Crabb cover-up: 1800 words, Evaluation Report not mentioned

Giving unprecedented access to its pages, the New Jersey Herald permitted Freeholder Director Phil Crabb to pen an 1,800 word apology in today's edition that presents itself as an explanation of the solar mess, while it slyly attempts to blame Parker Space. 

So let's see, you have a lawyer, a bureaucrat, an accountant, a talk show host, a pharmaceutical salesman, and a union boss... and they want us to believe that the farmer did it.  Really?

Space was one of the Freeholders who voted for the concept in 2011.  He was an Assemblyman when the project went bad and required a taxpayer-funded bailout.  Space opposed the bailout and joined Freeholders Phoebus and Graham in asking the state Attorney General to initiate an investigation.  That investigation has begun.

As reported in the Herald, the Star-Ledger, the Advertiser, and Sparta Independent, the Express-Times and other media, a document called the Solar Proposal Evaluation Report  was  the sales document used to convince the Sussex County Freeholders that the solar plan was viable.   

Why then -- in his 1,800 word statement in the Herald -- didn't Freeholder Crabb mention the Solar Proposal Evaluation Report even once?

Because Crabb is trying to mislead the Herald's readers.  Because Crabb is attempting to protect the guilty.

Here is what really happened:

How it was sold to the Freeholders

In 2011, the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholder was composed of the following members:  Freeholder Director Rich Zeoli, Deputy Director Sue Zellman, and Freeholder members Phil Crabb, Rich Vohden, and Parker Space.  Vohden and Space were new to the  Board.  On November 14, 2011, the Freeholder Board voted unanimously to take the solar deal offered by SunLight  General.  How did it happen? 

Watchdog has uncovered the document used to sell the deal to the Freeholders, but first, let's look at the committee that was formed to sell the solar scheme.  It was called the Sussex County Evaluation Team and it was composed of the following people/organizations:

- John Eskilson Sussex County Administrator

- Dennis McConnell, Sussex County Attorney

- Bernard Re, Sussex County Treasurer

- Steve Pearlman, a lawyer with Inglesino, Pearlman, Wyciskala & Taylor

- Deb Verderame, a lawyer with Inglesino, Pearlman, Wyciskala & Taylor

- Gerry Genna, Birdsall Services Group

- Tom Brys, Birdsall Services Group

- Douglas Bacher, NW Financial Group

- Heather Litzebauer, NW Financial Group

- Steven Gabel, Gabel Associates

- Richard Preiss, Gabel Associates

- Cadence Bowden, Gabel Associates

This is the committee that recommended to the Freeholder Board that they agree to the solar scheme.  These are the promises they made to the Board: 

"The SunLight/MasTec team possesses high quality management, installation capabilities, and sound solar development experience.  In addition, the SunLight/MasTec proposal provides Sussex benefits in the following key areas:

- It provides substantial direct energy cost savings;

- It provides the Local Units the potential for additional savings through the sharing of revenues from the sale of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) and other environmental benefits;

- Due to SunLight/MasTec's proposed capital investment, which reduces the required size of the Authority bonds, it provides a strong level of protection for Sussex from financial risk;

- It provided additional financial protection for Sussex in the form of a debt service reserve fund; and,

- It includes a restoration security providing for additional Local Unit protection at the end of contract."

The entire process was open to public bid, but only one bidder showed up.  Another showed up late and was disqualified.  Some wanted to redo the bid, but that suggestion was brushed aside.  Only one bidder?

The Aftermath

While Sussex County continues to pay these lobbyists and consultants, neighboring Morris County has taken action. 

Lawyer Pearlman and his firm were asked to resign by Morris County and they complied.  Gabel Associates was also asked to resign and complied.  That is 5 of 12 members of the Sussex County Evaluation Team .

In 2013, Birdsall Services Group pleaded guilty to charges of public corruption  and was ordered to pay $1m in penalties, as well as $2.6 million to settle a civil forfeiture action brought by the attorney general’s office.  Individual cases against seven executives are pending. 

That makes 7 of the 12 members of the Sussex County Evaluation Team.

But while they have suffered sanctions from Morris County or from the New Jersey Attorney General, Sussex County Freeholder Director Phil Crabb continues to be more than happy to do business with these people.

Maybe Sussex County taxpayers should think about recalling some of these Freeholders who continue to do business with the people who ripped off Sussex County?

Watchdog is read by 11,000 residents in Sussex County, either by email or online.  Let us hear from you.  Tell us what you think we should do...

Do you want your tax dollars to continue to pay the Sussex County Evaluation Team members who have been fired by Morris County or who have pled guilty to actions brought by the New Jersey Attorney General?

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