Green Room

Report: ‘Rampant corruption’ in Booker’s Newark

posted at 3:56 pm on February 24, 2014 by

Hey look, a genuine, brewing scandal in New Jersey:

While Newark was laying off police officers and begging for state bailouts, one of its most important contractors was siphoning off millions of city dollars in illegal payments, sweetheart deals, and risky stock ventures right under the noses of city leaders, according to a report released today by the state comptroller’s office. Until a judge appointed trustees to dissolve the agency last year, the Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corporation managed the city’s 35,000 acres of reservoirs and treated water for more than 500,000 customers in northern New Jersey. Between 2008 and 2011, the state comptroller alleges that agency leaders and insiders absconded with millions of public dollars. ”This report documents an egregious and yet preventable abuse of public funds that was allowed to continue unfettered for years because of poor oversight,” said comptroller chief of staff Melissa Liebermann in a statement issued today with the 45-page report.

The former official who lined her pockets with taxpayers’ money says she acted at the direction of Mayor (and now US Senator) Cory Booker’s administration:

Linda Watkins-Brashear, the agency’s director and a political ally of former Newark mayor, now Sen. Cory Booker, wrote unreported checks to herself to the tune of $200,000, was awarded $700,000 in two severance packages, gave more than $1 million in contracts to her friends and ex-husband, and lost $500,000 in dubious stock ventures, the report states. When asked about the transactions by the state comptroller, Watkins-Brashear invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself, the report said. Through her attorneys, Watkins-Brashear said the report wrongly laid blame at her feet and said she acted at all times with the knowledge and approval of then Mayor Cory Booker’s administration. ”The report provides the public with an inaccurate depiction of how the NWCDC operated, the propriety of the transactions at issue, and how some of the perceived problems came to pass,” attorney Michael Baldassare said in a statement. “Ms. Watkins-Brashear acted as she was directed, believed at all times that her actions were appropriate and duly authorized, and faithfully discharged her obligations for over 32 years.”

Team Booker has some explaining to do:

Since the 1970′s, the NWCDC was a steward of the city’s watershed land in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties. By the 1990′s, the city was also contracting the agency to run Newark’s purification plant in Pequannock. Shortly after Booker took over, every aspect of the city’s water infrastructure was managed by the NWCDC through contracts and consultants. Despite investigations by the Newark Water Group, a watchdog collective of resident activists, as well as a series of financial misdeeds reported in The Star-Ledger, the Booker administration continued to fund no-bid contracts to the agency at the rate of roughly $10 million a year. The city was the agency’s only customer, meaning all of its funding came from public dollars.

The Star-Ledger reports that corruption and graft within the NWCDC system was an open secret among many in Newark’s political class.  Phil Kerpen connects some dots that lead awfully close to Booker’s doorstep:  As Mayor, Booker appointed his former law partner and campaign treasurer as the Watershed’s chief counsel.  The agency then proceeded to pay his law firm approximately $1 million over the next five years, roughly 40 percent of which may have been unauthorized.  And yes, this was the same law firm that was simultaneously paying out nearly $700,000 in severance compensation to Booker himself (click through for an explanation of Booker’s conflicting claims about the nature those pay-outs).  Meanwhile, city government cronies were living high on the hog while residents and core services suffered.  Thanks, taxpayers:

In 2010, the same year Newark laid off more than 160 police officers and about 800 other employees, Watkins-Brashear treated herself and 20 guests to a $1,400 feast in Atlantic City during the annual League of Municipalities conference, the report states. Watkins-Brashear and her guests dined that night on lobster, king crab and filet mignon, washed down with martinis, cognac and wine, according to the comptroller’s findings.

Will the national media run with this story, considering that it appears to entangle a rising star politician from New Jersey?  Weeks of relentless and often sloppy coverage of ‘Bridgegate’ have driven Chris Christie’s numbers down from lofty highs, even as zero evidence has yet emerged that Christie was involved in the scandal.  Will Booker get the same treatment?

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Sooo racist…

Akzed on February 24, 2014 at 3:59 PM

Lol. Booker’s the Coleman Young/Kwame Kilpatrick of New Jersey – Shocka!

Rational Thought on February 24, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Calling Rachel Maddow! Calling Rachel Maddow!

This story is guaranteed to be the lead story for at LEAST two months’ programming time.

Ferris on February 24, 2014 at 4:05 PM

well this is interesting! definitely more interesting than bridgegate. i hope the msm gives this story a little tiny bit of attention… nah, i’m getting my hopes up way too much.

Sachiko on February 24, 2014 at 4:07 PM

There are some genuine grass-roots community groups trying to sink their teeth into the tender underparts of whatever problems turn up. If they can get traction on this, it will get at least local edgins

njcommuter on February 24, 2014 at 4:26 PM

Chris Christie is supposed to know every street that’s blocked off in his state, but you can’t expect Corey Booker to know about millions in graft in his administration because, shut up, racist!

rbj on February 24, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Move along, nothing to see here. Go watch Kim Kardashian, sheeple.

Deano1952 on February 24, 2014 at 5:29 PM

the same year Newark laid off more than 160 police officers and about 800 other employees, Watkins-Brashear treated herself and 20 guests to a $1,400 feast in Atlantic City

Was that “feast” $1,400 per head? Or $70 per person? I’ll assume $1,400/person and just chalk this up as shitty writing.

pain train on February 24, 2014 at 5:48 PM

Following in Detroit’s footsteps?

vityas on February 24, 2014 at 5:55 PM

Chris Christie is supposed to know every street that’s blocked off in his state, but you can’t expect Corey Booker to know about millions in graft in his administration because, shut up, racist!

Exactly.
After all, it’s not like this occurred in some corner of the political world that’s notorious for graft, partisanship and thievery: It happened in New Jers—wait.
Never mind.

orangemtl on February 24, 2014 at 6:32 PM

No way!

Murphy9 on February 24, 2014 at 7:01 PM

Way!

Bmore on February 24, 2014 at 9:35 PM

Thanks again Chris Christie for not campaigning at all for Booker’s opponent and scheduling the election at a different time than your re-election effort. Even with this scandal I’m sure Booker will be safe. And he will undoubtedly one day be President of the United States, all thanks to Christie for helping him get his Senate seat.

Jack_Burton on February 24, 2014 at 9:52 PM

Will the national media run with this story, considering that it appears to entangle a rising star politician from New Jersey? Weeks of relentless and often sloppy coverage of ‘Bridgegate’ have driven Chris Christie’s numbers down from lofty highs, even as zero evidence has yet emerged that Christie was involved in the scandal. Will Booker get the same treatment?

…he’ll be the next President!

KOOLAID2 on February 24, 2014 at 10:36 PM

Jack_Burton,

Christie campaigned and fundraised for Lonegan. If anything, Steve had a better shot in a small-turnout, one-off election against Booker. But why let the facts get in the way?

Guy Benson on February 25, 2014 at 1:49 AM

Chris Christie is supposed to know every street that’s blocked off in his state, but you can’t expect Corey Booker to know about millions in graft in his administration because, shut up, racist!

rbj on February 24, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Christie could score a lot of points with voters by kicking butt and taking names in Newark on this issue.

I mean, he still has a long way to go before I would ever vote for him, but it’s a start.

UltimateBob on February 25, 2014 at 2:08 AM

“Will the national media run with this story….?”

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

DoOver on February 25, 2014 at 5:52 AM

Pigs!

Armyspouse on February 25, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Is anyone really surprised by this?

mmcnamer1 on February 25, 2014 at 9:06 AM

Mmmm what shall we call this scandal……watergate? Why is this coming out now? Why not months ago when this creep in a senate election campaign

jaywemm on February 25, 2014 at 9:25 AM

Cory Booker for President! Slogan: “Let the Good Times Roll!”

vnvet on February 25, 2014 at 9:41 AM

The former official who lined her pockets with taxpayers’ money says she acted at the direction of Mayor (and now US Senator) Cory Booker’s administration:

Shouldn’t that be “…acted at the direction of DEMOCRAT Mayor (and now US Senator) Cory Booker’s administration”?

C’mon, Hotair, include the party affiliation. Or are you taking cues from the MSM?

conservablogger on February 25, 2014 at 11:22 AM

C’mon, Hotair, include the party affiliation. Or are you taking cues from the MSM?

conservablogger on February 25, 2014 at 11:22 AM

…yep!

KOOLAID2 on February 25, 2014 at 3:40 PM