Category Archives: corruption

Corruption Behind the $4 Million Tab for Tax Appeals in Middletown

By guest blogger Linda Baum

I’m sure we all recall the big jump in our property assessments on 2009 tax bills. That was the result of a town-wide revaluation done at the height of the market in 2008 — a huge mistake. It guaranteed there would be an onslaught of appeals and the drastic measures we saw this year by the Mayor and Township Committee to find extra money to pay the $4 million dollar tab.

Remember the ugliness? The seizure of $500,000 of library funds and threats of police layoffs to gain concessions. Middletown certainly didn’t feel like a great place to live.

The Township should have done a revaluation years earlier. It had been at least 15 years since the last one. The company hired to do the revaluation had difficulty explaining the delay. That company, Realty Appraisal, does loads of revaluations around the State, and the cause for the delay didn’t stem from their efforts. So then where does blame lie?

If you spoke to the County Tax Administrator, I’m sure he would tell you that revaluations should probably happen every 4-5 years. By waiting, Middletown drew the ire of the County Tax Board.

Middletown Republicans basically thumbed their noses at the County and refused to do a revaluation while other municipalities followed the law. Meanwhile, the richest property owners in the Township saw property values increase hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in that time period while their taxes were based on assessments from long ago.

Residents in less affluent sections of the Township were picking up the tab for the Navesink River Road crowd. That’s because when expensive properties are dramatically under-assessed, the effect is to remove potentially hundreds of millions from the town-wide assessment base. The result is that everyone else pays proportionately more.

The low assessment base means that the tax rate would have been set too high. Evidence of that is the big decline in the overall tax rate upon revaluation – it went from $3.787 in 2008 to $1.725 in 2009 (per $100 of assessed value). Owners of newly built homes would have been among the most adversely affected by the inflated tax rate, which, coupled with their higher more up-to-date assessments, means they were paying more in property taxes than they should have been in the years prior to the revaluation.

The bottom line is that the more valuable your property and the longer you owned it, the more money you stood to save from the Township’s failure to revaluate.

Per the County, around 60% of Middletown residents saw a reduction in taxes as a result of the revaluation. Since the Township still needed to collect the same total revenue, it stands to reason that owners of high end properties saw the largest dollar increases in their taxes after the revaluation.

It seems to me the Township most likely delayed the revaluation for two reasons.

First, the Republican Party leaders resided along the Navesink River Road corridor and had enjoyed tax-free, enormous increases in the value of their homes. As they took advantage of this increase in equity, the Township gave them a free pass. A revaluation would have increased taxes for many of them.

Second, Democrats had started to take seats on the Township Committee and the Republican Party desperately wanted to avoid losing votes, and possibly control of the Township, by doing a revaluation. Republican strongholds like Shadow Lake might have punished Republican leaders for tax increases and shifted the balance of power.

The County was upset with Middletown officials and, in 2008, took the unprecedented step of suspending our tax assessor, Charlie Heck, for failing to submit the paperwork necessary to do the revaluation. In a brazen admission of the underlying truths, then Mayor Scharfenberger actually referred to Mr. Heck as “Saint Charlie”. And this year, Mayor Fiore and our all-Republican Township Committee voted unanimously to award Mr. Heck a $15,000 bonus.

While you can draw your own conclusions, it seems obvious to me that Republican officials manipulated the process for their own political and personal financial gain. Due to their delays, when they were finally compelled by the County to submit the data for the revaluation, they did so on the eve of the financial crisis, just before property values plummeted. It would have been wise to postpone the revaluation until the market settled, but they couldn’t ask for another extension because they were already in deep trouble with the County for waiting as long as they had.

The delay cost taxpayers dearly. To deal with the unrealistic property data created by the poorly-timed revaluation, the Township was forced to undertake a costly reassessment this year, forcing taxpayers to expend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a reassessment that could have been avoided.

The overall tab may be $6 million or more now. Township officials won’t reveal how much or exactly where the money is coming from to pay for it. But appeal awards continue to roll in, and one thing is certain. Middletown residents will be feeling the sting for years to come.

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Filed under Charles Heck, corruption, Middletown Township Committee, property tax reassessment, property tax revaluation, Republicans, Shadow Lake, tax appeals, tax assessor, tax rate

Beyond Brown: Did Another Top Christie Aide Politicize Prosecutor’s Office To Help Former Boss?

TMPMuckraker-

So far, the charges that Chris Christie turned the U.S. attorney’s office into a “branch office” of his campaign for governor, as Jon Corzine put it yesterday, have centered on the relationship between Christie and Michele Brown, a close friend and top aide to Christie when he was US attorney. Brown reportedly took several actions this year that benefited Christie’s GOP bid for governor, and in 2007 got an undisclosed $46,000 loan from him.

But did another of Christie’s former top aides also put the prosecutor’s office in the service of his one-time boss’s political aspirations? Ralph Marra, who until this month was the acting U.S. attorney, has several times appeared to insert himself into the political back-and-forth over the race, appearing to pointedly criticize a request by the Corzine campaign for public information, and even triggering a Justice Department probe into whether he made inappropriately political public comments that may have boosted Christie.

Let’s look at the facts:

Christie has had a major hand in the Marra’s rise up the prosecutorial ranks. When Christie became U.S. attorney in 2002, he made Marra, a veteran prosecutor, his first assistant, the number 2 post in the office. Then when Christie stepped down last December to run for governor, Marra became acting U.S. attorney. (Marra returned to the first assistant position last week, with the confirmation of the new U.S. attorney, Paul Fishman.)

In July, Marra went before the cameras to announce a high-profile corruption bust that involved the arrests of a bevy of New Jersey mayors, elected officials, and rabbis. (It was this same bust that Brown reportedly tried to change the timing of, in one of her own apparent bids to help Christie.)

The case as a whole was a boon to Christie, under whose leadership much of the investigation had been carried out. And it appeared to damage Corzine, by focusing attention on the state’s rotten political culture which the incumbent governor had earlier pledged to clean up. But at the press conference, Marra made sure that message wasn’t lost, departing from the “just-the-facts” approach that prosecutors customarily take in such cases, and instead seeming to point the finger at the Corzine administration. Said Marra:


There are easily reforms that could be made within this state that would make our job easier, or even take some of the load off our job. There are too many people that profit off the system the way it is and so they have no incentive to change it. The few people that want to change it seem to get shouted down. So how long that cycle’s going to continue I just don’t know.
According to video of the press conference, Marra also declared:

With so many profiting off a corrupt system is it any wonder that few want to change the system? Once again the victims in this are the average citizens and honest business people in this sate. They don’t have a chance in this culture of corruption.

The Justice Department’s internal ethics unit subsequently opened an investigation into whether his comments violated departmental guidelines that forbid political statements from prosecutors. (DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPMmuckraker about the status of the probe.)

Then in August, Marra sent an email to the U.S. attorney’s office staff, obtained by PolitickerNJ.com, in which he slammed the “barrage of FOIA requests” which the Corzine campaign had made earlier that year, seeking information on Christie’s tenure as U.S. attorney. Marra said the requests had “unfairly drawn [the office] into a political campaign.” He also denounced what he called the “wholly trumped up (and then apparently leaked) complaint” by the Corzine campaign that led to the DOJ probe of his press conference comments, and defended those comments as “generic and general.”

As we noted yesterday, back in February Christie had appeared to announce his intention to appoint his former colleagues to positions in his administration, if elected. He told a crowd of supporters: “I’ve got a group of assistant U.S. attorneys sitting down in Newark … I’m going to take a whole group of them to Trenton with me and put them in every one of the departments.”

It’s worth asking whether some of Christie’s former colleagues, like Marra and Brown, decided to use their positions to help make that happen.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Filed under Chris Christie, corruption, Gov. Jon Corzine, Michele Brown, New Jersey, Ralph Marra, Talking Points Memo, US Attorneys Office

Joe Kyrillos’ Glass House

I thought that the following post and commentary from Blue Jersey’s Vincent Solomeno would be of interested to my fellow Midletown residents. The post deals deals with Middletown’s very own state Senator from the 13th District Joe Kyrillos and how he has tried to capitalize on the recent corruption cases for the Christie campaign. Vincent points out that Kyrillos supported evry one of the indicted Republicans that where wrapped up in 2005’s “Operation Bid Rid” and that people that live in galss houses shouldn’t be throwing stones. The artical was first posted on Blue Jersey last Thursday.

From Blue Jersey – by Vincent Solomeno

Like my mother says, people in glass houses should never throw stones. The Bergen Record’s Herb Jackson reports today that Solomon Dwek, the cooperating witness in the F.B.I.’s recent corruption bust, gave nearly $200,000 to New Jersey elected officials of both parties. While there is nothing nefarious about accepting a contribution, it is disconcerting when one considers the influence of money in our political system, a reality for lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.

Yesterday, CQPolitics changed their estimate of the New Jersey gubernatorial race from Toss-Up to Leans Republican. The story on the ratings change included a quote from State Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-Middletown), State Chairman of Chris Christie for Governor, who was quick to link Democrats to the latest round of indictments:

“I think that the New Jersey Democratic party is a major embarrassment, not just to people here at home, but should be to Democrats all over this country,” said Christie campaign chairman Joe Kyrillos, a state senator.

“There’s a culture and an enabling of people and care and feeding of the wrong kinds of actors and a looking the other way that has a allowed this kind of episode – and it’s not the first one – to take place,” he said.

Kyrillos is right that there is a culture that enables corruption in New Jersey politics. What he neglected to acknowledge is the bipartisan nature of the problem. Which is interesting, considering he actively supported every one of the Republican elected officials nabbed in the 2005 wave of Operation Bid Rig. He even counted some among his friends. As Jackson’s report makes clear, Kyrillos also accepted $5,200 from Dwek, notwithstanding the $51,000 given over to the Republican State Committee.

No one is saying Kyrillos is crooked. Dwek also donated to the re-election campaign of Congressman Frank Pallone and to the Democratic State Committee. Like Pallone, Kyrillos is giving the contributions over to charity. And while there was nothing wrong with accepting the contributions in the first place, Dwek’s inroads demonstrate that the permanent quest for cash inherent in New Jersey’s political culture is a problem for both Democrats and Republicans.

Corruption has nothing to do with political party. Chris Christie has said as much himself. It’s a fact that his campaign chairman, with his own ties to corrupt politicians and dirty money, would be wise to remember. Because really, Joe, people in glass houses should never throw stones.

politicizing corruption (4.00 / 1)
In the past, I’ve seen more level-headed Republicans such as Senator O’Toole not use a political corruption case as a pretense to lambaste the state Democratic Party. But such behavior would be too much to ask for from Christie puppy-dog Kyrillos, who doesn’t undertand that, as Vincent rightly put it, corruption knows no party boundary.
Interestingly enough, besides the Dwek donation and the Bid Rig scandal connections mentioned above, Kyrillos may have some other Christie-centered, quid-pro-quo issues in his closet. According to the On Our Radar blog

The Christie brothers’ business associates, including Kyrillos, also donated generously to the state Republicans during that critical time Chris was being considered for recommendation. Does one hand wash another? Employees of Todd’s New York company then donated $14,000 to Kyrillos’ campaign in October 2001. In the three years Kyrillos held a committee chairmanship, the Christies and their associates gave the Kyrillos campaign $30,850.
Last week’s horrific corruption case that was brought to light had very little to do with any systemic Democratic corruption and everything to do with transparency and checks and balances on a general level. Kyrillos may spout lame Christie talking points, but he has his own possible ethical quandaries to worry about.

And we haven’t even mentioned huntsu’s research on Kyrillos hyperpolitical college interview with Christie that couldn’t even be aired…


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Filed under Chris Christie, corruption, CQ politics, featured, Frank Pallone, Herb Jackson, Joe Kyrillos, Jon Corzine, Operation Bid Rig, political wire, Solomon Dwek

Is Newark Mayor Cory Booker Corrupt?

Is it a crime to be the Mayor of Newark and if so does that make Cory Booker corrupt? Politicker.com’s Editor, James W. Pindell seems to be eluding to just that. 

In a column posted yesterday by Mr. Pindell titled The most corrupt political office in America: Illinois Governor, he tries to explain the history of corruption that has plagued the governorship of Illinois. If current Gov. Rod Blagojevich goes to jail for trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat, then he will be the fourth Governor of Illinois to have been convicted of a crime and sent to jail in the past forty years. 
However, in trying to explain the history of corruption in Illinois, Pindell adds this throw-away line: 
“But this is political story that goes beyond just Blagojevich. Along with the position of Newark, New Jersey mayor the seat of Illinois Governor may be the most corrupt office in America.”
In the past, I know that a few of Newark’s mayors have been somewhat ethically challenged ( James, Gibson, Imperiale…), but to add this line just to emphasize or compare Newark’s Mayors to Illinois’s Governors is grossly unfair to Cory Booker, who by all accounts, is doing a fantastic job straightening out the problems in Newark.
I would also like to point out that Mr. Booker, as the current occupant of the Newark Mayor’s office has had no hint of scandal or corruption. 
I think that Mr. Pindell, in the future should be a little more careful with his throw-away lines. one (or two,or three) bad apples don’t spoil the whole bushel.    

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Filed under corruption, Cory Booker, federal prosecutors, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinios, jail, James Pindell, Mayor of Newark, Newark NJ, PolitickerNJ, senate seat, US Senate

>Is Newark Mayor Cory Booker Corrupt?

>Is it a crime to be the Mayor of Newark and if so does that make Cory Booker corrupt? Politicker.com’s Editor, James W. Pindell seems to be eluding to just that. 

In a column posted yesterday by Mr. Pindell titled The most corrupt political office in America: Illinois Governor, he tries to explain the history of corruption that has plagued the governorship of Illinois. If current Gov. Rod Blagojevich goes to jail for trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat, then he will be the fourth Governor of Illinois to have been convicted of a crime and sent to jail in the past forty years. 
However, in trying to explain the history of corruption in Illinois, Pindell adds this throw-away line: 
“But this is political story that goes beyond just Blagojevich. Along with the position of Newark, New Jersey mayor the seat of Illinois Governor may be the most corrupt office in America.”
In the past, I know that a few of Newark’s mayors have been somewhat ethically challenged ( James, Gibson, Imperiale…), but to add this line just to emphasize or compare Newark’s Mayors to Illinois’s Governors is grossly unfair to Cory Booker, who by all accounts, is doing a fantastic job straightening out the problems in Newark.
I would also like to point out that Mr. Booker, as the current occupant of the Newark Mayor’s office has had no hint of scandal or corruption. 
I think that Mr. Pindell, in the future should be a little more careful with his throw-away lines. one (or two,or three) bad apples don’t spoil the whole bushel.    

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Filed under corruption, Cory Booker, federal prosecutors, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinios, jail, James Pindell, Mayor of Newark, Newark NJ, PolitickerNJ, senate seat, US Senate

New Jersey Corrupt? Just Take a look at Illinois

Illinois has long legacy of public corruption, at least 79 elected officials have been convicted of wrongdoing since 1972


MSNBC .com has a story that details the long history of corruption that has engulfed Illinois politics which dates back to the late 19th century, and we thought New Jersey had problems with corrupt officials : 
” Illinois’ official slogan is the “Land of Lincoln,” but an equally apt descriptor would be the “Land of Greased Palms.”

The state, Cook County and its governmental seat, Chicago, have a long history of corruption by elected and appointed officials.

The culture of corruption dates back to the late 19th century, when a gambling-house owner named Michael Cassius McDonald created the city’s first political machine, establishing a model in which officials would distribute contracts, jobs and social services in exchange for political support, according to a scholarly history of organized crime in Chicago by Robert Lombardo, a sociology professor and former Chicago and Cook County police officer.

  

Its persistence was documented in Sept. 7, 2006 by the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that at least 79 current or former Illinois, Chicago or Cook County elected officials had been found guilty of a crime by judges, juries or their own pleas since 1972. The paper provided this tally of the tarnished: three governors, two other state officials, 15 state legislators, two congressmen, one mayor, three other city officials, 27 aldermen, 19 Cook County judges and seven other Cook County officials.”…


Click HERE to finish reading the story

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Filed under Chicago, corruption, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinios, MSNBC, New Jersey, Organized Crime

>New Jersey Corrupt? Just Take a look at Illinois

>Illinois has long legacy of public corruption, at least 79 elected officials have been convicted of wrongdoing since 1972


MSNBC .com has a story that details the long history of corruption that has engulfed Illinois politics which dates back to the late 19th century, and we thought New Jersey had problems with corrupt officials : 
” Illinois’ official slogan is the “Land of Lincoln,” but an equally apt descriptor would be the “Land of Greased Palms.”

The state, Cook County and its governmental seat, Chicago, have a long history of corruption by elected and appointed officials.

The culture of corruption dates back to the late 19th century, when a gambling-house owner named Michael Cassius McDonald created the city’s first political machine, establishing a model in which officials would distribute contracts, jobs and social services in exchange for political support, according to a scholarly history of organized crime in Chicago by Robert Lombardo, a sociology professor and former Chicago and Cook County police officer.

  

Its persistence was documented in Sept. 7, 2006 by the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that at least 79 current or former Illinois, Chicago or Cook County elected officials had been found guilty of a crime by judges, juries or their own pleas since 1972. The paper provided this tally of the tarnished: three governors, two other state officials, 15 state legislators, two congressmen, one mayor, three other city officials, 27 aldermen, 19 Cook County judges and seven other Cook County officials.”…


Click HERE to finish reading the story

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Filed under Chicago, corruption, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinios, MSNBC, New Jersey, Organized Crime