Woke Up This Morning...
I think Tony Soprano would blush at the widespread corruption ring busted up in New Jersey yesterday, involving mayors, cabinet officials, and a box of Kellogg's Apple Jacks with $97,000 in it:
Federal agents swept across New Jersey and New York on Thursday, charging 44 people -- including mayors, rabbis and even one alleged trafficker in human kidneys -- in a decadelong investigation into public corruption and international money laundering.
The key to the investigation: a real-estate developer who became an informant after being arrested on bank-fraud charges in 2006, according to a person familiar with the case. The developer, Solomon Dwek, wore a wire for the Federal Bureau of Investigation while offering to bribe New Jersey mayors and other public officials, that person said.
While the state has a long history of dirty politics -- in Newark alone, three ex-mayors have been convicted of crimes unrelated to the latest sweep -- the scale of the allegations shocked veterans of New Jersey's political crises.
"This is not only a black eye, but this fans more cynicism," said Gene Grabowski, a crisis manager who has represented New Jersey clients in graft probes. "It validates this idea that New Jersey is a setting for 'The Sopranos.'"
Court documents read like a pulp crime novel. At one point, Mr. Dwek (described as a "cooperating witness" in criminal complaints) is quoted saying to an alleged money-launderer: "I have at least $100,000 a month coming from money I 'schnookied' from banks for bad loans."
Another time, Mr. Dwek gave one of the alleged co-conspirators a box of Apple Jacks cereal stuffed with $97,000 cash, the documents say.
The bad, bad news here for national Democrats is that I think this delivers a fatal blow to the already-flagging Jon Corzine re-election campaign. Chris Christie was a US Attorney who can credibly claim to have put corrupt public officials in jail, and he did so in a TV ad up today. Now, it turns out that a lot of his cases were politically motivated (he was a Bush-appointed US Attorney, after all) and he has lots of serious problems, and New Jersey is a Democratic state. But he's led comfortably throughout this, and he'll probably strike the reformist law-and-order pose all the way until November. What's more, one of the people caught up in this probe from yesterday was a member of Corzine's Administration.
If I were the national party or the Democratic Governor's Association, I'd put my money in the short-term into the Virginia governor's race. I think New Jersey is a long shot for the time being.