Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Legal Corruption – Senator Sarlo Shills for Builders

August 29th, 2009 No comments
Senator Sarlo (D-Bargen) Chairs Regulatory Oversight Committee (5/1/08)

Senator Sarlo (D-Bargen) Chairs Regulatory Oversight Committee (5/1/08)

The latest corruption scandal in NJ has received widespread press coverage and calls for reform.

Importantly, for the first time, corruption has been linked to its impacts on the environment (see: Bergen Record: Builders call the shots; and DEP E-Mails follow lawmakers request; Star Ledger: N.J. environmental groups call for investigation of DEP in light of corruption arrests; Courier Post: Groups call for Probe of DEP and Star Ledger editorial: Consider CleanGreenNJ’s call for a DEP government cleanup (the CleanGreen NJ reform platform backed by the Star Ledger can be found here).

Yet, while the FBI “Bid Rig” investigation that led to criminal indictments of 44 state and local officials – including 2 state Assemblymen – was ongoing, virtually the same corrupt game was going on during this extraordinary hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on June 4, 2009

What went on during this Senate hearing is effectively as corrupt as the behavior of Assemblyman Van Pelt (who bragged DEP works for me and that he “knew the “right guys” at DEP and how to “work the channels”) and Assemblyman Smith were criminally indicted for.

Follow the logic in 3 easy steps and keep in mind that DEP “rules” are LAWS, so what we have here is a State Senator (and Mayor) pressuring public officials to allow violations of law:

Step #1 – DEP explains the large environmental stakes:

“We believe, and the current Rules reflect, that it would be poor public policy to extend sewer service at public expense to subsidize and encourage the development of resources the agency is charged to protect. Promoting the extension of sewers and to threaten endangered species habitats, unique and rare ecological communities, and wetlands just does not make sense to us.”

Step #2 – Senator Sarlo brazenly admits he privately intervened on behalf of the economic interests of builders – to pressure DEP Commissioner to not enforce laws:

“We actually — this Committee met May 1 of 2008,  [I wrote about this hearing here “Builders Gone Wild”] and we had a series of hearings — on May 1, 2008 — with regard to these Rules [issues discussed here, “Builders Escalate Assault on Environment“]  The Rules were ultimately adopted in July of 2008 and went into effect April of  2009 — of this year. In February and March of this year, I had begun an open dialogue with the Department of Environmental Protection and their Commissioner, sharing some of the concerns of the Legislature with regard to counties following through and having their plans approved. And as we know, there are many counties, as we sit here today, whose plans are not approved. What is the impact on the building community with these plans not being approved?”

Step# 3 – DEP admits they caved into political pressure from Senator Sarlo and will not enforce laws:

“Senator Sarlo, I know that many present here have expressed concern to you over the draft line, and I know that Acting Commissioner Mauriello has been in communication with you on this issue. Foremost, there was significant concern that the Department would withdraw all future sewer service area on April 7 for counties or on July 9 for municipalities if they did not submit their Wastewater Management Plans. The counties are crucial to the success of this project. We are bound to them in partnership. As you know, the Department has extended the counties’ submission deadlines, and will continue to work with them as necessary and appropriate to see this process through. We have no plans, at this time, to unilaterally withdraw a sewer service area from counties that do not have current Water Quality Management Plans.” (page 4-5)

[Note: DEP put this all in writing, read the DEP concession letter – click here

Now, let’s take a look at the text of the hearing transcript for multiple examples of Sarlo pressuring DEP and cheerleading for builders during that hearing. Whose interest is Sarlo representing? The public? The environment? Your interests? Or the narrow economic interests of the builders, property owners, and investors that fund his dual office holding campaigns (as Mayor and Senator?)

  • SENATOR SARLO: Okay. And I just want to clarify that with Hudson being the only one approved right now — everything else pending, the other 16 pending, and the other four — the other three submitting their sewer authority maps, and Warren not participating at all — currently, today, if a plan is not adopted yet or approved by the Department, are we placing any moratorium on any projects that are currently pending before local boards — land use boards? (@ page 10)
  • SENATOR SARLO: If there are any projects that currently have been approved, not being built because of the difficult economic times, and then they fall within these restricted areas, how are we going to deal with those projects?  (@ page 10)
  • SENATOR SARLOHave we given the counties a definitive date? I know we’ve– And we appreciate the extension, and I think it’s the right thing to do from a public policy standpoint. But has a definitive date been provided? (@page 11)
  • SENATOR SARLO: Let me clarify that. Make sure we get that clarified. I live in Woodridge, where I serve as MayorSomebody lives out of state, owns a piece of property in New Jersey, and their property has been clipped from the sewer service area. How is that property owner going to know that his property has been clipped from that sewer service area? He lives out of state and is not paying attention. He’s not going on the Internet, he’s not paying attention to what’s happening in New Jersey, but he owns a valuable piece of property. (@ page 12)
  • SENATOR SARLO: I mean, I have a concern that the perception here is, here is government coming in, taking away your rights as a property owner, and you have no say. You don’t have the ability to make a statement or make a say. If you’re sitting on a piece of property, perhaps it’s an investment property for down the road. And then you turn around to try and invest in it, you’ve made an investment, and now your property, in a way, has been devalued. So that is a concern of mine and I’m sure many others in the Legislature. (@page 13)
  • SENATOR SARLO: And just one final question: Are we concerned that– Is the Department concerned that some of these rules may provide local officials with kind of a back-door method to deny an unwanted project in their community? Could they use this to hang over — not-in-my-backyard type of syndrome on a project? Could they say, “Down the road they can amend it, and your property may fall within that area that’s going to no longer be a sewer service area. So we should deny your project now?” Is there any concern by the Department on that — that it could be abused by the local municipalities? (@page 13)

Mulshine Disembowels McKeon

August 28th, 2009 No comments
Assemblyman McKeon (D-Essex) Chairs the Environment Committee

Assemblyman McKeon (D-Essex) Chairs the Environment Committee

disembowel : disemˆbowel|

verb ( -boweled , -boweling ; Brit. -bowelled, -bowelling) [ trans. ]
cut open and remove the internal organs of.

Conservative Star Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine gets it right – like a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day.

Today, he wrote about a development in West Orange. This column managed to put together almost all the pieces of corruption in NJ’s perverse pay to play pro-development political and legal landscape.

Highly recommended – After you read it and get angry, those interested in reform, should visit the “CleanGreenNJ” reform platform

For Mulshine’s column, Click on:

Even Edison couldn’t invent a reason to stay in New Jersey

DEP Involved in Corruption Scandal

July 27th, 2009 No comments
DEP Headquarters, Trenton, NJ

DEP Headquarters, Trenton, NJ

NEW JERSEY ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCY AT HEART OF BRIBERY SCANDAL – New Rules Needed to Ban “Pay-to-Play” and Protect Staff from Strong-Arm Tactics

Washington, DC – Last week’s indictment of 44 people, including several New Jersey officials and two state legislators, underscores that “pay-to-play” is alive and well in the Garden State, especially within its Department of Environmental Protection , according Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today PEER proposed new rules to end the closed door dealings within DEP that fuel corrupt practices and put its professional staff in an untenable position.

To facilitate development projects, state legislators pressure DEP to improperly approve permits, sign-off on incomplete clean-ups and shelve enforcement actions. Typically, legislators deliver their messages to the DEP Commissioner or the Assistant Commissioners, who in turn direct staff. As one of the indicted lawmakers, state Rep. Daniel Van Pelt, who sits on the committee overseeing DEP, bragged to the FBI confidential informant, he knows the “right guys” who “work the channels”.

“The back channels into DEP need to be shut down” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “As long as DEP does its business behind closed doors, corruption will continue to blossom.”

Today PEER is proposing transparency rules for DEP that are virtually identical to ones which the agency rejected when PEER first proposed them in 2007. These rules would provide:

  • Notice of Meetings. DEP convenes closed-door meetings with lobbyists, legislators and other insiders with no public attendance or publication of meeting agendas. The agency defends this secrecy as a matter of  executive privilege and the deliberative process privilege;
  • Publication of Top Officials Calendars. The DEP Commissioner and top deputies routinely make decisions on enforcement and other pollution control policies in meetings with legislators and corporate executives, often from the same companies charged with violations. DEP shields appointment calendars to protect the privacy interests of attendees; and
  • Repeal Gag Orders Forbidding Staff from Talking to Media and Public. Under current DEP rules, agency scientists and other specialists are barred from speaking without prior approval from the agency Press Office. DEP says this is needed to enforce the chain-of-command.

“A big problem in New Jersey DEP is that the professional staff has little recourse when confronting management orders to less than faithfully execute the law,” Ruch added, noting that the state’s whistleblower law does not protect employee disclosures about threats to public health, manipulation of science, mismanagement or ethics violations. “Sunlight is the best hope for deterring sleazy deals.”

Political influence over DEP is now so deep that it is an accepted fact of life. For example, in a July 14, 2009 letter, DEP Acting Assistant Commissioner Scott Brubaker explained why he was setting aside water anti-pollution rules because legislators had introduce a bill to bully DEP to bend over for a favored project:

“The Department is also under pressure from the development community, which fears that the Department will unilaterally remove sewer service areas. Recently, legislation has been introduced that would extend the submission deadline. Together these added burdens would preclude the Department from adopting any new or updated wastewater management plan for the foreseeable future. Any Department effort to withdraw sewer service areas would encourage this legislation.”

“So long as DEP succumbs to political pressure, it invites that pressure,” Ruch concluded.


Examine the DEP role in latest bribery scandal

Read the PEER petition

View the DEP letter acknowledging political bullying

Look at DEP rebuff of transparency rules in 2007

See the full text of the federal criminal complaints