more like an ID tag and said Police Surgeon on it,” and that it would be useful as official identification for Hariri when he came to the Sheriff’s Office in Flemington.
Trout, who was elected sheriff in November 2007 after winning a four-way Republican primary in June, had a stormy tenure from the start.
She had barely taken office in January 2008 when Mark Kobner, a retired detective working in the sheriff’s office, called the prosecutor’s office to report that Trout was failing to conduct proper background checks, requiring new employees to sign loyalty oaths, and was creating phony law enforcement identification badges for political allies.

A Rogue SPCA

Further, some of the hires who were slipping in without background checks were friends of hers and Russo’s from the rogue Warren County SPCA chapter that the State Commission of Investigation had charged seven years earlier with mishandling funds, providing its officer with guns, night-vision goggles and other military paraphernalia, and engaging in a scheme to avoid sales tax by having the SPCA purchase cars for the personal use of Russo and others. The following month, in fact, the New Jersey State SPCA would reach a settlement that enabled it to take over the Warren chapter that Russo had helped run.
Courtney dismissed the probe by the State Commission of Investigation, a respected bipartisan agency created by the Legislature in 1968 to expose organized crime and political corruption, as “not the most reliable investigation. People are talking about it like it’s some kind of governmental investigation by the FBI and the CIA, but that’s not what it was. When you hear the SPCA is corrupt, that’s insane.”
Trout allowed Russo to conduct his own background check. Furthermore, Erik Ezekian, one of the former Warren SPCA colleagues she and Russo hired as a sheriff’s investigator had a pending appeal on a drunk-driving conviction following an accident that had ended with him leading a police chase on foot. Ezekian, who had been fired previously by the Rockaway Township and Alpha police departments, later pleaded guilty to falsifying his employment application. Falat, another Warren County SPCA friend of Russo and Trout, was hired as a sheriff’s investigator even though he had no law enforcement experience, but his family had contributed $6,000 in printing services to Trout’s campaign.
First Assistant Prosecutor Ouslander noted that the prosecutor’s office offered to turn over the case to Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s Attorney General’s office to either intervene to clean up the sheriff’s office or pursue criminal charges as it saw fit. But the Division of Criminal Justice, which was then headed by Deborah Gramiccioni (whom Christie recently named Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority), decided to leave the case in county hands.
When Dow and Kwon turned down a similar offer the week after Christie’s January 2010 inauguration, McGovern presented the case to a Hunterdon grand jury, which indicted Trout, Russo, and Falat on a total of 43 counts of official misconduct, including the failure to conduct proper background checks, forcing employees to sign loyalty oaths, and making a false law enforcement badge for Hariri.
Ouslander, Barlyn and McGovern expected no interference as the case moved forward because they had kept Dow’s Attorney General’s office fully informed and had heard no objections, so they were surprised when Dow took over both the case and the prosecutor’s office itself.
Hunterdon County insiders say Barnes’ tenure was tumultuous, noting that he had three lawsuits filed against him, one for allegedly head-butting an employee, but they gave him credit for hiring experienced prosecutors like Ouslander, Barlyn, and McGovern from other counties in an attempt to upgrade the operations of the smallest prosecutor’s office in the state.
Barnes, the brother of Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex) and the son of a former assemblyman, had been appointed by Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey and was worried about his pension when he left. Six months later, however, he resurfaced as an assistant prosecutor in Middlesex, where he had worked previously -- an appointment that required Dow’s approval. Barnes said through an intermediary he did not want to be interviewed about the case.
The state takeover of the prosecutor’s office was made under the authority of the 1970 Criminal Justice Act, and all of Barnes’ assistant prosecutors were sworn in as deputy state attorneys general under O’Grady, but it was the handling of -- or, more specifically, the lack of information about -- the Trout case that caused consternation in the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office.
Two-and-a-half months after O’Grady took over, Detective Sgt. Kenneth Rowe, the lead investigator on the Trout case who had previously spent 26 years with the State Police, fired off an email to colleagues expressing concern that “Dermot has NOT yet asked me ONE question about the sheriff’s job.” Rowe said he found that “particularly worrisome” because the Attorney General’s office in Trenton had been requesting all of the grand jury transcripts, investigative reports, affidavits, and search warrants in the case, and “taking all our original evidence for ‘review.’ (That’s total BS that has never happened to me before.”)
“I have never seen a prosecutorial agency act or work as a defense counsel,” Rowe wrote. “I perceive a lot of what they have been doing as interfering with a GJ (Grand Jury) investigation or even criminal acts. I am certainly starting to believe the comment . . . where Russo reportedly said Christie is going to take care of it. Why the interest in this small time case????”
Two weeks later, on August 7, 2010, O’Grady formally took the lead prosecutor, McGovern, a registered Republican, off the case and ordered him not to show up at the scheduled August 9 hearing. On that day, Deputy Attorney General Hoffman went into court and told the judge that the prosecutor’s office had decided to drop all 43 charges because the indictments contained “legal and factual deficiencies” and would “criminalize what are essentially bad management decisions.” That same day, as the indictments were being dismissed, Christie issued an announcement that he would be nominating Anthony Kearns to serve as the new Hunterdon prosecutor.
Barlyn noted that in other cases where there are deficiencies in the presentation of a case, prosecutors simply fix the deficiencies and re-present the case. That’s what the attorney general’s office, for example, was prepared to do when its case against Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo came apart after the judge discovered that prosecutors had never told defense lawyers that offers of immunity from prosecution had been offered to current or former sheriff’s officers in exchange for their testimony. Spicuzzo eventually accept a plea deal.
Courtney said criminal charges should never have been brought against Trout and her aides on what he characterized as inconsequential management issues, but Barlyn disagreed, noting that Kwon, the First Assistant Attorney General, suggested contacting the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
When Barlyn saw O’Grady in the hall the day the case was dismissed, he confronted him. “Mission accomplished!” Barlyn shouted at O’Grady, and the two argued. The next day, Barlyn returned from Drug Court to find three investigators from the attorney general’s office in Trenton, who informed him that he was suspended and escorted him out of the building. By the time Barlyn got home, his computer access to his files was turned off, and three weeks later he was fired, allegedly for not showing up to a job he had been ordered to leave.
McGovern was called in and told he could stay, but only if he agreed not to question the dismissal of the Trout case. He chose to retire. Ouslander, who was not given the option of staying, retired too.
Barlyn consulted his aunt and legal mentor, Judith Yaskin, former First Assistant Attorney General under Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne, before deciding to file suit.
“I support Ben’s decision to take action and not remain silent,” Yaskin said. “We take an oath in the criminal justice system that we will make decisions on who gets indicted ‘without fear or favor.’ That’s what justice is.”
One Hunterdon Republican said privately that “Barlyn is a consummate professional, and he just viewed what Trout did as so damaging to the law enforcement profession and he felt so righteous about it that he just can’t let it go.”
Christie nominated Dow to a Superior Court judgeship the following year, and when Essex County Democrats exercised senatorial courtesy to block her nomination, Christie moved her to a $215,000 a year job as deputy counsel at the Port Authority. She then moved to Burlington County, a Republican-controlled county, and went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation.
Questioned by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the committee’s chairman, about Barlyn’s lawsuit, she insisted she had acted properly. She said Barlyn’s firing had been an “employment decision,” and that the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office had had a “troublesome history.”
"With respect to the allegations, I deny them and believe they are not going to be substantiated," Dow said.
She was confirmed by the Senate, and those are the last words Dow has said publicly about the subject.

Arc Tunnel cancellation ...



Subpoena for documents relating to ARC and Port Authority toll hike adds policy focus to Bridgegate inquiry

New ARC Tunnel
Credit: WNYC
In a surprise development, the legislative committee investigating Bridgegate expanded its probe of alleged abuses of power by the Port Authority and the Christie administration to include Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial cancellation of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail tunnel in 2010, a fast-tracked 2011 Port Authority toll hike, and the governor's recommendations for patronage hires at the Port Authority.
For Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the committee’s cochairs, the addition of the ARC Tunnel cancellation, the September 2011 Port Authority toll hike, and all records related to Christie’s recommendations for hiring at the Port Authority are in keeping with their pledge that the probe would widen to focus on systemic problems at the bistate agency.
The demand for information on ARC, the toll hike, and patronage hires was included in 19 subpoenas released yesterday by the Joint Select Committee on Investigations. These targeted the governor’s office and five of its staffers; the Port Authority and seven of its officials; and Christie’s reelection campaign. A subpoena was also issued to the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit to see whether Christie flew over Fort Lee during the traffic jams caused by the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
The subpoena to the Christie reelection campaign sought any files, information, or communications with or relating to Fort Lee Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich, whose refusal to endorse Christie for reelection is believed to be the reason for the September 9-13 lane closures, dating back to last April.
But most of the subpoenas focus on Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni’s November testimony before the Assembly Transportation Committee. At that time he insisted that the secret lane closures were a legitimate traffic study -- a position contradicted by fired Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly’s now-infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email to David Wildstein, Baroni’s political lieutenant at the Port Authority.
The committee is clearly seeking information on whether Baroni’s testimony was part of a coverup and whether members of the Governor’s Office and other Port Authority officials were actively involved.
Included are subpoenas to Philip Kwon, the Port Authority’s deputy counsel who prepped Baroni for at least four days prior to his testimony; Regina Egea, the director of Christie’s Authorities Unit whom he has tapped as his new Chief of Staff; and Nicole P. Crifo, the senior counsel to the governor’s Authorities Unit. She may turn out to be the “Nicole” who watched Baroni’s testimony and thought he did well, as Wildstein reported in an email to Baroni later that day.
The subpoenas also demand logs of all calls and other communications prior to and following the September 9-12 George Washington Bridge access lane closures. The targets are exchanges between Egea, Crifo, Kelly, and 10 other governor’s office employees; Baroni, Wildstein, Kwon, and 14 other Port Authority officials and employees; and fired Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and two other campaign officials.
But the biggest surprise in the 19 subpoenas announced yesterday was the demand for documents, emails, and other communications among Christie, Port Authority officials, the governor’s office, and state Treasury, Department of Transportation, and NJ Transit officials relating to Christie’s decision to forego $3 billion in federal funds and stop work on the largest public works project in the nation.
Christie’s October 7, 2010, cancellation of the ARC Tunnel made him a darling of conservative talk show hosts and set the stage for Republican governors elected the following month to cancel major rail transit projects in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.
But most important, cancellation of the ARC Tunnel freed up billions of dollars in Port Authority and New Jersey Turnpike Authority revenue that was used three months later by Christie to fund a five-year extension of the Transportation Trust Fund without raising the gas tax.
Wisniewski and the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the state’s leading mass-transit advocates at the time, charged on the day Christie announced the cancellation that his real motivation in killing the rail tunnel was to “steal” billions of dollars to refuel the Transportation Trust Fund, which was scheduled to run out of money for new projects that budget year.
Now Wisniewski, who is co-chairing the Joint Select Committee on Investigation after leading the Assembly’s investigation of the Bridgegate scandal, will get the opportunity to prove his contention that Christie overstated the likely cost overruns on the project when he claimed that New Jersey taxpayers would be on the hook for $2 billion to $5 billion more than expected.
The subpoena demands “all data and records used to determine the cost overruns” cited in the October 7, 2010, memo from the ARC Steering Committee made up of Port Authority and New Jersey state transportation officials that Christie used as his basis to justify the cancellation. The subpoena, which is broadly worded, seeks all records and communications related to the ARC Tunnel beginning March 26, 2010 -- more than six months before Christie’s announcement.
Further, the subpoena’s demand for records from Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson, NJ Transit chief Jim Weinstein, and various Port Authority officials should show when the possibility of using Port Authority and other funds originally earmarked for the ARC Tunnel to pay for the Transportation Trust Fund was first discussed.
Ray LaHood, the former Republican congressman who was serving as President Obama’s transportation secretary at the time, charged that Christie set an unrealistic 30-day deadline for resolution of the dispute over potential cost overruns in cancelling a project that had been in the works since the 1990s.
While work had already started on the ARC Tunnel, including the digging of a gaping hole for the tunnel entrance in North Bergen, Christie’s decision means a new passenger rail tunnel to relieve overcrowding and increase nonstop rides for commuters to New York City is at least a decade away, if not more, the federal General Accounting Office reported.
The decision by the Joint Select Committee on Investigation to add critical transportation policy issues related to the Port Authority -- including the ARC Tunnel, the 2011 toll hike, and the patronage hires -- in its second round of subpoenas came as a surprise.
It was the subpoena power granted to Wisniewski’s Assembly Transportation Committee to investigate the 2011 toll hike that was expanded by the panel in December to call witnesses under oath to testify on Bridgegate, including Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, whose testimony that there was no legitimate traffic study took the probe to a new level.
Subpoenas issued after that December hearing to Wildstein and other Port Authority officials produced the incriminating memo by Kelly that led Christie to fire her on January 9 and set off a national media firestorm that was subsequently stoked by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s charge that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno transmitted a Christie threat to withhold Sandy aid if she did not push through a development represented by Port Authority Chairman David Samson’s law firm.
The failure of yesterday’s subpoenas to include any requests related to the Zimmer case make it clear that the legislative committee is leaving that issue to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The committee’s special counsel, Reid Schar, met with U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman to make sure that the Legislature’s investigation did not interfere with the federal probe, and received a green light to continue along the lines it has been following.


Christie administration gave more Sandy funds to controversial Belleville project

Christie campaign stop in Belleville - August 19, 2013
Gov. Chris Christie smiles as he listens to Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble during a campaign stop in town in August. Christie pushed to give the town millions in federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds to build a senior complex, even though the town was largely spared by the storm. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
Matt Friedman/The Star-LedgerBy Matt Friedman/The Star-Ledger 
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on February 20, 2014 at 1:54 PM, updated February 20, 2014 at 10:24 PM
TRENTON — A controversial housing complex for the elderly planned for Belleville, an Essex County town that was largely spared from Hurricane Sandy, was approved for a second round of federal recovery funds as its projected costs ballooned.
The project, which was pushed by Gov. Chris Christie, had been approved for $6 million in May from a federally financed, state-administered program intended to replenish affordable housing damaged or destroyed in the storm. But according to figures provided by the Department of Community Affairs last week, that figure has increased, to $10.2 million.
A department website still says Belleville got $6 million, which is what The Star-Ledger cited in a January article on the project — even though the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency increased funding to $10.2 million in December as the anticipated cost rose from $18 million to $22.8 million.
Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, said the project "changed" and "required a recommitment" by the agency in December.
Construction has not yet begun on the complex, to be called Franklin Manor, although its groundbreaking took place last May with much fanfare and was attended by the governor and several local and county officials. "We understand that the project is scheduled to begin very shortly on or before March 3, 2014," Ryan said.
The initial grant ignited controversy after The Star-Ledger reported that the funds were secured just two weeks before Belleville’s Democratic mayor, Raymond Kimble, endorsed the re-election of Christie, a Republican. Belleville suffered little damage from Sandy when compared with coastal towns that bore the brunt of the storm.
And while state officials say the complex will be marketed to those from other towns who were displaced by the storm, at the groundbreaking Christie made no mention of Sandy and said the development would provide affordable housing for Belleville’s elderly residents so they could stay in town.

Chris Christie's Hurricane Sandy problemLedger Live for February 20, 2014 - Ledger Live with Brian Donohue - Hurricane Sandy victims in Old Bridge Township are up in arms over the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision to award $6 million in federal storm relief funds to a senior citizen housing project in Belleville, a town barely affected by the storm. That same amount of money could have funded the buyout of their devastated neighborhood, where only one of 33 residents has been able to return to his home. (Video by Brian Donohue / The Star-Ledger)

"Where does this end?" said Adam Gordon, a staff attorney at the Fair Share Housing Ce nter, an affordable housing advocacy organization. "Can they come back and ask for another $4 million next month?"
Responding to the Belleville project, in addition to a controversial development in New Brunswick and complaints the state has been unresponsive to pleas for Sandy funds, the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee today approved a measure that would place stricter rules on how the state distributes federal aid. Among its 19 provisions is one that would require financing for counties and municipalities in proportion to the damages.
Ryan said her department’s website was not updated with the latest figures for the project because it could not be reported until the governor’s chance to veto the decision of the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which was Feb. 11, had passed.
She said the full amount of funding "has not been finalized and may be adjusted based on the actual construction budget once determined and reviewed by the HMFA in-house technical services staff for reasonableness."
State officials have also noted that Essex County was eligible for Sandy relief funds because it was identified by the federal government as one of New Jersey’s nine most affected counties.
But the state plan offered last year to the Department of Housing and Urban Development — which was required in order to get the funds — said "priority will be given to projects serving communities most impacted within these counties."
Belleville was not among those communities.
If the cost of the Belleville complex does not change, it will get the second-highest amount of federal money among the 36 affordable housing projects approved by the agency. Only one, the Heritage Village at Oakhurst, a senior housing complex in Monmouth County, received more — $11 million.
Belleville Councilwoman Marie Burke said in an interview she was troubled that construction had not yet begun.
"The only thing we did was have the shovels," Burke said. "We don’t see anything going on, and it’s been nearly a year."
She said that although Belleville desperately needed the housing, it was a "shame" Sandy aid was used to help pay for it.
"We have tried so many times to get senior housing in Belleville and we got denied quite a few times," Burke said. "This looked like a godsend, and then boom. If those funds were intended for people who got hurt by Sandy, it doesn’t look too good to me."

By Star-Ledger Staff 
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on February 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM, updated February 17, 2014 at 1:34 PM
The overwhelming majority of Sandy victims who have applied for state aid say they have been "largely forgotten," a new poll says.
The Monmouth University poll reveals that just 26 percent indicated New Jersey's efforts are focused on helping people in their situation.
Still, nearly half (49 percent) of the 854 New Jersey residents asked between early September 2013 and early January 2014 agree the state has been at least somewhat helpful, according to the poll that was released today.
Meanwhile, just 36 percent of applicants to reNew Jersey Stronger, the federally funded Sandy assistance program said they are satisfied with the state's recovery effort. People who are still displaced give the program even lower marks — just 21 percent told pollsters they are satisfied.
Among New Jerseyans in hard hit areas who applied for reNew Jersey Stronger assistance, 83 percent said they were approved for a $10,000 Sandy resettlement grant if they resettled within their county of residence. Only 15 percent, though, report being approved for sought-after RREM assistance that provides up to $150,000 for home rehabilitation, reconstruction, elevation and mitigation.
Also, only 9 percent say they have been approved for up to $30,000 in hazard mitigation aid to elevate homes in 100 year floodplains. None report being awarded homebuyer assistance of up to $50,000 in no-payment loans if they purchase a home in a Sandy hit area and live there for five years.
This is the third installment of Monmouth's report. The first two installments were released in October.