By now, anyone that cares about New Jersey politics has heard that former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero was found guilty of racketeering on Thursday. What does this mean, if anything, regarding the federal corruption charges against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ)?
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Long before Lou Stellato was joining the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s rank and file at fundraisers, Ferriero, 57, was the Bergen County Democratic Chairman.
From 1998 until January of 2009, Ferriero was the top dog of the BCDO and was credited with bringing the party back to prominence, taking over the freeholder board before getting the BCDO’s pick for county executive elected for the first time in 2002.
A lawyer by trade, Ferriero began working for the high-powered Lyndhurst law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck around the same time, March 18, 2002 to be exact.
Without boring you with too much background information, the federal government argued that as Ferriero’s political clout grew, so began using his influence to facilitate back room deals. He did this in order to make up for the fact his BCDO title was unpaid.
Specifically, in September 2013 he was indicted on charges of racketeering, bribery and mail/wire fraud.
As the FBI press office put it (maybe I’ll work there if Hudson County ever cleans itself up), “a federal grand jury found Ferriero guilty of a pattern of racketeering activity, using the mail and facilities in interstate commerce to promote bribery and distribute bribe proceeds and wire fraud.”
The Record, who provided exceptional coverage of the trial throughout, quoted jury foreman Bradley Swenson as calling the case “way too complicated.”
The Jury found that John Carrino, a Nutley-based attorney and software developer, would allow Ferriero to recommend and provide a favorable opinion of the software developer and his companies to various public officials in Bergen County with whom Ferriero had influence.
In return, Ferriero would receive a percentage of the gross receipts and his financial interest in the contracts were hidden through shell companies.
Also worth mentioning is that another charge, which Ferriero was found not guilty of, said Ferriero played a role in extorting $1.7 million from the Mills Corp. – a Virginia-based company trying to get the rights to build the infamous Xanadu project in East Rutherford.
Prominent attorney M. Robert DeCotiis, the founder and chairman of Teaneck firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole, LLP – regarded as one of the trial’s key witnesses – made headlines when he testified that Donald Scarinci asked Mills to hire his firm for $35,000 or else they would work for competitor Hartz Mountain Industries and begin a “scorched earth” campaign against Mills.
Bear in mind that neither Scarinci or Ken Hollenbeck were ever charged with a crime, even in Ferriero’s previous indictment (where Joe had the charges thrown out on a technicality in 2009), nor did either counselor testify in either trial, so DeCotiis’ testimony really raises more questions than answers.
I know you Hudson County-ites (Hudson County-ians?) have been patiently waiting for it, that was my segue into the Menendez corruption charges.
Menendez was hit with a 14-count indictment on April 1, being charged with crimes such as bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud and making false statements during the investigation of this case.
If the indictment has evaded you for thing long, I’d imagine you wouldn’t be reading this right now, but essentially it paints Menendez as more of a Sean “P. Diddy” Combs music mogul-type than a U.S. Senator: talking about the luxurious lifestyle him and his pal Salomon Melgen live behind the scenes.
Allegedly, Menendez used his influence to get Melgen out of massive Medicare headache, got Melgen’s girlfriends visas and flew on the now infamous Melgen jet without reporting it as an expense (or paying for the expense himself).
Scarinci, one of Menendez’s best buds from childhood, essentially told me earlier this month that the indictment was a bunch of baloney, as Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, never received the port security contract with the Dominican Republic mentioned in the indictment, nor did Menendez pull any strings with Medicare.
The part about Medicare is indisputably true, as Melgen was indicted on a whopping 76-counts of Medicare fraud on Wednesday. Although he has since pleaded not guilty, as him and Menendez did on the initial charges, he is spending some time in the slammer since he was given no bail.
It’s not secret that the feds are putting Melgen in a chokehold that would make “Rowdy” Roddy Piper blush, as they try to get him to sing like a canary on all things Menendez.
With all that context laid out, what does the Ferriero verdict mean to Menendez?
For starters, it means that a federal grand jury can be convinced that using political influence for your own personal benefit is a huge no no, so Menendez’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, will have to make it clear that Menendez and Melgen have been friends for 20 years and none of their behavior was atypical for what friends do for one another.
The biggest part of this case will be intent. Did Menendez get to hang out in exotic villas with Melgen because they were pals or because the doctor wanted to make more money? Can it be both? Where is the line drawn?
The other thing to consider is that putting together a “complicated” case may be the goal of the government in high-profile situations like ones involving people like Ferriero and Menendez.
Ferriero was convicted of being a corrupt businessman who threw his political weight around. For Menendez, the jury would have to be convinced a politician was willing to use his influence in a corrupt fashion in order to live an “MTV Cribs” sort of lifestyle.
In other words, a trial centering around six-figure campaign contributions, tropical vacation spots and what obtaining a visa is supposed to entail is pretty complicated by just about anyone’s standards.
Finally, let’s not ignore the fact that no two juries are the same: unless it’s an open and shut case like the one with former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, no one really knows what the verdict is going to be until it is read by the jury foreman.
Still, there is no question that those close to Menendez were following the Ferriero case very closely and are now doing whatever they can to make sure the former Union City mayor doesn’t leave the courtroom in disgrace, probably a good two years from now, like Ferriero did after four days of jury deliberations.