Stumbling from Scandal to Scandal

Three years ago, Sussex County Freeholders were asked to agree to a settlement with the creditors of the AmeriPay corporation, another too-good-to-be-true idea that was sold to the Freeholder Board.  It turned out to be part of a Ponzi scheme that according to the FBI ripped-off 14 school districts, seven houses of worship, five schools, more than 300 other private and public entities, and one county -- Sussex County.  We got done for $2.3 million of the total $10.2 million defrauded.

That scandal was uncovered in 2009, through the efforts of the FBI, the United States Attorney's Office, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  The guilty were sent to prison and  Sussex County's settlement was reduced to $38,464.  According to today's Herald editorial, the latest scandal to rock Sussex County isn't going to turn out so well. 

It deals with a solar energy scam that was sold to the Freeholder Board by a group, including representatives of the corrupt and convicted Birdsall Services Corporation, that was led by none other than Sussex County's Administrator, John Eskilson.  It leaves Sussex County taxpayers on the hook for between $6 million and $29 million or maybe more, because the public isn't allowed to know the details, so we have to take the word of the critters who screwed us in the first place.  It's like being raped and then finding out that your rapist is also your gynecologist.

Two details of the settlement that was discussed in "executive session" were leaked to the Herald by the same county officials who are ethically bound to keep them confidential.   Of course, these officials don't know the first thing about ethics, so while they bleat like sheep about the public not having the right to know what is in the settlement they will pay millions for, they go behind the public's backs and release bits and pieces smothered in their spin.  But at least the Herald was good enough to pass it along to its readers:

Of concern are provisions in the settlement that hold the principals and their agents, officers, etc., harmless from all claims, actions, suits, etc., stemming from the beginning of the solar program.

Additionally, the documentation includes the standard non-disparagement provision stopping any negative comments against any of the involved parties.

Those provisions should not preclude a full accounting of what happened, though if wrongdoing is discovered, they may prevent holding parties accountable.

And get a load at what happened at the Somerset County Freeholder Board last night.  Rob Jennings of the Herald probably couldn't believe his ears when he heard this exercise in democracy emanate from the bowels of that all-Republican board:

Full details of the settlement were not provided at the meeting. Instead, officials passed out a 13-paragraph press release offering some details and a history of the project.

In response to a question from Bill Eames, a resident of Hanover in Morris County, the county counsel said that while the settlement would preclude Somerset from initiating a legal action, it would not prevent the county from complying with any outside investigations.

That's right, the taxpayers don't get to know what they are paying for.  "And this is what we think of you," say the GOP Freeloaders.

In answer to a question from the Tea Party's Bill Eames, they told him that "yes, the guilty -- those who screwed the taxpayers -- we signed an agreement to let them off the hook and richer for it."  That's how bailouts work, right?

Poor Freeholder Director Phil Crabb, said that he wanted to let Sussex County taxpayers know about the settlement they'll be paying for -- but then some south Jersey Democrat hired as special counsel gave him a wedgie and now Phil is too scared to stand up for the people and do the right thing.    

Phil really is going to have to learn to kick those out-of-town lawyers in the balls once in a while.  Or just give up and let someone else do it.

Freeholders Gail Phoebus and George Graham are the only reliable voices on the Board for transparency and for guarding the taxpayers' interests.  Freeholder Rich Vohden is Dr. Doom, glumly accepting anything Eskilson flushes his way, while Freeholder Dennis Mudrick seems to be somewhere else, occasionally waking to vote with the pack. 

After the last scandal, John Eskilson asked everyone on the Freeholder Board to hold hands and join him in a chorus of "Always look on the bright side of life."  Now it's a few years later and a bigger scandal, so maybe this time try what they do in the military when something goes wrong -- have a debriefing.  Take a look at what you did to screw up so you don't do it again.

Or not. . . alright then, everybody hold hands, now follow me. . .


Democrat is calling the shots on solar settlement

Why is a Democrat calling the shots on the push to settle the SunLight solar scheme? 

Why is this Democrat insisting that the people of Sussex County shut up and do as they are told -- without knowing the cost they will have to pay?

That Democrat is south Jersey lawyer David Weinstein of the Archer Greiner law firm.  Weinstein is County Administrator John Eskilson's "special solar counsel".

Weinstein was Democrat Municipal Chairman in Burlington County and is a Member of the Burlington County Democrat Committee.  He's run for office and was a big supporter of Governor Jon Corzine and President Obama.

Weinstein is ideologically committed to the idea of using solar power to replace traditional sources of energy.  Unfortunately, solar power hasn't been able to work as a significant source of energy without massive infusions of government support and taxpayers' money.  This suits the Democrats just fine.

On Friday, Bruce Scruton of the Herald reported that Freeholder Director Phil Crabb wanted to let the people of Sussex County know all the details of the proposed settlement to the solar scheme before the Freeholders voted on it:

Earlier this week, Crabb said he would recommend to his fellow board members that the intricacies of any possible solution be made public for full discussion before the board takes a vote on accepting or rejecting the proposal. The board would need to take a separate vote to allow what was discussed in executive session to be made public.

Freeholder Director Crabb -- as the leader of the elected Freeholder Board, the man who is supposed to be in charge -- was told "NO" by Democrat Weinstein and was made to go before the media to retract his earlier statement.  On Sunday, Bruce Scruton of the Herald reported:

 Freeholder Director Phil Crabb, who called for a full airing of the details earlier last week, said he was told by the county's special counsel that the settlement could still fall apart, so talking about details would be premature before Wednesday's meeting.

Reporting in the Herald, Scruton wrote:

David Weinstein, of the firm Archer Greiner and special counsel for the solar project, cautioned Freeholder Director Phil Crabb that many documents which the freeholders discussed during Thursday's session are still subject to negotiations and could be changed, and advised the board to withhold full documents from the public.

Weinstein isn't telling the truth.  He knows that the deal has already been finalized by SunLight General Capital and Power Partners MasTec.  The people have a right to see the details.  

The next line from the Herald story tells you who is really in charge (hint: it's not the Freeholder Board the people voted for):

He (Weinstein) and County Administrator John Eskilson discussed how the information can be released and said they should have a working framework put together by midday today.

Let's be clear.  These two are the bosses.  The Freeholder Board is make-believe.  Its Director is a panty waist.  The voters are only there to have someone to shake down.  The message is: You will be told only what we want you to know, when we want you to know it.

In today's Herald, Democrat Weinstein was doubling down.  Bruce Scruton told the story of how a political operator from south Jersey wasn't going to allow the people of Sussex County to know the details of the bill they are going to have to pay:   

However, David Weinstein of Archer Greiner, special counsel for the solar project, said details and documents should not be released since the deal is not done until the board votes.

Under the framework of the settlement, which Weinstein said could be discussed, the cost to county taxpayers is estimated to be $6.5 million over the next 13 years with most of that money being paid out of the county budget in the first years.

Who the hell does Weinstein think he is?

The reason this wheeler-dealer lawyer is blinding the people until it's too late is that he doesn't want us to have the knowledge to decide for ourselves on whether or not it's a good deal until after the deal is done.  Then we'll just have to bend over, shut up, and pay.



County Appointees hold press briefing behind backs of Freeholders

Yesterday morning a Watchdog post revealed how three county appointees, led by County Administrator John Eskilson, sold the Sussex solar scam to the Freeholder Board back in 2011.  In what could be described as a reaction to that revelation, the County Administrator called a meeting of the press to sell the deal to settle the solar scam wearing the same rose-colored glasses he used to sell the scam in the first place.

In 2011, Eskilson used the old "we'll miss an opportunity of a lifetime" trick and now he's using "the sky is falling" if we don't.  Always the same rush, rush, hurry, hurry, to roll the Board.  If this was a corporation, there'd be a shareholders revolt.  But this is a county and the taxpayers are easier to bend over.

Eskilson didn't invite any of the Freeholders to his press conference, which was clearly intended to roll the press and get them to put media pressure on elected Freeholders to pass the settlement deal.  Since when did John Eskilson morph from an appointed County Administrator into an elected County Executive?

Since when does a county employee use his office to beat the elected representatives of the people into voting on a settlement the public hasn't had an opportunity to review?  That's right, the settlement is on the table, Eskilson knows what it says, he has bullied the Freeholders into keeping quiet about it with threats (executive session), but the public isn't allowed to know what it says until after it is approved.

This situation is just like the vote on ObamaCare and Eskilson is Nancy Pelosi telling her members "you got to vote on it before you can read it."

Why does Eskilson oppose letting the taxpayers read the whole unabridged settlement before having to pay for it?

Eskilson is opposed on this by three of the five Freeholder Board members.  Freeholder Director Phil Crabb said in the New Jersey Herald that he wanted the settlement made public so the taxpayers could read it before a vote was taken.  Freeholders George Graham and Gail Phoebus have been working tirelessly on behalf of the taxpayers' right to know.  They have called for full transparency before the vote and for investigations on how we got in this mess in the first place.

Eskilson's refusal to allow the public their right to know can be reversed by these three freeholders and we urge Freeholders Rich Vohden and Dennis Mudrick, who is up for re-election this year, to join them.


Sussex Solar Mess: This will shock you

Once upon a time five directors at a French bank named Societe Generale decided that they would form a corporation to cash in on the solar energy programs being pushed by the Obama administration.  They got together with a few of their Wall Street buddies, came up with a scheme and looked for a market.  Of course, few of these solar schemes have worked as advertised and none have worked without huge infusions of taxpayers' money.  

The corporation -- SunLight General -- pitched its product to those "backwards" Republican counties who hadn't already jumped onto the politically correct Obama solar bandwagon.  To get the job done, they partnered with a few politically-connected goodfellas, including Birdsall Services Group, a New Jersey firm that got caught in a corrupt pay-to-play scandal:

In March 2013, seven BSG executives were charged on suspicions of involvement in a scheme to circumvent New Jersey’s so called pay-to-play laws. Prosecutors allege that the executives routinely made – or asked employees to make- illegally reimbursed donations to secure public contracts.  By bundling multiple personal political contributions worth less than $300 (which by NJ law do not have to be disclosed) the scheme avoided disqualification under state laws that prohibit public contracts being awarded to firms that have made corporate political contributions to the campaigns of public officials responsible for granting those contracts.

On March 26, 2013, a court order authorized the state Attorney General’s office to freeze Birdsall’s assets, then valued at $41.6 million, prompting the firm to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The following month, Birdsall Services Group agreed to pay $2.6 million to settle a civil forfeiture action brought by the attorney general’s office so it could access its bank accounts and pay employees who had temporarily been furloughed.  On June 13, the firm pled guilty and was ordered to pay an additional $1m in penalties, fines and institutions.  Edwin Stier, who was appointed by a federal bankruptcy judge in April to lead the company, said that “This guilty plea is an acknowledgement on behalf of (Birdsall) of the serious wrongdoing that occurred and accepts the consequences of those actions while still protecting the interests of the innocent employees, clients and creditors”.  

Individual cases against the seven executives are pending.

How did a crew like this sell Sussex County on a solar deal?


What happened?

These solar rogues targeted Sussex County.  They came up with a plan. Here is how journalist Nathan Mayberg from the Advertiser News/Sparta Independent described what happened:

The county issued $27.7 million of debt in order for New York City-based SunLight General Capital in 2011 to install solar panels on municipal buildings and schools throughout the county. The deal was part of a larger project supported by two other counties: Morris and Somerset. The total cost for the three counties was estimated at nearly $90 million after the firm was the lone bidder on the project.

The plan was for the counties to act as a bank and loan the money to the New York City company to invest in the infrastructure.

There was only one problem with the plan: the county didn't have a fallback option if somehow the company went insolvent and couldn't pay back the money.

That is what has now happened, Sussex County Administrator John Eskilson said.

Eskilson was county administrator when the Sussex County Board of Freeholders voted unanimously to approve the $27.7 million bonding. SunLight General only paid back $2.7 million of that.

Now the county has to pay back the $24 million part of the deal which SunLight General Capital never paid back and now can't.

SunLight General Capital has been in ongoing litigation with PowerPartners MasTec, the construction firm hired to install the solar panels on the buildings.

The contractor sued to hold the solar power investment company accountable for tens of millions of dollars it said was owed to them. SunLight General Capital has tens of millions of dollars in liens against the company.

Eskilson said the firm is "insolvent but not bankrupt."

Still, Eskilson said the company will not be able to pay the county any more money. They haven't paid the county any money since 2013.

The county has to make $2.7 million bond payments each year out of a budget of $100 million. The county had been counting on SunLight to make those payments but will now have to find other sources.

Now Sussex County taxpayers are being asked to bail out SunLight General in a plan that absolves the corporation of all responsibility, protects their business reputation, and prevents Sussex County from ever recouping its losses on behalf of taxpayers.  It totally let's them off the hook.