Ferriero Trial:  Break out the Popcorn

Ferriero Trial:  Break out the Popcorn
Carol A. Hoernlein P.E.

Updated April 16, 2015 - Joe Ferriero was found guilty on racketeering, bribery related charges and wire fraud today after four days of jury deliberations.  It was a confusing trial for the jury  - they probably could have used my handy dandy chart, but they figured it out.  I should have a more substantial blog post tomorrow. 

But, since this is Throwback Thursday, I will leave the existing post unchanged from February and you can compare notes later...

Next week the racketeering trial of Joe Ferriero, the former Chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Organization begins. The antics of Mr. Ferriero, who the New York Times portrayed as a modern day Boss Tweed, is the reason I became a political blogger in New Jersey in the first place. Next week, the biggest rock in New Jersey is about to be overturned in front of a jury and the politicians are about to scatter every which way. It will be quite fascinating. I know I will be breaking out the popcorn.

The charges are for racketeering. A nice way of saying Ferriero ran the most affluent county in NJ like Tony Soprano, minus the murder. Everyone had to kiss his ring. Even Hillary Rodham Clinton herself when she was running for President. I remember because I was there as a Bergen County Democratic Committee member and shook hands with her husband at the Hackensack Courthouse steps. Here’s the video  of Joe introducing her. (Bet that won’t be up long.) Boss Joe was the most powerful Democratic Chairman in the state, even more powerful than Democratic Boss George Norcross of the South, who ascended to power when Christie indicted Ferriero on his way to the Governor’s mansion.

These Bosses are so powerful, even Governors and US Senators are afraid to cross them. But when you make deals with them, stuff happens. Chris Christie elevated Norcross by indicting Ferriero, and then went on to make deals with Norcross, to the utter consternation of the loyal Republican legislators who faithfully refused to overturn a single Christie veto. That courting, and Christie skipping town during their convention last week, is what has caused State Republicans to seriously consider dumping their embarrassing uncle. Christie is drawn to power, and in blue NJ, the guys with power were Ferriero and Norcross. Senator Loretta Weinberg succeeded in weakening Ferriero by exposing his corruption, and Christie took the opportunity to indict Ferriero because the writing was on the wall, and it gave him some corruption busting cred, even if that was only short lived. I expect if Christie announces a run for President it will be during Boss Joe’s trial to get that credibility back.

Back to Ferriero – the charges stem from the most obvious and ugly building in NJ, on the NJ Turnpike, which had been called Xanadu, but is now the American Dream Mall. Ferriero is accused of using his power as the powerful Democratic County Chairman to pull strings for the developers, but at a cost. $35,000 a month to be exact, as a “consultant”. This is the kind of thing that put State Senator Joe Coniglio away. Senator Coniglio was taking $5,000 a month from Hackensack University Medical Center as a no show “plumber”.

In NJ, the politicians are so bold, they shake down the developers. The developers aren’t the ones who offer the bribes first, the politicians demand them up front. No wonder Christie is so confused these days, he has absolutely no idea how bad his “gifts” from his newfound friends actually look to the average cash strapped, NJ taxpayer. Christie learned some really bad habits.

The thing is, the payments to Ferriero were funneled through one of the most politically connected law firms in Northern NJ. The thought of Bob DeCotiis, the head of the law firm that handled the cash to Ferriero, getting on the stand has a lot of politicians in NJ in near panic mode, reportedly including the former law partner of Joe Ferriero, Donald Scarinci. Giving them all additional agida, the head of the construction firm that was being extorted, has a view of the inside political baseball at the intersection of construction and politics in Bergen County because he had to navigate it for his project. And he is talking. So many persons are dragged in to this story in the court documents, Governors, State Senators, County Executives, US Senators, because there was nobody who didn’t have to kiss Joe’s ring at some point. 

The politicians in NJ are holding their collective breath right now. This is the equivalent of the turmoil in the NY legislature with the Sheldon Silver downfall. There will be a lot of collateral political damage.  Ferriero was more powerful than any of the State Senators in the NJ Legislature, because he could not only get you money for your statewide campaign supplied by a developer with deep pockets by wheeling money anywhere in the state, he could get you the boots on the ground for canvassing. When I ran as a reform Freeholder candidate against Ferriero’s candidates, he outspent us 13 to 1. In a Democratic primary. The county government positions were so crucial to his doling out goodies to donors, that the County Government positions were almost more important than the US Congressional seats in terms of his time and attention. However, national candidates like Clinton had to also kiss his ring, because even though NJ is late in the Presidential primary, we are an ATM for campaigns. A large wealthy contingent in NJ has frequent fundraisers for Presidential campaigns. That wealthy base lives largely in Bergen County, a stone’s throw from Manhattan, another wealthy donor well.

Another powerful seat that Joe Ferriero often wanted control over, and his own boys in, was the State Senate. Which is why he tried so persistently to oust Senator Weinberg. In NJ, a state senator can hold up a nomination, or let one sail through. It is called Senatorial courtesy. Majority Leader Weinberg had at one point held up the nomination of the current Bergen County Prosecutor, Molinelli because he vacationed with the convicted Joe Coniglio, just discussed above. (I should start making new charts) That Prosecutor’s office  is now also part of this story. The same Prosecutors office that parked their money at the bank of the prominent developer who built the Avalon Edgewater complex, Fred Daibes, who also gave a unsecured loan of over $300,000 to you guessed it, Joe Ferriero.  

One of the other players here, I have mentioned in other blogs is State Senator Paul Sarlo (D), who was very interested in pushing the LG project that would destroy the Palisades views, and who works for Sanzari construction, also mentioned in this story. According to the Xanadu developer, who was the victim of the extortion, Sarlo had made him all kinds of “promises”

Like I said, you are going to need some popcorn, lots of it, and a libretto to follow along, cause this will be dramatic, and complicated. Very complicated.

To get you started on understanding corruption in Bergen County, above is a little flow chart I made to explain how pay to play worked when Joe Ferriero was in power here and just how much influence he had.


Carol Hoernlein is a licensed Water Resources Civil Engineer practicing in Northern NJ. In 2007, she became known statewide in N.J. as an elected official/political blogger by raising awareness of N.J. political corruption not being covered by the local press. Before switching careers, Ms. Hoernlein studied Food Science and Agricultural Engineering at Rutgers and worked as a Research & Development food process engineer.
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