Bribes, Payoffs, Politics: Power broker Lynch to admit corruption Guilty plea by ex-Senate president expected to short-circuit federal graft probe

Power broker Lynch to admit corruption
Guilty plea by ex-Senate president expected to short-circuit federal graft probe
Friday, September 15, 2006
Former state Sen. John Lynch, the brash legislator who for two decades was a dominant force in New Jersey politics, is scheduled to plead guilty this morning to federal corruption charges, according to a knowledgeable source who has been briefed on the planned proceeding.

Such a plea would bring a sudden and extraordinary halt to an 18-month investigation just days before prosecutors were expected to seek an indictment against the Democratic Party leader and onetime Senate president.

Lynch did not return a call for comment, and his attorney, Jack Arseneault, would neither confirm nor deny that a plea would be made.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie also declined comment, but issued a statement last night declaring that a "major political figure" in the state was scheduled to appear at an 11 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler in Newark. The statement did not elaborate.

The source who knew about the hearing would not disclose the nature of the charges, but prosecutors for more than a year have been examining whether Lynch used his long-standing political influence to profit in real estate and development projects.

A conviction against Lynch would rank among the most significant corruption victories for federal prosecutors in New Jersey in the past four years, a period during which more than 80 public officials, employees and contractors have been charged or found guilty.

None, however, matches the stature of Lynch, long viewed as one of the state's leading Democrats, though he bristles at the term "party boss."

Lynch, 68, retired four years ago after two decades in the Senate and three terms as New Brunswick mayor.


For more than a decade, Lynch and a business partner, Red Bank developer Jack Westlake, also earned thousands of dollars as consultants to contractors who were seeking government approvals.

The Star-Ledger reported last month that investigators were nearing the end of their probe, and the government was preparing to ask a grand jury to indict Lynch sometime this month. Lynch has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but privately told friends he expected to be charged, some of them told the newspaper.

But signs emerged earlier this week that a resolution could be at hand, according to attorneys who have been briefed on aspects of the case. Prosecutors postponed the scheduled grand jury proceedings, the sources said, and FBI agents who had served subpoenas for municipal records in one town never picked them up.

Lynch is widely credited as the architect of an economic renaissance in New Brunswick and the man who united Middlesex County Democrats into a potent political bloc.

Even after ceding control of the Senate in the 1990s, Lynch managed to shepherd a little-known Woodbridge mayor, James E. McGreevey, to the governor's office, and hand-pick some of his Cabinet members.

It was two of McGreevey's top aides, Gary Taffet and Joseph Levisohn, who may have indirectly fueled Lynch's undoing.


Days before McGreevey took office, the pair made millions by selling off their billboard business, a transaction that sparked an FBI probe into whether Taffet and Levisohn were really selling access to the governor. They were never charged, but the evidence led agents to Westlake, a partner in some of the billboard ventures.

Westlake, now 76, has shared a consulting business with Lynch in Tinton Falls since 1993. It was unclear last night if he would be charged with or plead guilty to anything. Through his attorney, he has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Lynch has said the partnership, operating under the names Alma Ltd. and Executive Continental Ltd., offered developers and other contractors assistance in navigating the maze of municipal approvals. In one interview, he described himself as "a facilitator" or "choreographer."

FBI and IRS agents raided the pair's office last fall, seizing contracts, documents, computer files and other items related to the business. They also served subpoenas on nine municipalities, seeking records related to Lynch, Westlake, their companies, and dozens of developers and contractors.

By this spring, investigators had narrowed their focus to Lynch's role in about a half-dozen projects, mainly in and around Middlesex County. Near the top of the list was the Highlands at Plaza Square, a $40 million luxury residential complex in New Brunswick.

Another was the Manor at Clara Barton, a $17 million senior housing complex and assisted living center in Edison, and a third was in South Brunswick.

Sources said the developers of some of the projects, as well as the mayors and other public officials in the towns in which they were built, were among the witnesses called to the grand jury.

Until today, no charges were filed.

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