After that, all hell breaks loose as on the morning of July 23rd, over 200 federal agents swept across New York and New Jersey to round up 44 miscreants who were fire inspectors, city planning officials, utilities officials, real estate developers, political operatives, philanthropists, rabbi’s, assemblymen, mayor’s and gubernatorial cabinet officials.
Years of criminal investigation culminated in the discovery of a tangled web of corruption that included the laundering of tens of millions of dollars through Jewish charities controlled by rabbis in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Deal, N.J., the trafficking of kidneys and fake Gucci handbags and tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to public officials that were meant to get approvals for buildings and other projects in New Jersey.
The key to the arrests was Solomon Dwek, a 36-year-old religious-school head and philanthropist from Monmouth County, N.J., who became a cooperating witness after being charged with defrauding PNC Bank by writing a bad check for $25 million in 2006.
From that point on Dwek was wired, videotaped and followed by F.B.I. agents in a plot straight out of The Soprano’s. On those F.B.I. recordings are such gems as Mr. Dwek stating to one money-launderer that he had “at least $100,000 a month coming from money I ’schnookied’ from banks for bad loans.” In another tape Dwek is seen giving another coconspirator a box of Apple Jacks cereal stuffed with $97,000 cash for a few political favors in return.
Some of the most high profile thugs rounded up were the New Jersey mayors of Ridgefield, Secaucus and Hoboken, Jersey City’s deputy mayor and two state assemblymen.
A former state senate leader and now member of New Jersey Governor Corzine’s cabinet was also implicated and forced to resign after F.B.I officials searched his home in connection to the still unfolding scandal.
All but one of the officeholders are Democrats. The lone Republican is Dan Van Pelt, a double dipping, dual office holder who serves as the mayor of Ocean Township, NJ. and an assemblyman in the state legislature. Republicans throughout the state called for his immediate resignation from both public offices. A call to his office for a reaction was answered by a woman who calmly said “Mr. Van Pelt was arrested today and is out of the office.”
Now that’s New Jersey!
The most conspicuous of all to have been rounded up so far is the Democrat mayor of Hoboken, Peter Cammarano.
Cammarano just took office on July 1st after winning a cantankerous runoff election and despite the efforts of those officials in Hoboken who have not been arrested, Cammarano refuses to resign. After all he just got the job.
On tape, Mr. Cammarano was caught accepting $25,000 in cash bribes from Solomon Dwek in exchange for expediting zoning changes and pushing through approval of building plans. After the money exchanges hands he tells Dwek “you can put your faith in me” and that “I promise you…you’re gonna be, you’re gonna be treated like a friend.” But along the way other embarrassing statements are overheard. At one point, while talking about his chances of winning what, at the time, was his upcoming mayoral race, Cammarano’s cocky bravado compelled him to declare “right now, the Italians, the Hispanics, the seniors are locked down. Nothing can change that now. . . . I could be, uh, indicted, and I’m still gonna win 85 to 95 percent of those populations”. In another very Mafioso-like moment, Cammarano is caught talking about payback for those who were not with him in the election.
None of this is helping Governor Corzine or the image of Democrats who lined up behind the new Hoboken mayor as he was sworn into office. There, U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez as well as Governor Corzine proudly embraced the 32 year old rising Democrat star with warm embraces and glowing praise.
The whole situation has produced an incredibly embarrassing state of affairs for Corzine who ran New Jersey into the ground after taking office almost four years ago and, among other things, promised to quash corruption. After seeing more than 130 public officials plead guilty or get convicted of corruption since 2001, the arrest of 43 Democrats and 1 Republican, at one time, has proven that Corzine did little to achieve that goal.
Like everything else he promised, including getting the state budget under control, Corzine has been a disastrous failure and this monumental size corruption spectacle just hammers that point harder than ever.
But aside from the increased sour impressions that this newest saga creates, is has disabled a a good portion of the Hudson County Democratic political machine and severely handicapped Corzine‘s chances to win reelection with his major campaign theme which consists of repeating Barack Obama’s name and reminding people that he belongs to the same party that the President belongs to.
Hoboken is one of the largest cities in Hudson Country and Corzine’s home town . Hudson County is one of the most heavily Democrat counties in the state and is the crown jewel of the Governor’s base of support and source of the political engine that runs Corzine’s Get-Out-The-Vote operation.
In this recent historic corruption sweep, 19 of those rounded up were Hudson County officials and operatives. All of which were gearing up to pump out the vote for Corzine in November.
Now they are otherwise occupied in criminal court.
One of these 19 is Jack Shaw, a professional politician that has strong ties and influence with unions on Corzine‘s behalf. Another arrested member of the Corzine cabal is Joseph Cardwell, an operative famous for his coordination of African-American voters, a vote so crucial to Corzine‘s reelection that, without success, he begged the new rising political star, Cory Booker, an African-American mayor of New Jersey‘s largest city, to be his Lieutenant Governor.
All of this has placed the decapitated head of a horse on the pillow of Corzine’s deathbed reelection effort that signifies things to come.
The Governor is already running about ten percent behind his chief rival, Republican Chris Christie, and the prevalent political corruption that has been flourishing among Corzine’s political network is neatly countered by the fact that as the state’s former U.S. Attorney, Chris Christie is the most high profile and successful crime buster that New Jersey’s has ever seen. This naturally compensating aspect of Chris Christie’s candidacy is just another nail in Corzine’s political coffin. That and the fact that you have key Corzine campaigners handcuffed, record high unemployment, a decimated business environment and the highest tax burden in the nation, all adds up to his defeat in November.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that the 44 recent and dramatic malfeasances that were linked together and exposed on just one sunny, summer, New Jersey morning, have officially made New Jersey the most politically corrupt state in the nation. It has also made it very clear that New Jerseyans can not trust anyone in government who asks for their support or whom they seek assistance from or discuss issues with. And to make matters worse, this criminal investigation is still ongoing. I fully expect Governor Corzine to, at some point, be implicated himself, for tampering with the case and trying to have the arrests delayed until after the election when news of the scandal could not effect his chances for reelection.
The whole ugly, unfolding, situation is simply a travesty and cry for change. Not just in New Jersey but in politics and public service in general. It makes it quite obvious that something has to give here and it can’t be the voters. They have already given too much in freedom, taxes, patience and quality of life.
But that assessment begs the question, what must give? What must and can we do? It also leads one to wonder if the systemic corruption that exists in public service is simply a byproduct of politics or is it beyond politics and just a part of human nature?