Saturday, February 17, 2007

A New Definition for Chutzpah, Trenton Style?

(Correction below)
A key portion of the Trenton OLS mystery issue we explored yesterday has now been outed!

Senator Wayne Bryant, it seems, was the legislator who was insisting on pursuing a claim of attorney-client privilege through the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) over papers and records generated during his tenure as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He did so in order to quash at least a portion of a federal criminal subpoena. And he put the touch on the taxpayers again to pay for his attorney to pursue that claim. The purpose of the claim was to prevent investigators from gathering evidence of what they reportedly believe were his efforts to steer taxpayer money into his own pockets.

Meanwhile, on Friday, broad ranging federal subpoenas, as noted by Tom Hester of the AP in a story printed in the Record were served to partisan legislative offices in Trenton, as well as key leadership district offices on both sides of the aisle. A Philadelphia Inquirer story by Elisa Ung laid out details of interviews between investigators and legislators, and points to fresh indications of what the feds are looking at, particularly in their probe of Senator Wayne Bryant.

According to the Star Ledger, the subpoenas covered budget periods going back to 2004. As Ledger staff reporters Ted Sherman and Jeff Whelan put it:

Yesterday's subpoenas requested documents and communications from 2004 to present -- including e-mails, letters, memos and faxes -- regarding "property-tax assistance and community development grants and any other grants or assistance, commonly referred to as Christmas tree items," according to three legislative sources who saw them.

Three of the four partisan offices issued press statements late Friday. However, the office of Senator Richard Codey, the Senate President, did not.

But in an interview with Senate President Richard Codey, (D-West Orange) for his On The Record show that will be airing on New Jersey Network (NJN) this Sunday, Michael Arons and Codey managed to perform a tandem blurt, finally laying out the fact that it was none other than Senator Wayne Bryant, reportedly a prime target of the federal probe, who apparently went to OLS and asserted "attorney-client privilege" as to papers and records regarding budget matters from back when he was the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In an exclusive Asbury Park Press story written by Mike Symons of the Gannett State Bureau, the conversation during the yet-to-be-aired interview is detailed as follows:

Codey, D—Essex, said in an interview with NJN for its Sunday "On the Record" program that legislative offices and the state Department of the Treasury were asked months ago by the U.S. Attorney's Office for documents and complied.

"And in addition to that, OLS has complied completely what they were asked of, except this one singular issue on one singular legislator who has invoked attorney-client privilege," Codey said.

In his follow-up question, NJN's Michael Aron said, "The legislator, we know, is Wayne Bryant."

"Well, OK," Codey said, before saying it's his understanding it is the lawmaker who invoked the privilege.

"You read the papers and listen to certain politicians, it's about some big conspiracy. Absolutely not," Codey said.


So, back when the initial set of federal subpoenas hit the Legislature, this suggests that Senator Wayne Bryant went to Albert Porroni, Chief Counsel of the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), and asserted the claim of attorney-client privilege. Then, either Albert or Albert and Senator Bryant, took the issue and put into the lap of Senate President Codey and/or Wayne’s legislative district running mate, Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts.

As far as we know, this matter was kept secret from the “not so prying eyes” of the bipartisan Legislative Services Commission (LSC), which by law oversees OLS. At some point, a decision was made (and we do not yet know by whom) to have OLS open the till and spend taxpayer funds to hire an outside attorney, Edward Dauber, at $275 - $300.00 an hour to defend Senator Bryant’s assertion of attorney-client privilege, all in an effort to quash at least portions of the criminal federal subpoena -- the key portions, one would certainly think.

That's because Senator Bryant is reportedly being investigated for using his position as the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee to steer state budget money for his personal benefit, and for the benefit others, both business and family, who the Senator is quite close to.

Months ago, for example, the federal monitor of UMDNJ discovered that Bryant helped UMDNJ get substantial state budget funds, and they generously gave him what was reportedly a “no work” job for $35,000.00 a year, at an office on the Stratford campus of UMDNJ, a Newark-based, state-funded medical teaching school and hospital. As was noted by David Kocieniewski writing for the New York Times at the time, the federal monitor concluded that the job was essentially for Bryant to lobby himself. It was one of several "teaching" jobs he held.

Hester’s AP story about the subpoenas in the Record described it this way:

In September, a federal monitor asked by the U.S. attorney to review activities at UMDNJ issued a report stating Bryant received a no-work job at the school while helping to steer state funding to it through his role as Senate budget chairman.

After that report, state and federal authorities subpoenaed records about Bryant from Gloucester County and Rutgers University -- where Bryant also held jobs -- and the state Legislature. Bryant later resigned from his seat as influential Senate budget chairman.

Those posts helped Bryant to boost his state pension credits. In fact, Dunstan McNichol recently reported in the Star Ledger that Bryant retired last month from the State, and began drawing his $83,696.00 a year pension, as well as retiring from his law firm. In case you were wondering, an obscure state law passed many years ago allows him to be retired from state service and draw a full pension, but still be eligible to serve in the Legislature and draw his $40,000.00 $49,000.00 a year salary. (Correction)


While chairing appropriations, he also reportedly put money in the budget that permitted his now former law firm to do redevelopment legal work in Camden, and other legal work in his home town of Lawnside, paid for with those funds. The rain-maker just announced his retirement from the firm to be able to spend more quality time with his family. It has been widely reported as well that a substantial number of the members of his family also hold government payroll positions in and around the Camden area.


But, let’s get back to the story. Think about this for a second . . .

Someone signed off on Senator Wayne Bryant's request to have an outside big-gun attorney hired at taxpayer expense to defend him from having to comply with key portions of a federal subpoena in a federal criminal investigation into allegations that he had previously steered substantial amounts of public money to his personal benefit.

And, after admitting that this is essentially what happened, Senator Codey also says:
"You read the papers and listen to certain politicians, it's about some big conspiracy. Absolutely not," Codey said.

No? Please tell us more, Senator Codey. Who did approve that arrangement? You have our undivided attention.

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At 3:07 AM, February 18, 2007, Blogger J. Joseph Rivera said...

A federal probe in New Jersey was LONG overdue for reasons like this. There are more abuses of the system like this taking place here than you can shake a stick at.

This also exposes Dick Codey for the hypocrite and fraud that most of us blogosphering political junkies knew he was. I always believed that he was just another Essex County hack and this basically confrims it.


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