Campaign Finance and Public Corruption: A Case Study

The Mercatus Center released a working paper questioning if campaign finance reforms reduce public corruption.

In my experience it does not and I just happen to have a perfect example which I will present one week from today to the New Jersey’s Local Finance Board in regard to an application before them:

Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA); Union, NJ

Issuance of up to $20 million in lease revenue bonds for the

“Union County College Cranford Facility Project”

Thank you for allowing me to comment on this application.  I oppose this project and ask that you deny approval for two reasons:

1)    Having gone through all 210 pages of this application I found no detail on what this project is going to build or any rationale or dire need for this new building, whatever it might be, to justify further burdening the taxpayers of one of the highest-taxed counties in the nation with one of the largest debt burdens in the state.

2)    I have attended almost every Union County freeholder meeting over the last five years, recording many of them, and at no time has anyone asked for this or any of the other multi-million-dollar building projects that either the county or the UCIA has embarked upon.  Of the few members of the public (including a recurring contingent from Summit) the call has consistently been for lower taxes.  My theory, as supported by the attached exhibits, is that this is simply a make-work project designed to generate fees for county vendors, including the law firm of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole, LLP, in exchange for contributions to the Union County Democratic Committee or to Union County freeholder campaigns.  Charlotte DeFilippo, the executive director of the UCIA is also the head of the Union County Democratic Committee.

DeCotiis

DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, & Cole, LLP (formerly DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Cole & Wisler) have been the general counsel to the UCIA since at least 2004 (billing records only go back that far) for which they have been paid $10 million in fees (A).

Recently DeCotiis has also been counsel to EnCap, Xanadu, and the NJ Turnpike Authority.  Those lucrative assignments have all ended, some very badly.  To maintain their revenues from the UCIA and Union County in general starting in 2009 some lawyers at the DeCotiis firm  donated a total of $30,000 annually, split among 18 to 21 attorneys, none of whom live in Union County, in equal denominations to the freeholder candidates in those years (B).  In 2011 there was $60,000 donated split between the Primary and General elections though Jonathan L. Williams, Esq. (C) the principal liaison to the UCIA was not among the DeCotiis donors.

I brought this up as part of an April, 2012 presentation on the county budget and DeCotiis attorneys have not made these contributions subsequently according to the NJ Elec website.  They have made smaller total donations, $1,500 divided up by attorney to the Clark Democratic Committee as well as to two Cumberland County freeholder candidates though leaving out the DeCotiis employer affiliation in their NJ Elec filing (D).

The last political contribution ever made by disgraced former name partner Eric Wisler was $1,428.58 on October 29, 2009 to the Mirabella Scanlon & Jalloh Victory 2009 campaign though he reported his name as E. Wisler (B22).  Even Mr. Wisler, the driving force behind the EnCap debacle and money-man to convicted felon Wayne Bryant, had his qualms about this pay-to-play scheme.

UCIA Projects

The UCIA does build things but the question has to be whether that building is for an essential need and, if so, is the price for that construction fair considering the percentage that DeCotiis, Birdsall, and other county vendors/campaign donors command.  Based on billing records the projects are almost exclusive to Plainfield (though none recently), Linden, and the County.  None of the other municipalities uses the UCIA.  Kenilworth considered using the UCIA to build a new police station but found that the cost of going through the UCIA would be prohibitive and wound up purchasing an existing adjoining property as an annex.

Then there are the questionable projects and legal entanglements bred of inefficiency and incompetence that have generated substantial fees for DeCotiis as listed below through 4/3/13 and summarized on the attached exhibits

  • Verge Properties Urban Renewal -$824,773.26 (E)
  • Linden South Wood Avenue: $282,414.73 (F)
  • Linden Morningstar: $570,854.40 (G)
  • Travisano vs. UC Freeholders: $92,049.04 (H)
  • Oakwood Apartments: $176,524.99 (I)
  • ISP/DuPont Development: $578,835.15 (J)
  • Berkeley Aquatic Club: $100,625.27 (K)
  • Renewable Energy: $883,226.63 (L)
  • Tremley Point: $344,039.83 (M)
  • Golf Course Project: $294,082.13 (N)

Charlotte DeFilippo

Director of the Union County Improvement Authority and concurrently the  Chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee whose employment contract with the UCIA calls for:

Term: 5 years

Salary: $160,866.32

Sick Days: 15

Vacation Days: 35

Work from home

All while having two people doing some of her work and a law firm getting over a million dollars a year in fees doing most of the rest.

And the most outrageous part of her employment contract (from page 6 of 8):

“EMPLOYEE shall not be discharged, disciplined, reprimanded, reduced in status, rank, or compensation, or deprived of any professional or employment advantage, or given any adverse evaluation of her performance without just cause, including EMPLOYEE’s malfeasance, which shall have first been determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Charlotte DeFilippo is working in cahoots with the DeCotiis law firm to enrich each other with any benefit to county taxpayers secondary to the main purpose of finding projects that can be bonded for – be it a clubhouse/banquet center, a courthouse, or multiple ice-rinks – regardless of the need for these projects.  Their need to be millionaires, or possibly multi-millionaires, supersedes the need of Union County taxpayers to stay solvent.

Oversight – UCIA Board of Commissioners

Anthony Scutari, Chairman (Linden): County Employee $106,032

Carolyn Vollero, Vice-Chairman (Cranford):  former County Employee

Joseph Miskiewicz, Treasurer (Hillside): County Employee, $51,112

John Salerno, Secretary (Cranford): County Employee, $89,540

Cheron Rountree, Commissioner (Union): County Employee, $89,940

Walter Boright, Commissioner (Westfield): Retired Public Employee with multiple pensions

Linda L. Hines, Commissioner (Plainfield): Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority Employee, $37,600

Sebastian D’Elia, Commissioner (Fanwood): County Employee, $111,420

Samuel McGhee, Commissioner (Hillside): Executive Director of the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties and former mayor of Hillside

HELP!

DeCotiis is killing us.  Berkeley Heights is looking to secede.  Summit is considering escrowing county taxes. Linden is paying for all their UCIA projects through laying off police personnel.  We need lower taxes and that can’t happen as long as DeCotiis is allowed to run the county.  Please audit the books.  The current auditors (Suplee, Clooney & Company) have been looking over the county books since at least the year 2000 and though they have brought up issues (which are consistently ignored) what they have missed is startling.  I am a pension actuary with some experience in government accounting and a good working knowledge of financial reporting.  Reports to taxpayers, the SEC, and the state have been deceptive with at least one instance of fraud.

  • OPEB valuations in the county audit claim a trust fund amount that does not exist (O)
  • A report on covering the cost of paying 100% of lifetime health benefits for 600 current employees through forgoing raises was deceptive in assuming no decrements in employee population over 25 years (P)
  • The UCUA 2011 bond refunding that was sold using a deceptive report that ignored payments during the extended bond repayment period (Q)
  • Brown & Brown provided a deceptive cost comparison of SHBP to private plans that pay commissions to them (R)
  • Misappropriation of Open Space trust fund money (S)

Finally, Union County is subsidizing the UCIA with at least $600,000 budgeted in 2013 (T)

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tough Love on May 1, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    John, I find it interesting that you call Charlotte DeFilippo out so clearly and there is no blow-back. Hard to imagine this stuff doesn’t (or won’t) get back to her.

    Perhaps, to get someone (anyone) to pursue these alleged wrongdoings, it needs to be at the Federal level. Powerful people (likely Republicans) with the right connections might be able to get someone’s attention in the Federal Gov’t. Perhaps even some of Gov. Christie’s old associates in the U. S. Attorney’s office might want to look into some of these things. Just my thoughts.

    Reply

    • Thanks for the concern, and it may only be me, but I have noticed absolutely no blow-back (if you don’t count being call a ‘fucking asshole’ by the finance director blow-back – and I don’t).

      This may have something to do with having neither myself or any family or fiends dependent on Charlotte’s or DeCotiis’ good graces which takes away the target from their arrows.

      And the Mercatus study does make the point that it is on the federal level where these prosecutions take place as County Prosecutors are tied up with those drug and gang cases that aren’t likely to upset their benefactors – both those who got them their jobs and those who provide their funding.

      Reply

  2. Posted by NFS on May 1, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks for asking the pertinent questions. Not one official from Linden does even though Linden takes the brunt of the County’s MALFEASANCE, incompetence or what have you.

    So too, attorney for Linden are in a conflict because they also do work for the County, i.e. John Hudak, whose son conveniently sits on the Freeholder Board. If this iisn’t backwater government, I don’t know what is.

    Reply

  3. Posted by bpaterson on May 3, 2013 at 10:31 am

    couple more items: In march of 2006, ryan hutchins of the star ledger did a “human interest” piece on charlotte defilippo, as the democrat political boss of union county (leaving out her directorship references) and she proudly noted that she has a full say into who is appointed, who all the county and local candidates are to be and who is hired at the county. That last part is interesting is that those on the UCIA board are mostly those those who are hired at the county and within county govt entities are the ones who are “overseeing” her and “validating” her lucrative UCIA work contract.

    In addition, and there are probably even more connections to play here-you note a fellow named miskiewicz who is on the board of the UCIA “overseeing” defilippo. At a recent Union county FH meeting, the FH in their possible plan to close UC’s Runnel’s hospital just transferred 12 workers out of the hospital from the hospital to the county DPW, based on DPW director grazianos statement that he needs more hands in the trenches to handle the DPW field work. However, upon questioning if all are doing the field work, he noted that not all but there is one keyboard operator in the group being transferred also. It was a lady with the name of miskiewicz.

    Reply

    • Only Miskiewicz listed on the official county employee list is:

      Miskiewicz Joseph PKSCOMMRENEW $52,134 1/3/04

      Any backup on this other Miskiewicz?

      Reply

  4. […] one main reason for the culture of corruption in New Jersey and I realized it in May of 2013 when I laid out before the Local Finance Board details of corrupt practices to no […]

    Reply

  5. […] law firm getting millions of dollars in county contracts has been having their lawyers donate individually  […]

    Reply

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