Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) recently stated that Senate President and former Acting Governor Richard Codey (D-West Orange) attempted to strong arm him into discontinuing his efforts to investigate a legislative slush fund that was responsible for the now-infamous “Christmas Tree” grants currently under federal investigation.
He claimed that Senator Codey offered him state grant money and threatened him so that DeCroce’s pursuit of information about the slush fund would be stalled. DeCroce agreed to a lie detector test to ‘prove’ his assertions; as of this writing, Codey has not. If DeCroce’s allegations are true, they are not only damaging to Senator Codey and the Democratic Legislature politically, but they have serious legal implications, as well. DeCroce had a responsibility to alert the proper authorities to these allegations when they occurred, not two years after the fact; the public should have been informed in due time, as well.
The issue of the “slush fund” was first brought to the public’s attention approximately one month ago during the trial of former state Senator Wayne Bryant. A Democratic legislative aide testified that some legislators were allowed to spend millions of dollars of the state’s budget at their whim from a fund that required competitive merit-based applications. Codey was acting governor when he proposed the “slush fund” and the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved it while he was serving in the role of senate president.
DeCroce alleges Codey offered him and his fellow Republicans grant money and “threatened” him by intonating that he did not believe in looking into each other’s personal issues, although he could do so
Codey, on the other hand, said DeCroce’s allegations were an “absolute lie” and that their only discussion about the subject took place after the grants had ended and he had told DeCroce that it was inappropriate for Republican staffers to file Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests on state time for purpose of doing opposition research. DeCroce claims that the OPRA requests were being filed well before this and for the purposes of obtaining documents about the “Christmas Tree” grants.
DeCroce claims that he did not come forward until now because he did not realize how “political” the budget process truly was and he recently saw some emails that showed Codey staffers talking about co-opting DeCroce by giving him grants. Is he now coming forward because he is looking like a patsy after the release of those emails?
If DeCroce felt physically threatened or that his career was in jeopardy, one might conclude that he might not wish to come forward. But so far, he has not made such an accusation. DeCroce is a citizen of New Jersey who has a civic duty to report malfeasance, as all citizens do. Above all, he is a public official sworn to uphold the law, which makes his excuses for not doing so even more repugnant.
The above having been said, newspaper articles that dwell solely on DeCroce are missing the bigger picture. There was a huge slush fund apparently being doled out at will by Democratic legislators. The former acting governor of the state is being accused of threatening a prominent Republican legislator into not obtaining documents about the fund. That should be the focus of the media and public attention. The residents of our state deserve answers and they deserve them now, and certainly well before legislative elections in 2009.
Michael M. Shapiro is an attorney who resides in New Providence. He currently serves as the editor of The Alternative Press, www.TheAlternativePress.com. Contact Mike at MikeShapiro@TheAlternativePress.com.
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