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Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joseph Ferriero indicted
- Categorized in: Bribes, Payoffs, and Politics, Government, U.S. Attorney District of New Jersey
Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joseph Ferriero
Feds say Ferriero bragged of influence
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Federal authorities indicted Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joseph Ferriero and the party’s chief counsel, Dennis Oury, today.
A federal grand jury returned an eight-count indictment accusing Ferriero and Oury, who was fired as the Bergenfield borough attorney in January, of conspiracy to commit fraud against the borough and mail fraud.
“I am done being surprised in this job,” U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said. “We’ve had these conversations before about others we’ve prosecuted ... for some reason, greed and power seem to corrupt them and overcome what otherwise might be good sense and good decision-making.”
The indictment charges that in December 2001, Ferriero and Oury conceived of a plan to form a company called Government Grants Consulting LLC that would be paid by Bergen County towns to assist them in obtaining state and local grant monies. According to the indictment, Ferriero indicated that Government Grants would be successful because he could use his “influence” to help the municipalities “get a better result.”
Federal investigators began issuing subpoenas for records related to Oury, Ferriero and Governmental Grants Consulting in May. Since then, they have executed more than 30 subpoenas in North Jersey, and in August, conducted searches of both Oury and Ferriero’s respective law offices.
Ferriero’s troubles were compounded last week following allegations of sexual misconduct. According to a law enforcement source close to the case, a formal charge has not been filed against Ferriero and he has not been taken into custody.
A clerk in the criminal records division of Bergen County Superior Court said that a docket number had been created and that “a sexual charge” was pending against Ferriero. The case has been transferred to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office from Bergen County.
Since the allegation became public last week, Ferriero has announced that he would be taking leaves of absence from three different posts: as chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, in his role as a lawyer at Scarinci Hollenbeck and as chief counsel for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners.
Ferriero and Oury both provided start-up money for Governmental Grants Consulting, according to David Spatz, the president of the now-defunct firm. Leonard Kaiser, the chairman of the Bergen County Utilities Authority, also had a financial interest in the firm.
According to the indictment, Oury was appointed to serve as the borough attorney at a January 1, 2002, Bergenfield borough council reorganization meeting. While GGC was still in the planning stages and had yet to be formally organized, Bergenfield retained it to serve as its grants consultant and agreed to pay a $6,000 retainer fee, plus an additional fee calculated as a percentage of any grants or loans received. Oury never disclosed his ownership interest in GGC, according to the indictment. Despite this, Oury went on to exercise his official power to further a grant-aided real estate purchase – all as Oury and Ferriero stood to gain personally from their ownership interests in GGC.
Ferriero is widely credited with injecting new life into the Bergen County Democratic Party and making it the dominant force it is today. He became the party chairman in 1998 after Oury dropped out of contention. Since then, his talent for fundraising has made him one of the state’s most powerful Democrats.
Oury also wields a great deal of power in North Jersey Democratic circles. He is counsel for the Bergen County Improvement Authority and has held jobs in several towns, including Ridgefield and Bergenfield, both of which employed Governmental Grants Consulting.
January 2003 billing records from Bergenfield show that Oury charged the borough $135 for a telephone conference involving Spatz. If accurate, Oury was billing the borough for dealing with a firm in which he had an undisclosed financial interest.
Oury’s financial disclosure forms submitted to Bergenfield, New Milford, Paramus, Edgewater, Fort Lee and the Fairview Board of Education never mentioned his financial stake in the firm. And officials from Garfield and Ridgefield said Oury never filed disclosure forms, despite working in those towns.
In Bergen County, Oury’s public work generated $760,000 to $1.1 million in annual income for his law firm in each of the three previous calendar years.
Oury has given at least $105,000 to Democratic candidates since 1999, most of it going to the Bergen County Democratic Organization.
Bergen County municipalities paid the firm 10 percent of the first $1 million in grant money it obtained for them, plus a retainer in some cases, according to contracts obtained by The Record.
Ferriero, Oury and GGC are not the only ones to attract interest at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In recent months, Christie has also issued subpoenas seeking information about the Paramus Affordable Housing Corporation and SVC Consulting, a company established by Ferriero.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, has been one of Ferriero’s most vocal critics. She described news of the indictment as a hardship for the Democratic Party.
“This is not a happy day for the Bergen Democrats,” she said. “My goal is to make sure we remain united &hellip we can’t let this interfere with that.”
Bergenfield Mayor Timothy Driscoll was instrumental in having Oury ousted in January.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said Driscoll.
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