I’ve faced resistance and retaliation stemming from my efforts to expose NJ government corruption and it is taking a toll on my business and personal life.
It has been almost 10 years since I called New Jersey State Police in Port Norris to report receiving a death threat by telephone for my actions as a citizen activist to expose political mismanagement and corruption. The threat was explicit enough to scare me. The caller identified himself as being affiliated with local government but did not give his name. I had his phone number as well as the details of the call recorded in the caller ID. I turned the information over to police. As far as I know, the New Jersey State Police never even investigated the telephone number and the details of the death threat that I reported to them.
I later learned that the most likely instigator of the threat was a government official who was also retired NJ State Marine Police officer. I have no way of knowing if that connection affected the lack of police investigation. About two years later I was charged by a young New Jersey State Police officer (but acquitted in court) from the same Port Norris barracks with a bizarre complaint of disturbing the peace while I was gardening in my yard alone on a peaceful quiet Sunday afternoon. My family was inside and witnessed the whole thing. The officer arrived at my isolated rural house and began provoking me in a mean-spirited and unprofessional way for no apparent reason behaving in a way that I’ve never before seen by a police officer. When I turned to go inside to avoid him and his berating vulgar comments, he chased me and took me into custody. Weird, but again, I have no way of knowing if the incidents are connected. A reasonable person, I think, would have suspicions. Since this was a weekend house for me, the likelihood of this series of events all occurring at the rural home on warm weather weekends is suspicious all by itself.
Less than three months after the telephone death threat, in my own front yard, I was deliberately struck yard by a truck driven by an intoxicated neighbor claiming to be taking revenge for my challenge of the deputy mayor’s misdeeds. Evidence pointed to collaboration on a preconceived plan to “take me out” but details were never flushed out. I was shocked to learn that I was the target of an assassination conspiracy! The politician and the assailant quickly left the state. A grand jury indicted the assailant anyway but Cumberland County prosecutors admit mishandling the case and the charges were later dropped. The attack left me, my family and my business community with life-altering long-term consequences but nobody was ever held accountable.
I’ve reported several incidents of bribery and extortion attempts by local and state government officials over the years. I’ve reported these to both state and federal investigators. No action was ever taken. Neighbors have reported blatant corruption and extortion attempts by our DEP and building code officer but nothing ever happened as a result except more lack of cooperation from these officials. Last year our new deputy mayor Dennis Cook made detailed charges in writing about FEMA fraud committed by our current mayor Robert Campbell. We know that at least two FEMA attorneys are aware of the charges yet no action has been taken.
Our local municipal prosecutor Tom Corrigan is aware of my belief that a series of threats or attempted prosecutions (8 of them in total) made by local government against me or my nonprofit organization. I’ve characterized all of them as retaliatory for public positions I’ve taken to support environmental or small business causes. All of the charges against me were without merit and all were eventually dropped or dismissed. I’ve never been found in violation of any law or ordinance. Yet the false accusers face no consequences and I expect the government harassment will be allowed to continue. I expect eventually they will find something – some ordinance that I don’t know about or can’t control – that will lead to a successful prosecution.
A little more than two years ago an employee of the Division of Fire Protection in the Office of Consumer Affairs boldly admitted to scheme to harness Sandy victims with additional penalty fees while their businesses were closed for post-flood repairs. I was shocked and offended by the tactic so I challenged the action in administrative court in Trenton. The bureau chief seemed ready to address the concern (and did dismiss most of the extra fee) but the administrative judge was unmoved by my argument of systematic predatory policy by state government. The judge’s attitude was ‘if you can’t pay then get out and let somebody else run the business’.
Last year FEMA admitted systematic fraud committed to cheat New Jersey insurance policyholders who were attempting to settle their homeowner claims after Sandy floods. FEMA accepted responsibility and announced corrective measures and a new program to address those harmed by the cheating. Yesterday in Washington DC the news broke that the corrective program is actually a sham designed to cover up the earlier fraud.
I’m just plain discouraged. I’ve been working for decades to make my home, my business and my small New jersey community a better place to live and work. I don’t have any of the perks of high salary, pension or employee benefits of a public employee. I do it simply because I think it is the right thing to do and the right way to live. In fact, I’m barely making ends meet since the new post-Sandy expenses and economic realities took their grip. Over 75% of my gross revenue in excess of rebuilding expense goes directly to government or to some government-mandated program. Yet hardly a month goes by when I don’t receive a new threat from some office of government demanding more money. Sometimes these come by letter under the guise of legal enforcement. Other times they are sleazy and often vague undocumented personal threats to attempt persuasion. It really bothers me but I don’t know what to do.
The response I’ve been using: talking loudly, being open and reporting the corruption clearly is not working. I don’t know what else is possible within the system. We’ve occasionally sought outside help with this problem. Volunteers from the New jersey Society of CPAs and representatives from the New Jersey League of Municipalities have been generous with their time and advice. I hope to recruit a retired NJDEP official to serve as a political relations consultant. Yet I sometimes wonder if a second attempt to shut me up permanently will someday be successful. I’m not afraid of it but shocked that I recognize assassination as a real possibility in this world that we often pretend is above such brutality.
Meanwhile, my best idea is to continue to get the word out: government corruption is a real problem that affects some of us much more than others. But ultimately it hurts us all.
I received a message from a friend that the state building inspector mentioned in this blog post has been under investigation for a while based on previous complaints by others. I have no way of knowing if this is true. I do know that when I threatened to appeal his denial of a building permit for a handicap ramp based on a solid engineer’s design, he became extremely upset and so I withdrew the appeal request. Yet our handicap ramp remains unapproved today, years after the permit application.