Did you get an illegal robo-call?
On Monday, January 25th, Sussex County residents got a prerecorded "robo-call" asking people to attend Wednesday's meeting of the Sussex County Freeholder Board and oppose an investigation of the Sussex solar bailout that has cost county taxpayers millions. The recorded message repeats the argument advanced by Freeholder Richard Vohden -- that the Freeholders should hold off commissioning an independent county investigation until after the status of state and federal criminal investigations are determined.
Vohden knows that means holding off on a county investigation indefinitely because the state and federal investigations now underway are criminal investigations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Justice Department, the NJ State Police, and the NJ Attorney General's office are not permitted to comment on active criminal investigations.
The reason Sussex County needs a independent investigation is simple. The solar scam cost $88 million. Sussex taxpayers are on the hook for $24 million and they just borrowed another $7 million and the bill for that is coming due shortly. It will likely cause a sharp increase in property taxes.
It is not the job of those law enforcement agencies to protect the interests of Sussex County. They could even cite Sussex County officials for malfeasance and who would pay for that? The federal authorities will try to claw back the federal money involved in the scam. Who is looking out for Sussex County taxpayers?
That's where an independent county investigation comes in. It is a fact-finding mission to build a case to get some of those millions back through civil action.
The FBI and State Attorney General's office are looking for criminal indictments. That may punish those responsible, but it won't get our money back. That is why the investment in an independent county investigation is money well spent.
Vohden is joined in his opposition to the independent county investigation by the corporate vendors, legal counsel, consultants, and political players who made millions off the solar scam. Unfortunately for whoever paid for the call, they appear to have not followed the law under which robo-calls are permitted.
First, "the prerecorded message must truthfully disclose who is responsible for the call and the telemarketing-related purpose of the call."
Second, "the prerecorded message must disclose a call-back telephone number which would allow the recipient to call back within normal business hours and make an opt-out request."
The prerecorded message sent into the homes of Sussex County residents did not abide by these legal rules. In fact, it could be argued that the call was deliberately misleading and made it appear to come from the County Clerk's office. A prosecutor would have to determine if the robo-call was an attempt by those who paid for the call to hide their identity and to impersonate an innocent party. In 2009, the State Attorney General brought a successful prosecution against a similar incident in Bergen County.
In any case, there is enough to warrant action by the Federal Communication Commission under the expanded Telephone Consumer Protection Act regulations that came into force in June of last year. So look for this issue to figure in the Freeholder races in both Sussex and Morris counties.
If you would like to add your name to those reporting this robo-call to state and federal authorities, please contact Watchdog at: email@example.com
Update: Apparently, the robo-call was sent from the Philadelphia area. It may be entirely unconnected, but readers will remember that in preparation for the reorganization of the Freeholder Board and Freeholder Vohden's initial attempt to delay the solar investigation, Vohden travelled down to Philadelphia to huddle with former Freeholder Director Richard Zeoli, the politico who first introduced the Morris County solar operators into Sussex County.