Solar scandal’s Matt Boxer shows up as lawyer in rape cover-up hearing

We all knew that Matthew Boxer was an insider’s insider.  But we didn’t know how inside he really was until he turned up on the elbow of Democrat Governor Phil Murphy’s deputy chief of staff, who was testifying yesterday about the attempted cover up of a sexual assault within the Murphy team.  Deputy COS Justin Braz testified before the Legislature’s Select Committee on Oversight on Tuesday.

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We all remember Matthew Boxer and the part he played in the on-going problem of the Sussex solar scandal.  A New York City attorney, Boxer took Sussex County taxpayers for over a half-million dollars. That was his fee for writing the thin document that was presented to the Freeholder Board.   And it will be remembered that Boxer himself was a player in the scandal, his office having signed-off on the solar project and so ensuring that it would move forward with the State’s seal of approval.  We all know the result: Suffer the taxpayers.

For those of you for whom this is a bit foggy, let’s go through it all, once again.  In February 2011, the Sussex County Freeholder Board authorized a shared services agreement with the Morris County Improvement Authority (MCIA) to implement the solar project.  In July 2011, the project was sent to the Office of the State Comptroller for review. At the time, Matthew Boxer was the State Comptroller and responsible for that office. After reviewing all the project documents, the following month (August 2011), the project was given the okay by the Office of the State Comptroller.  Based on this review, the Sussex County Freeholders went forward with the project.

Later, in January 2016, Matthew Boxer would be given a no-bid contract to review the solar project that his office had signed-off on in August 2011.  How that contract came to be awarded to Mr. Boxer remains a mystery.

If you read Matthew Boxer's 62-page report on the solar scandal – which cost Sussex County taxpayers $500,000 ($8,064 per page) – he never once mentions the role of his former office, the Office of the State Comptroller, in the approval process.  The word "comptroller" doesn't appear in his report, even once, despite the central role it played in the scandal and in spite of the fact that Matthew Boxer ran the office when it was responsible for reviewing the solar contract.

In his 62-page report, Mr. Boxer lays bare his office's misfeasance:

"The ability of the County to intercede or assist in the dispute between Sunlight and PPM was further hindered by the County’s lack of legal standing in the operative contract documents.  For example, the County had no contract with

Sunlight, only the MCIA did.  The County was even further removed contractually from PPM; neither the County nor the MCIA had a contract with PPM, only Sunlight did... In short, the County was underwriting the Solar Project, but was not in a position to affect it or protect it.

Typically, when a contractor on a public construction project is unable or unwilling, for financial reasons or otherwise, to complete the project, the public entity may resort to the performance bond that has been posted by the contractor.  A performance bond is a commitment made by an insurance company or bank, known as a 'surety,' to compensate the contracting entity financially or otherwise carry out the completion of the project in cases where the contractor defaults on its obligations...   In the case of the Solar Project, a surety bond was posted that contained a commitment from a well-known, national insurance company. While the bond technically complied with legal requirements, the terms of the specific bond that was posted made the County’s invocation of the bond difficult, if not impossible.  First, despite the massive financial commitment the County had made on this project, the County was not listed as a beneficiary (known as the 'obligee') on the bond. Instead, the MCIA and a Sunlight-related entity were listed as the obligees. Thus, the County had no explicit standing to invoke the bond or to seek compensation under the bond.  It was reliant in this regard on the MCIA."  

In August 2011, Matthew Boxer's office (the Office of the State Comptroller) approved the terms of the 196-page contract. Below is a the table of contents of the contract forwarded to and approved by the Office of the State Comptroller:

In light of his office's blatant failures, Matthew Boxer should be asked the following question:  Do you believe that the Office of the State Comptroller let down the taxpayers of Sussex County?

In April 2015, the Office of the State Comptroller turned down Sussex County's request 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.  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... 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... forwarded to them, it was not going to pursue a further review of the Solar II Program."

It seems 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."

A "post-review decision not to review the matter...”  Mr. Boxer needs to explain why.

The Office of the State Comptroller's refusal 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.

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 unusual, 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 Boxer obtained 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.

None of these individuals, except Freeholder George Graham, admitted to having any knowledge of these negotiations, conversations, meetings or agreements with your law firm before 5:00 PM on New Years’ Eve 2015.

...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 gentleman – who has since retired from the Freeholder Board – has never received the courtesy of a reply.  Why not? And note that, at the time, this Freeholder – as a member of the Board – was Mr. Boxer's client. What fears would lead Mr. Boxer to ignore a perfectly legitimate request by his client?

Sussex County taxpayers lost upwards of $20 million in the solar scandal.  Then they paid another half million dollars on a 62-page report authored by one of key players in the scandal – and nobody can say how this lawyer got hired!  

The question of who hired “insider” Matthew Boxer needs to be answered before any more taxpayers’ money is spent.