Entries in solar scam (75)

Monday
Jun042018

Why is Freeholder Carl Lazzaro being dishonest?

On Sunday, Freeholder Carl Lazzaro launched a robo-call that not only disturbed the peace of the day but was disturbing in its level of dishonesty.  It is clear that Freeholder Lazzaro is attempting to deflect attention away from his own actions – and those of the Freeholder Board majority of which he is a part. 

That Freeholder Board majority – Freeholder Jonathan Rose, Freeholder Carl Lazzaro, and their “Boss” Freeholder George Graham – has made some grossly improper decisions while in a position of trust. 

Here are some questions that Freeholder Lazzaro and his side needs to answer: 

(1) Why did Freeholder Carl Lazzaro re-hire the bond counsel who failed to do his job and warn county government and county residents about the problems with the solar program contract? 

Unfortunately for Sussex County taxpayers, this lawyer didn’t even require the contract to have the basic insurances that, if they had been in place, would have protected Sussex County and its residents from financial liability.  So why did the three freeholders hire him back? 

Why are Sussex County taxpayers paying this man? 

(2) Why did Freeholder Jonathan Rose give a no-bid contract worth $518,000.00 to the lawyer who allowed the solar scam to happen in the first place? 

This lawyer ran the state office that was the final step in the process of approving a contract that turned out to be a scam.  His office was the taxpayers’ fail-safe.  But instead of catching what was an obvious problem, his office rubber-stamped the contract and the taxpayers of Sussex County were out $40 million. 

So why would Freeholders Rose, Lazzaro, and Graham give the lawyer who signed-off on the solar scam $518,000 to investigate the solar scam?  An obvious whitewash?  No wonder Sussex County has never got back a penny on the money it lost. 

(3) Why did their side take a campaign contribution from the law firm responsible for solar? 

Why would they take a campaign contribution from a law firm that they themselves acknowledged was implicated in the solar scam?  Isn’t this the very definition of “dirty” money? 

Now we know why Carl Lazzaro made that robo-call.  To deflect our attention from what he and his crew have done in office.  

Now we know why Lazzaro and Rose are trying to mislead us again. 

They lied about solar, spent more of our tax money, borrowed more, and raised property taxes every year they’ve been in office.

How can anyone argue that they deserve to be re-elected?

Wednesday
May302018

Why did Rose & Lazzaro hand a solar scam enabler a $518,000 no-bid contract? 

Matthew Boxer was the State Comptroller from January 2008 until December 2013.  Before taking this position, Mr. Boxer was an associate with the New York City law firm of Lowenstein Sandler.  After leaving office, he returned to that firm as a partner.

Most residents of Sussex County are aware of the scandal that involved a public-private partnership to install solar panels on local government buildings, using federal subsidies.  As it turned out, the private entity responsible for the work was under-capitalized, failed to pay the contractor doing the work, was sued by the contractor, and the project stopped.  The cost to taxpayers in Sussex County is estimated at upwards of $40 million. 

Sussex was one of three counties involved in this project -- Somerset and Morris were the others. Lacking its own agency, Sussex County worked through the Morris County Improvement Authority (MCIA), although each county made its own individual contracts with the entity, called Sunlight General, a new creation with a board of directors drawn largely from a French bank.  

In February 2011, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Sussex County authorized a shared services agreement with the MCIA to implement the solar project.  In July 2011, the project was sent to the Office of the State Comptroller for review.  After reviewing all the project documents, the following month (August 2011), the project was given the okay by the Office of the State Comptroller -- headed up by Mr. Matthew Boxer.  Based the affirmative review given by Mr. Boxer's office, the Sussex County Freeholders went forward with the project. 

Apparently, the project was so fashioned that by October 2011, Sussex County had received just one bid -- from Sunlight General.  And so, in that month, the Sussex County Freeholders awarded the contract to Sunlight General.

The Freeholder Boards of Morris, Somerset, and Sussex Counties all signed agreements -- reviewed by the Office of the State Comptroller (Mr. Boxer's office) -- that used taxpayer-secured debt to back up SunLight General's operations. Unfortunately, the contracts were poorly written, the expected flow of capital was fanciful, the projects poorly planned and executed.  Allow us to quote from the documents supplied by the federal court: 

- SunLight General Capital and its subsidiaries were formed "with virtually no assets, such that they were undercapitalized at the time of formation." 

- The SunLight Entities "have drawn on the Public Bond Funds and diverted such funds for non-trust purposes in violation of the New Jersey Trust Fund Statute." 

- The SunLight Entities have admitted that "millions of dollars of Public Bond Funds" have been used to "make lease payments" and to "fund the SunLight Entities' required contributions under the Program Documents, and to pay the 'soft' costs (including attorneys' fees) of the Authorities and the SunLight Entities." 

- "The SunLight Entities owe Power Partners millions of dollars as a direct beneficiary under the New Jersey Trust Fund Statute and there are no longer sufficient funds in the Public Bond Funds to pay Power Partners and to complete the projects." 

- The SunLight Entities "participated in an additional scheme to draw down over $6.3 million in Public Bond Funds and misdirected more than $2.7 million of such funds for non-trust purposes." 

- Those who controlled the SunLight Entities treated corporate assets as "their personal piggy banks, repeatedly transferring assets from one entity to the next for the purpose of ensuring that there would be insufficient assets in each entity to satisfy its obligations to Power Partners." 

- "The corporate form of the SunLight Entities was used to commit conversion, make fraudulent transfers, and other improper acts." 

Yes, the Office of the State Comptroller -- Mr. Matthew Boxer's office -- let down the taxpayers of Sussex County.  Matthew Boxer got to move on to his law partnership and the Office of the State Comptroller just keeps on reviewing what it reviews and the residents of Sussex County are left to deal with the $40 million loss in their (higher) property tax bills.  In March 2015, the Freeholder Boards of both Sussex and Morris Counties reached out to the Office of the State Comptroller and formally requested that the State Comptroller review the project -- for a second opinion. 

About this time, the name Matthew Boxer resurfaced again, only now it was as part of a proposal to bring in "outside counsel" to review the solar project and what went wrong.  Sussex County Freeholder Boss George Graham – the guy Freeholders Rose and Lazzaro follow -- pushed for Mr. Boxer to be brought in for this purpose. 

In April 2015, the Office of the State Comptroller turned down both Sussex and Morris Counties' requests to review the solar project.  No official reason was ever provided.  However, there is an "unofficial" explanation provided in a May 26, 2015, memo from the MCIA to the Morris County Freeholders.  It goes as follows: 

"The County is still awaiting a written letter from the Office of the State Comptroller, as a follow up to the phone conference with Morris County on April 27, 2015.  In the absence of the written response, and as a reminder, the State representatives (OSC) advised the County that it undertook an internal review of the Solar II Program and conducted its own analysis and evaluation of the Solar II Program.  Following this review process, the Comptroller's Office concluded that, based upon the information that Morris County had forwarded to them, it was not going to pursue a further review of the Solar II Program." 

So it appears that the Office of the State Comptroller had conducted a review of the solar project it had signed-off on, but was unwilling to share said review.  The memo continued: 

"The Comptroller's Office noted several factors in its post-review decision not to review the matter further: 

a. Noting that the Solar Programs and original agreements were a local policy decision, approved by the County Freeholders, and; 

b. That in the view of the Comptroller's Office, both the change in the SREC Market, as well as the legal dispute between the developer and the contractor (SunLight/MasTec) contributed to the Solar II Program not proceeding as originally expected." 

The "post-review decision not to review the matter..."  Wow.  

The Office of the State Comptroller's recalcitrance to share the review that they had already conducted or to take that review further was a loss to the taxpayers of Sussex County, but a boon to former State Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who was now being touted as the onlyman to do a review that was to be paid for by fresh taxpayer's money.

And so, it came to pass that in January 2016 a new Freeholder Board in Sussex County -- now controlled by the very same individuals who had been for months advocating for the selection of Matthew Boxer as the onlyman to review the solar project -- handed Matthew Boxer a contract for $500,000 to conduct said review. 

The guilty parties in handing out that ridiculous contract – Freeholders Graham, Rose, and Lazzaro. 

The manner in which this contract was provided to Mr. Boxer was curious, and remains unexplained to this day. In a letter, dated January 19, 2016, a Sussex County official wrote to Mr. Boxer's firm inquiring how he came by the contract.  Here is what he wrote: 

Dear Mr. Boxer,

On New Years’ Eve, Dec 31, 2015, I received a phone call, about 5:00 PM, informing me that a resolution had been submitted to the Sussex County Clerk of the Board regarding an agreement with Lowenstein Sandler, LLC to provide professional services to conduct a review of the facts and circumstances involved in the Sussex County Renewable Energy Program. 

This was the first time I had any knowledge of this negotiation and agreement. 

I spoke to our Freeholder Director, the other sitting Freeholders, our County Administrator, our County Council, our Clerk of the Board, our County Treasurer, our Director of the Department of Central and Shared Services, our Purchasing Agent, and our assistant purchasing agent. 

...I believe that the governing body has had no part in negotiating an agreement with your firm. 

I would like to know, and now ask, who represented Sussex County in these negotiations, especially the negotiation of the “blended” hourly rate and the understanding that the Board of Chosen Freeholders has provided that fees are not to exceed $500,000.00? 

To this day, this official -- a respected member of the community in Sussex County and a veteran of the Korean War -- has never received the courtesy of a reply.  Why not?   

So the official wrote to the State Ethics Commission and noted the following: 

He stated that this agreement was negotiated with two phone calls with a Matthew Boxer, Esq. 

In 2011 Matthew Boxer was the New Jersey State Comptroller.  

Matthew Boxer led a staff responsible for overseeing audits and performance reviews at all levels of New Jersey government. The office audited government finances, examined the efficiency of government programs and scrutinized government contracts.  

On August 23, 2011 the State Comptroller's office, after a review, signed off on the procurement of a Photovoltaic Systems Developer with respect to certain local government facilities in the County of Sussex and the RFP as approved for advertisement. 

I have been asked by many Sussex County residents if Matthew Boxer has a conflict of interest representing Sussex County as Special Counsel in order to review its participation in the Sussex County Renewable Energy Program. 

To which the State Ethics Commission replied that Mr. Boxer claimed that he “did not have any personal involvement in the Office of the State Comptroller's review or approval of Sussex County's procurement related to the Program.”   

It seems strange that the person in charge of the office directly charged with reviewing the contract -- the failsafe in the approval process – would claim no personal involvement.  That is a curious statement.  How about professional involvement?   

Was Mr. Boxer so lax as to have no knowledge of what was a three-county project involving -- to start -- $100 million? His office reviewed nearly a dozen similar contracts involving many more millions in public money.  Okay. let's accept that Mr. Boxer was a "delegator" without direct, day-to-day knowledge about the office he was responsible for.  How did he come to be recommended as the sole recipient of a $500,000 contract to review what his office failed in reviewing at the start?   

The answer to that is simple: Freeholders Graham, Rose, and Lazzaro.  

And now, Rose and Lazzaro are asking us to give them a second chance to make breathtakingly stupid decisions like this one. Decisions that have to do with spending our money.

Really?

Wednesday
May232018

ROSE & LAZZARO HIRED TARGET OF LETTER AFTER CONTRIBUTION 

In March of 2015, a Sussex County Freeholder wrote to the county counsel with concerns about several lawyers retained by Sussex County:

(The full, 17-page correspondence is available from Watchdog upon request)

In July 2016, Freeholder Boss George Graham engineered a no-bid contract for the very law firm identified above as being at the very heart of the solar scam that has cost Sussex taxpayers upwards of $40 million.  Freeholders Jonathan Rose and Carl Lazzaro dutifully followed Graham. Here is what Freeholder boss Graham said in 2015 about the lawyers he turned around and gave a no-bid contract to in 2016:

"It's all the same people that dug the hole, and every time I ask for a clear, third-party fresh set of eyes, they throw in somebody else that appears out of the past. How many times can you recycle the same names? Are they protecting specific people, or are they protecting the county?” (NJ Herald, March 28, 2015)

This is what then Freeholder Gail Phoebus said:

"Mr. Weinstein had clear conflicts of interest. Far from recommending ‘independent' counsel to guide us through a complex negotiation, you led us to the partner of the attorney who shares responsibility with you for failing to obtain a performance bond... All of this raises serious questions.  (While) Mr. Weinstein negotiated the solar project settlement and rendered advice to the freeholder board, whose interests was he serving”? (NJ Herald, March 28, 2015)

So why did Freeholders Rose and Lazzaro follow Boss Graham and bring Weinstein back?

...in September 2014, the county freeholder board appointed Weinstein as special counsel to guide it through that process.

The appointment of Weinstein -- whose law partner, John Cantalupo, had been on retainer to the county since 2011 for legal services related to county-backed bonds issued on the solar project -- was criticized last year by then-Freeholder Gail Phoebus, now a state assemblywoman, who called it a conflict of interest.

While offering praise for Wednesday's presentation, Roseann Salanitri -- also of Sandyston -- tempered her praise with criticism over the fact that a large portion of it was given by Weinstein.

"He was the same counsel that represented us on (last year's) settlement, and that settlement contained ‘hold harmless' clauses for just about everybody and their grandmother," Salanitri said. "I don't know Mr. Weinstein and have nothing against him personally, but I believe this presentation is not as credible as it could have been if it had been conducted by someone (else)." (NJ Herald, July 29, 2016)

Freeholder Boss Graham defended the appointment of Weinstein, saying:  "He's the only one who has institutional knowledge after all the other people who ran out the door." (NJ Herald, July 29, 2016)

Why did Freeholders Rose and Lazzaro -- one-time critics of the solar scam -- become its enablers?  

When Graham was on the outside, as a minority member (with Phoebus) of the five member board, Graham did one thing, now he does the opposite.  Now, as the boss of the Freeholder Board (controlling three votes of its five members – himself, Rose and Lazzaro) Graham is comfortable with those he used to call the bad guys and has even taken campaign contributions from them.

Where Sussex County taxpayers had?  Was all that anti-solar business an act by Jonathan Rose and Carl Lazzaro?  They need to step up and do some explaining.

Friday
May182018

FACT CHECK: First Rose-Lazzaro ad full of untruths

The first re-election ad put out by Freeholders Jonathan Rose and Carl Lazzaro is a doozy.  It appeared in some of the weekly newspapers and is noteworthy for the litany of untruths and outright lies it contains.

Here is a copy of the actual text...

We checked the FACTS and it isn't pretty:

(1) Transparency.  The Freeholder Board majority of Boss George Graham, Jonathan Rose, and Carl Lazzaro put together a so-called transparency committee made up of them and other county politicians... that's right, to judge the ethical problems of them and other county politicians.  Ridiculous!

(2) Predictable Taxes.  Yes, they are predictable in that county property taxes go up EVERY year. They outright lie when they claimed to keep tax increases "at or below the rate of inflation." Compare the annual inflation rates and the resulting tax increases for yourself...

YEAR              Annual Inflation Rate                    Property Tax Increase

2015                           0.1%                                                   4.2%

2016                           1.3%                                                   3.5%

2017                           2.1%                                                   2.9%

(3) Efficient Government.  Empire Building by Freeholder Boss George Graham has resulted in a lawsuit by Sussex County's Sheriff Mike Strada -- an attempt at keeping the Freeholders' from turning the Sheriff's department into a political patronage playpen for Graham and the boys.  And while Sheriff Strada is fighting for the integrity of his department and protecting his employees from harassment and molestation by county insiders, Graham and the boys handed out sweetheart-deal pay raises to 50 white-collar cronies.  They did this while telling every other county employee that they couldn't even have a cost-of-living adjustment -- and they did it in the middle of contract negotiations.  The Freeholders have destroyed the morale and efficiency of county government. 

(4) Solar Litigation.  Rose and Lazzaro joined Freeholder Graham in hiring back the lawyers responsible for the solar fiasco and the resulting debt and property tax hikes.  One lawyer they hired back as bond counsel after he gave a $2,000 campaign contribution to Graham.  The other they gave a no-bid contract to for a study of the solar mess -- which, of course, whitewashed his role and the role of the bond counsel. Under Rose and Lazzaro and Graham the solar mess has only gotten more messy -- and there is still no plan to get our money back! 

(5) Fix the Transportation Network.  At public appearances, Freeholder Rose has called for scrapping the planned rail line into Sussex County that legislators like Steve Oroho, Gail Phoebus, Parker Space, and Hal Wirths have long fought for.  Rose claims that the era of "driverless vehicles" is almost here and that we should wait for the future to arrive.  This is as pie-in-the-sky as is Freeholder Rose's support for legalizing marijuana sales in New Jersey in the middle of an opioid epidemic that is killing thousands.  Irresponsible. 

(6) Promote Tourism.  "Trails and bicycle lanes" won't bring people to Sussex County -- jobs and lower taxes will. Why can Warren County cut its county property taxes but Sussex County can't?  Maybe it's because Warren County's Freeholders don't borrow unless the voters say so... Maybe it's because Warren County has two less Freeholders than Sussex County does? 

Maybe it's time for Sussex County to make do with two less Freeholders?

Thursday
Apr122018

Extortion isn't the American way, but that doesn't stop some.

Sussex County Watchdog has been around since the spring of 2012.  Over the years, our efforts have stopped or brought to light many instances of public corruption.  These have included attempts to sell the county dump, the premature forcing of some county employees into retirement in order to use the money for new patronage employees, the corruption at the Sussex County Community College, the use of toxic chemicals near county employees, county spending and borrowing practices, county vendors and lobbyists, the county Solar scam, and the county's poor history with OPRA.  

Along the way, we've uncovered inside deals in the awarding of tax breaks and vendors' contracts, and the purchase of land.  On several occasions, Sussex County Watchdog led the way by contacting state and federal law enforcement, as it did during the solar scam -- when this website provided the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Attorney General's Office with background and material information. 

From time to time, our activities have made some insiders less than happy.  There is an all-too-cozy corruption at work at the county level.  Most counties in New Jersey are actually much more corrupt than Sussex is -- but, as in the Solar scam -- our county is being colonized by other counties interested in expanding their corruption here.  

Watchdog is important because we will act when corporate media is afraid to act because some important advertiser is at the core or connected with a matter.  We are anonymous because, in a county as cozy as Sussex is, it prevents direct retribution for exercising our First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.  Anonymous speech is as American as our Founders and has been protected through the centuries by the United States Supreme Court.

Nevertheless,  our efforts have been the target of extortion attempts -- of threats designed to coerce us to stop writing in a way that offends the extorter or to write in a way more favorable to the extorter.  We have always rejected such attempts, because extortion is not only a criminal act but an existential act.  As an act of coercion, it is designed to kill free will, and so is an enemy of freedom itself. 

Extortion is the crime of obtaining money, property, or services from an individual or institution, through coercion.

Most states define extortion as the gaining of property or money by almost any kind of force, or threat of 1) violence, 2) property damage, 3) harm to reputation, or 4) unfavorable government action. While usually viewed as a form of theft/larceny, extortion differs from robbery in that the threat in question does not pose an imminent physical danger to the victim. 

Extortion is a felony in all states. Blackmail is a form of extortion in which the threat is to expose embarrassing and damaging information to family, friends, or the public.  Inherent in this form of extortion is the threat to expose the details of someone's private life. 

Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner by use of threats or force.   It involves a set of various types of actions that violate the free will of an individual to induce a desired response.  These actions may include, but are not limited to: extortion, blackmail, torture, threats to induce favors, or even sexual assault. In law, coercion is codified as a duress crime.  Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in a way contrary to their own interests. 

These crimes can take place over the telephone, via mail, text, email or other computer or wireless communication.  If any method of interstate commerce is used in the extortion, it can be a federal crime. 

As believers in the First Amendment and of the Bill of Rights, Sussex County Watchdog has always offered the liberty of our pages to any opposing point of view.  Write what you wish, and we will publish it.  We are an open forum, accessible to all.  And we offer anonymity to all who wish to publish.  We always have, and a few have made use of the liberty of our pages.  Some have stayed on as regular contributors.  

Unfortunately, there are many who don't want to be part of a free and open discussion.  They want to be able to exercise power, gain material benefit from the taxpayers, or seek power -- without scrutiny.  They don't want a discussion, they want power or a contract or taxpayers' money or status and they don't want to hear about it or have anyone asking questions.  These are the kinds of people who opt for extortion over the liberty of our pages. 

As one can readily appreciate, extortion is the realm of thug life, of wannabe Il Duces and Mafioso -- not of old political organizations and political families.  At least, it shouldn't be.  We have been surprised at some of the names connected with the latest attempt. 

Please allow us to provide counsel to our wannabe extorters, to those making the threats.  To those enemies of freedom, we say this:  The best way to address writing that you do not like is with more writing.  

Speech should be met with speech.  Not with threats, intimidation, coercion, and extortion.  Once you take that road there is only one way forward... as someone  who fears words, as the enemy of freedom, the book-burner, the hater of words and of journalism and of writing.  And where does it end?

It is a bloody path that you are choosing...