2002-10-28 -- Treffinger, James -- Indictment -- News Release

Essex County Executive Treffinger Indicted, Arrested for Fraud, Extortion and Obstruction

NEWARK - The Essex County Executive and former candidate for U.S. Senate, James W. Treffinger, was arrested today, charged in an Indictment with extortion, fraud, obstructing a federal investigation and conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie announced.

The Indictment describes an array of fraud and misconduct by the County Executive, primarily in connection with Treffinger's abuse of his office for his own political advancement. The Indictment also describes Treffinger caught on a covert audio recording expressing his plans to become the U.S. Attorney so that he could stop his and other public corruption investigations.

"What you find in this Indictment represents a new height of arrogance and deceit by a corrupt public official in New Jersey," Christie said. "The alleged criminal behavior demonstrated an appalling willingness by Treffinger to corrupt the most powerful elected office in Essex County government for his own selfish purposes."

The abuses included extortion of County vendors for campaign contributions, no-show jobs, witness tampering, bogus paper trails to mislead investigators, and other abuses connected to his Senate campaign, according to the Indictment.

Treffinger, 52, was arrested early this morning outside his home in Verona by Special Agents of the FBI. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald J. Hedges at about 2:30 p.m. Judge Hedges set bail at $100,000, to be secured by the home of an aunt of Treffingers in Maplewood. Judge Hedges ordered Treffinger to have no contact with government witnesses, with the exception of county employees and vendors who are witnesses, but for the limited purpose of conducting County business with those individuals. Treffinger was released today.

Judge Hedges also ordered Treffinger to turn over to the U.S. Attorney's Office any firearms he might have as well as firearm permits and limited his travel to New Jersey and New York. Treffinger's arraignment was scheduled for Nov. 4 at 11 a.m. before U.S. District Chief Judge John W. Bissell, to whom the case has been assigned.

The 20-count Indictment was returned Thursday and unsealed with Treffinger's arrest. An addendum to this news release lists the counts and respective charges of the Indictment and the maximum penalties.

The Indictment charges multiple instances and methods in which Treffinger unlawfully used his office and authority to raise campaign funds. Among other things, Treffinger allegedly extorted $15,000 in campaign contributions from United Gunite Construction Inc. (UGC) of Irvington, in exchange for no-bid contracts for sewer repair in Essex County. Those contracts totaled $328,850. (UGC and its executives have figured prominently in other public corruption investigations by the U.S. Attorney's Office.)

The Indictment also accuses Treffinger of conspiring with campaign staffers to make thousands of negative phone calls to voters' homes attacking a rival candidate for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate. The calls, made during the 2002 Super Bowl, were falsely attributed by Treffinger and his campaign organization to a second rival candidate, with the intention of directing voter outrage at that candidate and concealing Treffinger's campaign's role in making the calls.

The Indictment further charges Treffinger with conspiring to obstruct the investigation and witness tampering. Among other things, according to the Indictment, Treffinger was recorded in January 2001 by a cooperating government witness - identified only as Treffinger's "associate" in the Indictment - saying that he was seeking the nomination to be the next U.S. Attorney. From that position, Treffinger said, he would be able to close down the investigation of him and others.

"All this becomes moot if I get to be made the U.S. Attorney," Treffinger allegedly told his associate. Treffinger also said, according to the Indictment, that he and his co-conspirators would "rest easy for a long time to come," because "then this whole thing goes away."

There are, Treffinger allegedly said, "plenty of mobsters to go after. You don't have to go after all these poor politicians trying to ply their trade."

• • •

The Indictment alleges that Treffinger met personally with UGC Executive Jerry Free at UGC offices in Irvington and then personally directed the award of contracts to UGC. In return, UGC paid a total of $15,000 toward Treffinger's Senate campaign. Eventually, Treffinger became aware of the federal investigation of Free, UGC and others, according to the Indictment.

Treffinger's concern about the investigation - and specifically whether Free may have tape-recorded damaging conversations with him - allegedly set in motion extensive efforts by him and others to conceal the fraud. Among those efforts, as alleged in the Indictment:

• Two meetings at a secluded, county-owned building in Cedar Grove, at which the participants planned ways to cover up the payments from UGC, the award of no-bid contracts to UGC and Treffinger's association with Free. The meetings were attended variously by Treffinger's "associate," an aide to the County Executive, Treffinger's campaign treasurer and the County Engineer, who was by then a cooperating witness in the government's investigation and secretly recording Treffinger and the others.

• At a May 10, 2000, meeting at the Cedar Grove location, Treffinger conducted a mock examination of the County Engineer, in which Treffinger took the role of a prosecutor, to prepare the engineer on how to answer questions concerning UGC and the extorted campaign contributions.

• Creation, with the help of the then-Essex County counsel, of backdated, misleading memos to be inserted in Essex County government files, to create the impression that Treffinger had no knowledge of Free or UGC. In one memo, Treffinger said the name "Jerry Fried" did not "strike a bell" and referred to a company he knew as "National Gunnite Corp."

• After the federal grand jury issued subpoenas on Oct. 11, 2000, for records related to UGC, Treffinger rehired the County Counsel, who by that time had left the County employ, in order to ensure his cooperation in covering up the bogus paper trial that both he, Treffinger and the other County officials created.

The Indictment also accuses Treffinger of seeking to extort campaign contributions from another County vendor. The Indictment alleges that Treffinger personally directed that payment of the vendor's invoice be held up until the vendor made campaign contributions.

To further his 2000 Senate bid, Treffinger hired two individuals to work on his campaign and the campaign of another while being paid by Essex County for these services, according to the Indictment. The Indictment also alleges that Treffinger received thousands of dollars in free food and catering services from a County vendor. Counts 15 to 18 charge that neither the catering services nor the services provided by the two County employees were listed on Federal Election Commission reports as required by law.

Treffinger is also charged with permitting his personal hair stylist to have a no-show county job, who, according to the Indictment, Treffinger accompanied on a trip to Italy. According to the Indictment, Treffinger's hair stylist was paid between approximately $14,000 and $17,000 per year plus benefits yet provided no meaningful services to the County.

• • •

Counts One through Five of the Indictment allege that Treffinger deprived the citizens of Essex County of money and property and his honest services and those of the County Engineer in extorting campaign contributions from an Essex County vendor in exchange for contracts.

Count Six charges that Treffinger used his office to extort campaign contributions from UGC.

Count Seven charges that to cover up the extortion of UGC, Treffinger conspired with others to obstruct the investigation through an assortment of concealing acts.

Counts Eight and Nine charge that Treffinger further sought to conceal his illegal conduct by coaching others to provide false and misleading information to federal investigators about the investigation.

Count 10 charges that Treffinger further sought to cause others to provide false information to federal investigators by creating phony backdated documents.

Count 11 charges that Treffinger attempted to extort $5,000 in campaign contributions from a County vendor by holding up the payment of an invoice that this vendor submitted for payment to the Essex County Improvement Authority for legitimate services rendered to that agency.

Counts 12 through 14 charge Treffinger with engaging in a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property from the County of Essex and its citizens and to deprive the County of Essex and its citizens of its officials' and employees' honest services in that he consistently used the services of two County employees to work exclusively on campaign matters while being paid a salary from the County for County jobs which they did not perform.

Counts 15 through 18 charges that the defendant caused the making of false statements to the Federal Election Commission in connection with his unsuccessful 2000 bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate by failing to report to the FEC the food and catering services extorted frrm the caterer and the services of the two Essex County employees.

Count 19 charges that Treffinger conspired to cause the theft of funds in connection with federally funded programs and County departments receiving federal funds, in that he caused and permitted his personal hair stylist to receive a salary while he provided no meaningful services to the County.

Count 20 charges that Treffinger conspired with others to misrepresent a campaign authority by causing thousands of negative phone calls to be made to voters' homes on behalf of a rival candidate. The calls, made during the 2002 Super Bowl, were falsely attributed by Treffinger and his campaign organization to a second rival candidate, with the intention of directing voter outrage at that candidate and concealing Treffinger's campaign's role in making the calls.

An Indictment is a formal charge made by a grand jury, a body of 16 to 23 citizens. Grand jury proceedings are secret, and neither persons under investigation nor their attorneys have the right to be present. A grand jury may vote an Indictment if 12 or more jurors find probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime or crimes charged.

Despite Indictment, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

Christie credited Special Agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Louie F. Allen, in Newark; and Anne D. Fahy, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation section, in Newark, for their agencies' respective roles in the ongoing investigation of corruption in Essex County.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Nobile, Chief; Perry Carbone, Deputy Chief; and Nelson Thayer of the Special Prosecutions Division of the U.S. Attorneys's Office in Newark. Assisting in the case was the U.S. Department of Justice, Public Integrity Section, Washington, D.C., Noel Hillman, Acting Chief; and Stuart M. Goldberg, Principal Deputy Chief.

-end-


Defense counsel: Edward Jacobs, Esq. Atlantic City

Henry Klingeman, Esq. Newark

 

Treffinger Indictment Charges and Penalties

Counts One through Five, mail fraud, Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1346

Each mail fraud count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine or twice the gross loss to the victim(s) or gain to the defendant.

Count Six, extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). The violation carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and a $250,000 fine or twice the gross loss to the victim(s) or gain to the defendant.

Count Seven, conspiracy to obstruct the investigation by misleading conduct and corruptly persuading witnesses (contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 1512), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. The maximum penalty is five years and a $250,000 fine or twice the gross loss to the victim(s) or gain to the defendant.

Counts 8 through 10 charge witness tampering in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3). The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine or both.

Count 11 charges one count of attempting to extort campaign contributions in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). Same penalties as stated for Count Six above.

Counts 12 through 14 charge mail and wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1343. Same penalties as stated for Counts One through Five.

Counts 15 through 18 charges making false statements to a federal agency in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 1001. The maximum penalty is five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine or both.

Count 19 charges conspiracy to defraud in connection with federal funds and programs, (contrary to Title 18 U.S.C. § 666), in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. § 371. The maximum penalty is five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine or both.

Count 20 charges a conspiracy to fraudulently misrepresent campaign authority in violation of Title 2 U.S.C. § 441h(2). The maximum penalty is one year imprisonment and a $25,000 fine or both.

-end-