Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mayor Zimmer reply to minority council letter reopens 2009 FBI sting to Michael Russo's missing campaign transactions

The following letter from Mayor Dawn Zimmer appeared in the weekend paper in reply to questions from an earlier letter sent by council members Beth Mason, Tim Occhipinti, Michael Russo and Terry Castellano.

Their letter appeared two weeks ago in the Hudson Reporter and was simultaneously planted on Hoboken411 where Beth Mason runs her political operations and censorship prevails.

The Hudson Reporter notes the mayor's response saw "modifications" before its publishing two weeks later.

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Dear Editor:

Reference is made to your letter dated Aug. 28, 2012 which falsely asserts that the legal assistance provided by Councilman Ravi Bhalla to my family in resolving a small claims matter relating to a roof leak in our home is somehow a violation of state law.

While the provision of the New Jersey Government Ethics law that you cite has no relevance whatsoever to Councilman Bhalla’s minimal representation of my family on a small personal matter, it is ironic indeed that the four of you have chosen to make reference to that particular citation.

Councilwoman Mason, together with her husband Richard Mason and her campaign committee donated approximately $13,400 (in addition to $6,750 spent directly by her on election day for a total of $20,150) to Mr. Occhipinti’s 2010 political campaign. These payments circumvented, and possibly violated the laws regulating New Jersey campaign contribution limits. While there is no way to prove the events are related, Councilwoman Mason was promptly helped by a midnight change in the council rules, including Mr. Occhipinti’s vote, that allowed Mrs. Mason to receive the City Council presidency. That was, without question, in my opinion, a “transaction..which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of [your] duties in the public interest” in violation of the State Ethics Law which you cite.

Councilman Russo was videotaped by the FBI agreeing to accept $5,000 in campaign contributions from Solomon Dwek. The councilman expressly asked that the checks, which were to be funneled through third parties by Dwek’s middleman Maher Khalil, be made out to his “Russo for Hoboken” account. Mr. Russo agreed to accept the “contribution” after Mr. Dwek stated with respect to his development projects, “I don’t want to be left on the bottom of the pile … That’s why I do what I got to do with the right people” and Councilman Russo replied “absolutely.” Mr. Russo claims that he never received the money and therefore did nothing wrong, but we have only his unsubstantiated word that he never received the money.

No ELEC reports for Russo for Hoboken have been filed since September 2008, meaning that no filings have been made covering the period when the offered payment would have been deposited. The last filing for Russo for Hoboken shows a cash balance of $18,420.81 as of July 15, 2008 – funds that have never been accounted for. The Russo for Hoboken account seems to have just disappeared, together with the $18,420.81 cash balance. Councilman Russo later formed a brand new account with a zero balance, with no mention of the prior Russo for Hoboken account or the missing $18,420.81.

Agreeing to accept, and perhaps actually receiving a campaign contribution under the circumstances documented in the FBI surveillance videos is certainly, in my opinion, a “transaction..which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of [your] duties in the public interest.” Councilman Bhalla’s minimal representation of my family over a leaky roof insurance claim was not.

There are many truly important matters before the City Council that require your attention including the repaving of Washington Street and the citizen-initiated ordinance that would enable our municipal elections to be held together with the general election on Election Day in November.

I urge you to focus on the real issues that confront our city and to refrain from contriving fake “reports” that serve only to distract us from providing the public with the representation they deserve.

Best regards,

Mayor Zimmer

Councilman Michael Russo's FBI activity is back in the news with questions revolving around his "Russo for Hoboken" campaign account.   A different Russo campaign account appeared in its place leading into his 2011 election campaign.
What transactions occurred in the Russo for Hoboken account when the FBI was in town?

Talking Ed Note: MSV read this letter yesterday and contacted Councilman Michael Russo seeking answers on the missing transactions in his "Russo for Hoboken" account for a Monday story.

The time period of those transactions cover the period of late 2008 into the summer of 2009 - the same period the FBI was operating a sting snaring dozens of elected officials in the biggest corruption case in NJ state history.

MSV's investigative feature will appear Monday.