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New Jersey's Jim McGreevey: America's most corrupt governor?

By Nicholas Stix
web posted September 6, 2004

New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey has managed to snatch martyrdom from the jaws of damnation. He would have the public believe that he didn't resign his governorship on August 12 because of the scandals that sprouted from his administration like crabgrass, but because he was the victim of a homophobic society.

Since August 12, media has bent over backwards, in painting sympathetic portraits of McGreevey, who in spite of having resigned, refuses to leave office. McGreevey is the embodiment of a new reality, in which homosexuality is the last refuge of scoundrels.

James McGreevey
McGreevey

McGreevey, who campaigned that he would "change the way things are done in Trenton," has proved to be as corrupt a chief executive as any in the history of a state that my colleague from New Jersey, Alan Caruba, has argued is the most crooked in the country. Caruba wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "If anyone thinks his state is the worst run since pre-Schwarzenegger California, I invite him to measure it against New Jersey." The Wall Street Journal's John Fund, quoting Caruba's line that "something is terribly wrong with voters who have demonstrated a virtual death wish so far as any sensible governance of the state is concerned," dubbed the state, "Louisiana North." Fund could argue, without exaggerating, "Indeed, Mr. McGreevey accomplished the remarkable feat of lowering ethical standards in the state capital."

In McGreevey's resignation speech, he said, ''My truth is that I am a gay American. Shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affairs with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong, it was foolish, it was inexcusable.''

That would suggest that the following matters, for which McGreevey did not apologize, were neither foolish nor inexcusable (a scorecard follows):

Charles Kushner

Charles Kushner, McGreevey's biggest campaign contributor, "pleaded guilty [three weeks ago] to 18 federal crimes, including an admission that he hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, and then mailed a videotape of the encounter to his own sister in a ploy to stymie their involvement in a federal probe of his political contributions." One New Jersey attorney opined, "You can't make this stuff up." He was talking about the Kushner affair alone.

William Watley

On July 14, McGreevey's commerce secretary, William Watley, resigned "amid reports that he channeled state money to his own businesses and to family members."

David D'Amiano

On July 6, fundraiser David D'Amiano "was indicted … on [11] extortion charges for allegedly demanding and accepting $40,000 in political contributions and cash from a Piscataway farm owner [Mark Halper] to influence state and county officials to more than double an offer," from $3 million to $7.4 million, to buy the farmland's development rights. According to the indictment, before one of Halper's many meetings with the Governor, he was taped telling D'Amiano that Gov. McGreevey was to use the code word"Machiavellian," to signal that the deal was on. Sure enough, McGreevey (aka "State Official 1") said "Machiavelli," which he later insisted was merely an allusion from his rich literary life. If convicted, D'Amiano could be sentenced to up to 205 years in prison, and fined $2.75 million.

The Attorney General's Office

The attorney general's office has been run by handpicked McGreevey men, who have conducted themselves more like Mafia consigliere than the leaders of state law enforcement. McGreevey's first AG, David Samson, literally walked away from corruption charges that the State Police's background investigation of McGreevey nominee for State Police superintendent, Joseph Santiago, turned up. Rather than aggressively investigate the charges, Samson's number two man and successor, Peter Harvey, covered them up. Harvey has also refused to investigate serious charges against other McGreevey appointees, is suspected of having sandbagged federal corruption investigations, has trampled on the state constitution, and though he has been surrounded by corruption, to my knowledge has never cracked a single corruption case. Such aggressive dereliction of duty may or may not be indictable as obstruction of justice -- that's for the feds to determine -- but it's still corruption. Harvey's deputy, Vaughn McKoy, has come up with his own creative ruses to avoid doing his job.

Peter Harvey

According to the Gannett newspaper chain's Trenton Bureau chief, Bob Ingle, AG Peter Harvey "couldn't find political corruption with a detailed road map." Ingle's March 15 column was entitled, "McGreevey administration heading for scandal record." And that was several indictments and resignations ago. Ingle wrote, "As our Sandy McClure first reported, the feds said some state officials did not cooperate with requests for information when subpoenas were served. ‘Some people have not been willing to speak to authorities based on advice of counsel,' a source told McClure. It was not clear who the counsel was. Federal authorities indicated they would not be amused if it were Attorney General Peter ‘See No Evil' Harvey or an aide. Wouldn't it be a conflict of interest if the state's attorney general, who is entrusted with upholding the law, put the McGreevey administration's interest above his sworn obligation? Could that be impeachment territory for Harvey?"

And as Robert Schwaneberg wrote in Capital Report, that back in March, 2003, when state Sen. Robert Martin (R-Morris) cast the lone vote against Harvey's nomination on the state judiciary committee, Harvey retaliated by having Martin subpoenaed. "…Harvey sent investigators to Martin's home with a subpoena. They demanded to know his sources for questioning Harvey's ability to investigate claims that the Governor's Office was interfering in parole decisions. Lawmakers have a constitutional privilege against such interrogation."

Joseph Santiago

In a failed experiment in affirmative action, in 2002, McGreevey appointed Hispanic Newark police Director Joseph Santiago superintendent of the State Police. In hiring Santiago, McGreevey ignored the protests of law enforcement officials, and a multitude of red flags (a personal bankruptcy, a conviction for disorderly conduct, and charges reported by the State Police background investigators that in Newark, Santiago had consorted with an associate of the Genovese crime family, protected illegal gambling operations, was involved in a "no-show security scheme" and used police officers to build his house) in Santiago's past, only to force Santiago to resign on October 18, 2002, after only seven months on the job.

The state has been under federal pressure since the late 1990s, due to racial profiling hoaxes engineered by groups including, prominently, the Rev. Reginald Jackson's Black Ministers Council of New Jersey and their media allies, and due to the undiplomatic but true remarks regarding minorities and crime made by white State Police Supt. Carl Williams in 1999, whereupon liberal GOP Gov. Christie Whitman fired Williams. It was politically expedient for McGreevey to hire a minority superintendent, any minority superintendent. Note, however, that Santiago was not forced out due to the red flags, most of which were reportedly covered up by McGreevey's cronies -- most notably AG David Samson and Peter Harvey, first when Harvey was first assistant AG, and then after he had succeeded Samson as acting AG -- but on a fluke. On September 19, 2002, Supt. Santiago wrote a memo "confiscating originals and all copies" of the State Police background investigation of him and his top aides, a demand which, according to Edward M. Neafsey, director of the state Office of Government Integrity, violated federal and state laws, as well as "the [state] Department of Law and Public Safety's Code of Ethics and the Rules and Regulations of the New Jersey State Police."

Only after Santiago's ouster, did most of the charges against him come to light. Retired State Police Maj. Frank Simonetta, who had been commanding officer of the state police investigations section charged, in an interview with Gannett reporter Sandy McClure published on April 12, 2003, that beginning in January, 2002, he had tried to hand the State Police reports to AG David Samson and Peter Harvey. "When I told them what I had, they didn't want to see the reports. The attorney general turned to Harvey and said, ‘Pete, you handle it.' And he (Samson) walked out of the room. And Mr. Harvey — it was like I had a hot brick in my hands — did not want to see it, would not even look at it."

Gannett's Sandy McClure reported that each of the three state investigators, troopers David Kushnir, Thomas Primo, and Dennis Vecchiarelli (all of whom had worked under Maj. Simonetta), who reported the allegations from confidential informants, "separately alleged that Harvey wanted one of the investigators to delete a written suggestion that their report be shared with the Senate Judiciary Committee." And indeed, Harvey kept the reports from ever being passed on to the committee. Echoing by then Acting AG Harvey, Edward M. Neafsey later called the charges against Santiago "unsubstantiated"; Gov. McGreevey called them "baseless."

But consider the context. Harvey's deputy, Deputy Director of Criminal Justice Vaughn McKoy, had told the investigators that the AG would not proceed unless the informants revealed their identities to the AG's office, signed affidavits, and permitted themselves to be polygraphed, "unprecedented" requirements, according to State Police sources. Note, too, that the charges had reportedly also been independently corroborated. Hence, the terms "unsubstantiated" and "baseless" are nonsense on stilts. All charges are unsubstantiated and baseless, if authorities refuse to investigate them. The informants all refused to accept the AG's terms (terms which Gov. McGreevey supported), with one reportedly saying he feared for his life. Consider as well, that Santiago had worked for the AG's office. Thus, Santiago would not only have had (illegal) access to any State Police reports that had been written in compliance with the AG's demand to reveal the informants' names, but he also had connections in the AG's office.

Critics have charged that the Office of Government Integrity is a dumping ground for McGreevey lackeys, though it is hard to see how that would distinguish it from any other state agency.

Neither journalism nor law enforcement can function without the use of confidential sources. To have to identify all one's sources would result in most of them drying up, since sources that are exposed tend to get fired from their jobs, blacklisted from their professions, and/or turn up dead. Director Santiago was not supposed to know the names of the three troopers investigating him, yet in a lawsuit the troopers filed, they asserted that not only did Santiago know their identities, but that he had retaliated against them. According to Capital Report's Jeff Whelan and Josh Margolin, Santiago charged "that his downfall was engineered by rogue troopers who fiercely resisted changes he brought to the organization."

But how could "rogue troopers" have been resisting "changes" Santiago made to the State Police, when the investigators had reported the charges made and corroborated against Santiago two months before he was given the job?

Towards the end of Santiago's brief tenure, with the state broke, he spent over $133,000 on renovations for his office, $106,000 of which went for luxurious furniture that Santiago had his subordinates order in lots of less than $20,000 at a time. (Santiago also ordered two paper shredders.) Orders of $20,000 or more would have required the approval of the state Treasury. After his ouster, Santiago landed on his feet, and is presently the chief of police in Trenton, the state capitol.

Golan Cipel

In January, 2002, Gov.-elect McGreevey provided his alleged boyfriend, Golan Cipel, who had initially been sponsored by Charles Kushner, a $110,000-per-year job as state homeland security chief. McGreevey's lies regarding Cipel began even before his inauguration, in a letter he had his chief counsel, Paul Levinsohn write to the feds on Cipel's behalf. As Gannett's Sandy McClure reported on December 12, 2002, "Using the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11 to justify the hiring, the governor's chief lawyer [Paul Levinsohn] wrote a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on McGreevey's inauguration day, telling the federal agency that New Jersey wanted Cipel to coordinate increased security with all branches of government and that Cipel had the necessary ‘substantial experience' in public security."

In fact, no foreign national could qualify for the job, because no foreigner could get the security clearance required to read sensitive federal documents or attend FBI briefings. Since the New Jersey media had already pointed this out, Levinsohn tiptoed around such issues in his official letter. And Cipel had absolutely no security background, to begin with. Meanwhile, big names in security had applied for the job, including former FBI director Louis Freeh, who had offered to do it for free. McGreevey later lied about the contents of the Levinsohn letter. The Gannett chain had to file a Freedom of Information Act request, in order to see the letter, which had mysteriously disappeared from state files, before a copy surfaced -- in Paul Levinsohn's home.

In March, 2002, McGreevey switched Cipel to a no-show job as "special counsel," also at $110,000 per annum. Reporters camped out by Cipel's office, where he never appeared. Gannett's Bob Ingle quipped, "he was an adviser to McGreevey with unspecified duties and two highly paid assistants when doing nothing became overwhelming."

When the media wouldn't stop raising questions about Cipel's "qualifications," on the advice of public relations guru Howard Rubenstein, McGreevey forced Cipel to resign on August 13, 2002. (By the way, Howard Rubenstein was then Charles Kushner's PR flack. Wouldn't you just love to see Rubenstein testify under oath about what he knows about the McGreevey Administration? AG Peter Harvey wouldn't.) And yet, before the year was over, McGreevey had arranged for jobs for Cipel at a public relations firm (MWW Group), and when Cipel wouldn't show up for work on time there, at a lobbying firm (State Street Partners). That made four well-paying jobs requiring minimal labor for a non-citizen with shaky immigration status in barely nine months. Cipel denies that he was McGreevey's lover, or that he is homosexual, not that he thinks there's anything wrong with that, and insists that he was a victim of the governor's sexual harassment. We should all be so victimized.

What was it about this alleged poet that made him so darned valuable? By the way, State Street Partners fired Cipel in May 2003, for absenteeism.

So, McGreevey says he doesn't like girls, and Cipel says he doesn't like boys. Got it?

Billboardgate

"Billboardgate": In 2003, McGreevey chief of staff Gary Taffet and chief counsel Paul Levinsohn were charged with having used their positions with McGreevey to make highway billboard ad deals during the 2001 gubernatorial campaign for their secret billboard company, and having profited to the tune of $2.2 million on the eve of the governor-elect's 2002 inauguration. Many of the deals were with large McGreevey campaign contributors, including – surprise, surprise! – Charles Kushner.

Taffet and Levinsohn were both forced to resign. McGreevey critics such as Assemblyman John Rooney (R-Emerson), suggested that chief counsel to Gov. McGreevey, Paul Josephson (who changes jobs more often than David Wells: He had been McGreevey's campaign attorney, then Levinsohn's top aide, and then Levinsohn's successor as chief counsel), was potentially implicated in both Billboardgate and the Roger Chugh case (see below). As McGreevey campaign attorney, Josephson had allegedly turned a blind eye to Chugh's allegedly illegal conduct. (I know – "allegedly, allegedly." Since none of these cases have legally been resolved, and most probably never will be, I have to say "allegedly." With apologies to Robert Towne, "Forget it, Jake, it's Jersey.")

During Josephson's momentary post-inaugural job in 2002 as liaison to public (highway, turnpike, etc.) authorities, he had reportedly intervened on behalf of Taffet and Levinsohn's business, by blocking attempts by their competitor, Lewis Katz, to get billboard contracts. The various charges and insinuations have so far rolled off Josephson's back, as he has jumped sideways from one high-level job to another, each time things have gotten hot for him. He had to resign his position as chief counsel after less than two months, but was immediately made assistant attorney general and director of the Division of Law in the Department of Law and Public Safety, on March 11, 2003. Josephson bossed 550 civil attorneys while working under acting AG Peter Harvey. Josephson left that job on January 28, to become a partner at the powerful Princeton law firm, Hill Wallack. That's six jobs in about two-and-a-half years, but it's nothing compared to Golan Cipel's four jobs in nine months. Meanwhile, in a civil suit filed on June 16, the SEC charged Gary Taffet with insider trading for actions he had allegedly undertaken before he had worked for McGreevey.

Roger Chugh

During McGreevey's 2001 campaign, Asian Indian businessmen in Middlesex County have charged, his fundraiser Rajesh "Roger" Chugh (who later worked in the secretary of state's office) engaged in illegal fundraising tactics, including "pressur[ing] them for contributions in the years leading up to the 2001 gubernatorial election, using grandiose promises of gubernatorial appointments, easy negotiation of Woodbridge [whose mayor McGreevey was, while simultaneously serving as a state senator, before being elected governor] oversight boards or threats of retribution."

Choppers

McGreevey turned state police helicopters into his personal limousine service, using them for 272 trips, including fourteen for personal business.

The Fisc

McGreevey raised taxes, spending, and state debt, and caused the state's bond rating to be downgraded.

* * *

In perhaps the unkindest cut of all, McGreevey has refused to vacate the office from which he resigned. In a ruthless bid to maintain Democrat control over the governorship, McGreevey insists that he will not leave office until November 15. Were he to leave before Election Day (November 2), a special election would be held for the people of New Jersey to choose a successor. By sabotaging voters' chance to replace him, McGreevey guarantees that the governorship will remain in Democrat hands until 2006, in the person of Senate President Richard J. Codey, who under state law, needn't give up his day job as senate president while serving as acting governor. A number of press observers believe that McGreevey is seeking to pave the way for popular, liberal Democrat Sen. Jon Corzine to run for governor in 2005.

The truth is, the McGreevey administration had long been on life support. But McGreevey should have been forced from office already in 2002 over Cipel, even if he had not been embroiled in a single other scandal. It's one thing to have a midlife crisis, or to believe in the privileges of rank, or to be a run-of-the-mill philanderer; it's another thing to misappropriate taxpayer money by putting one's mistress (mastress?) on the government payroll, and a whole nother ballgame to breach government security, just to pay off one's lover.

For some perspective, consider the less dramatic case of Wayne Hays.

Back in 1976, 64-year-old, Ohio Democrat Congressman Wayne Hays, the chairman of the powerful House Administration Committee, was known as "the meanest man in Congress." But then his private squeeze publicly sucker-punched him. Blonde, voluptuous, 26-year-old Elizabeth Ray, who was on Hays' (meaning the people's) payroll as a $14,000-per-year clerk, in spite of not being able to type, file, or even answer the telephone, came out to the Washington Post, and let the world know what kind of dictation she had really been taking from Hays. Ray then lent her name to a salacious, ghostwritten, roman à clef that appeared three months after the scandal broke, The Washington Fringe Benefit. Hays was forced to resign from the House. It never occurred to him, in those pre-Oprah times, to announce that he was a victim of certain impulses, that he was a sexually postmodern American, or to debate the meaning of the verb "to be." Those were the good, old days.

Conversely today, people who have been caught, or whose leaders have been caught in dubious friendships, often scream, "Guilt by association!" as if this were a magic incantation that would put critics on the defensive. But there is nothing wrong morally with the concept of guilt by association (which is not the same as collective guilt or collective punishment), which is legal grounds for putting a parolee back in jail (for "merely" associating with known felons), and with the exception perhaps of the Genovese crime family and the State of New Jersey, has customarily been grounds for firing someone from most jobs or refusing to hire him in the first place. This is especially true of jobs involving the public trust. But as bad as Jim McGreevey's associates are, they are all choirboys, compared to the governor.

McGreevey: "I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality if kept secret leaves me, and most importantly the governor's office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure."

Jim McGreevey was never vulnerable to rumors or false allegations, but he was always vulnerable to the truth. Far from being the heroic figure, torn by identity conflicts, that the socialist mainstream press has painted, McGreevey has had a clear, consistent personality: That of a sociopath, who has no conscience or scruples, and would lie about anything, at the drop of a hat.

The upshot of this story, is that McGreevey's homosexuality or bisexuality was irrelevant to his "resignation." The media knew about his affair with Cipel all along, but covered it up, even though it was an important story (since he was committing fraud with taxpayer money, to pay his lover). So much for homophobia! Some reporters protected McGreevey out of party loyalty, while others did because they were afraid of being branded as "homophobes." Indeed, gay activists wield so much direct and indirect power over the media, that they alternately kill negative stories about homosexuals, while planting fraudulent stories "outing" as gay prominent athletes who aren't!

Had McGreevey resigned due to his sexuality, he would have done so at least two years ago. He likely quit because of the cumulative effect of so many scandals and due to the fallout from the D'Amiano "Machiavelli" affair. At present, the only person besides McGreevey who would know the precipitating factor that pushed him out would probably be U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie. I'm not sure McGreevey would even have leveled with his own attorney, Allen M. Lowy.

McGreevey could potentially be charged in the Cipel and D'Amiano matters, and subpoenaed in countless other criminal cases. But don't bet the split-level on it.

To give you a notion of the degree to which corruption is accepted and even celebrated in the Garden State, on August 27, when still-Gov. McGreevey came out of seclusion, he enjoyed the warm embrace of the Rev. Reginald Jackson, head of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, and his congregation at the St. Matthew A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopalian) Church, in Orange. That day, Cong. Donald Payne (10th Dist.), a veteran Democrat hack, insisted to WCBS-TV News reporter Magee Hickey, "The citizens of New Jersey are very comfortable with Governor McGreevey remaining in office until November 15."

Nicholas Stix can be reached at add1dda@aol.com.

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