Perez, Boxer, and the $518,000 solar study scam
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:
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. Two members of the Sussex County Freeholder Board, who are very close to Democrat Freeholder candidate Dan Perez, pushed for Mr. Boxer to be brought in for this purpose. Below is a memo from attorney Dan Perez (now himself a candidate for Sussex County Freeholder) to then Freeholder Gail Phoebus:
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:
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 "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 only man 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 only man to review the solar project -- handed Matthew Boxer a contract for $500,000 to conduct said review.
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 Freeholder wrote to Mr. Boxer's firm inquiring how he came by it. Here is what he wrote:
To this day, this Freeholder -- 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 Freeholder wrote to the State Ethics Commission and noted the following:
To which the State Ethics Commission replied:
The word "facts" is used when "representations" might be more appropriate. As the State Ethics Commission did not conduct its own review of the Office of the State Comptroller's "records and emails... correspondence... other documents", it is clear that they are simply accepting Mr. Boxer at his word.
Doesn't it seem strange to claim that the person in charge of an office was so lax as to have no knowledge of what was a three-county project involving -- to start -- $100 million. And that 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?
In its reply, the State Ethics Commission expressly invited further inquiry:
It is time for the Freeholders to establish a citizen's commission to investigate this corrupt mess and call those who have benefited to account. Make someone like Harvey Roseff the chairman and you won't need to spend a half million dollars of taxpayers' money (property tax money!) to get the job done.