Booker on the hook

As leftist New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was out projecting in his objection to Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Seesions, Politico reports he is involved in a big scandal in his often corrupt state.

Booker is embroiled in a Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) scandal involving allegations of massive kickbacks.  The website reported last week Donald Bernard Sr., a senior projects manager at the company that ran Newark’s water infrastructure under the direction of Booker, the then-mayor of New jersey’s biggest city, Newark, pled guilty in federal court to accepting nearly $1 million in bribes from contractors.

Last month, Bernard Sr.’s former boss at the Newark company, Linda Watkins Brashear, also pleaded guilty to similar charges. A former contractor Giacomo “Jack” DeRosa pleaded guilty to money laundering charges over kickbacks paid to Bernard.

Politico reported among the most dogged of Newark’s water watchers was Dan O’Flaherty, a Columbia University economics professor and a former City Hall staffer. He and a group of residents calling themselves The Newark Water Group wrote a detailed accounting of the agency’s mismanagement in 2011 for NJ.com entitled “Hog Wild.”  The level of corruption he saw was very egregious.

“This is bigger than I thought. The amounts of money are unusual for Newark. Most of the officials who have been convicted of something in the last 45 years — post-[disgraced former mayor Hugh] Addonizio — were involved in schemes of four or five digits. This is easily in six digits,” O’Flaherty told Politico.

Which means at least $100,000…perhaps more…was used in kickbacks.

When Booker took office nine years ago, the NWCDC, through its city contract, was running Newark’s entire water delivery system. Its engineers and planners worked directly out of City Hall.

Trustees appointed by a judge in 2013 to “wind down” the Corporation and return water operations to the city are now suing Booker in bankruptcy court. They claim Booker’s failure to monitor the agency caused the severe corruption which robbed the fiscally struggling city of its few resources and placed its old water infrastructure at massive risk.

Politico reports Booker was forced to admit he never once attended a NWCDC board meeting his entire time in office even though he was the agency’s ex-officio trustee. Recently, Booker’s attorneys argued he is immune from financial liability because his role on the Newark water board was a “de facto responsibility of the office of mayor.”

Allegations of misconduct at the NWCDC have been raised by local residents, media, and lawmakers for many years. The NWCDC is supposedly a non-profit agency created to protect Newark’s watershed.

After “Hog Wild” was published in 2011, The Newark Star-Ledger, via NJ.com published its own findings of what they called”spending and mismanagement at the agency.” But it wasn’t until 2013, when the state comptroller began investigating, that the Booker administration moved to shut down the agency.

Newark City Councilman Augusto Amador also led investigations into corruption and kickbacks at the agency. He was one of the most vocal and earliest critics of the extreme spending going on.

“I’m surprised about the amount of money that was stolen…When I first looked into it and looked at the books that were submitted to the Council, the amount that was involved was nowhere near what we’re seeing now, but I’m not surprised by the indictments,” Amador said

Now, with indictments already filed and two guilty pleas entered, both Amador and O’Flaherty expect even more charges against other ex-workers and consultants of the agency and the contractors who paid the bribes.

“I have no reason to think that the U.S. attorney is done,” O’Flaherty said.

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