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My First Taste of NJ Corruption

[Update below]

The death of Cary Edwards reminds me of my first taste of NJ corruption – and my one and only indirect experience with Mr. Edwards.

Here’s the story:

In late 1980’s, I was with DEP and was negotiating the terms of a $48 million state DEP loan to the Newark garbage incinerator project.

The source of state funds was the 1985 Resource Recovery and Solid Waste Disposal Facility Bond Act (a voter approved loan program).

After months of negotiation, at the final meeting (at the Newark office of the bond counsel law firm) where the parties were expected to execute the loan, the Deputy Attorney General  (DAG) Nancy Stiles suddenly reversed course and refused to sign the loan agreement.

DAG Stiles claimed the terms of the loan were flat out illegal because they effectively turned a $48 million loan into a revenue producing grant, thereby violating IRS regulations and the NJ constitution (because voters had approved a bond referrendum for a loan program, not a grant program).

The Essex County representative who led the meeting was furious (his name was Curtis Meanor, I think he was a retired judge, because people called him “judge”).

He exploded, his face got red as a beet, he pounded the table, and called DAG Stiles a “little bitch”.

He then demanded that she immediately call her boss, Attorney General Cary Edwards. Meanor claimed that the loan terms were guaranteed by a hand shake deal between Governors Tom Kean and Mario Cuomo.

I was shocked by all this.

The meeting was suspended so that the State team could caucus. In my presence, DAG Stiles then called AG Edwards and briefed him over the phone.

Shortly thereafter, while on the phone, she turned white as a ghost.

The phone conversation ended abruptly.

We then resumed the meeting.

DAG Stiles said” “The State of NJ is prepared to execute the loan”

The DAG proceeded to execute the loan agreement and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.

That was my first taste of NJ corruption.

On the ride back to Trenton with my boss Joe Wiley, whom I respected (he was Ivy League undergrad and grad, Peace Corps volunteer) I asked him WTF just went on and what we were going to do about it.

His advice: “Bill, you’re just starting out on a promising career. There’s lot’s of interesting work at DEP. Let me give you something else to work on.”

I bit my tongue and lost all respect for my boss – as well as a little self respect.

[Update: 10/29/10 – maybe IRS can look into the Newark incinerator financing like this, per Star Ledger: IRS audits $1.375B in bonds issued by N.J. Turnpike Authority ~~~ end update]

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