George Graham, the one-time boss of the Sussex County Freeholder Board, was given power in January 2016 with a clear directive from the voters: Get to the bottom of who was responsible and who profited from the solar scam that ripped-off Sussex County taxpayers to the tune of $26 million. Instead of doing as the voters asked, Graham spent upwards of $600,000 on no-bid contracts and studies by often conflicted individuals. Nobody was held to account. No money was returned. The guilty were not even identified, let alone punished.
Under Graham, more money was wasted.
It remains to be seen what steps the incoming Freeholder Board will take to address this festering wound to the soul of Sussex County’s decent, hard-working property taxpayers. With most of the county’s top administrative positions still in the hands of Graham appointees, the Board’s new members are facing stiff opposition to doing anything. There are deep dark secrets that have yet to be revealed and the county bureaucrats left over from the years when Graham was boss are going to great lengths to resist openness and transparency.
Recently, citizen activist and Byram Councilman Harvey Roseff was forced to bring an Open Records (OPRA) lawsuit against county bureaucrats for their failure to turn over documents that they should plainly have in their possession. Roseff brought the OPRA lawsuit in order to compel transparency from county bureaucrats after trying to obtain public records through normal channels, under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), over nine months. In September of last year, Councilman Roseff requested key documents to understanding who profited from the solar scam:
Whereas Sussex County has contracted the Morris County Improvement Authority as its management authority for its solar program,and at the October 21, 2015 MCIA meeting Mssrs. Bonanni and Jessup discussed Firstar Development as a sister company to the Independent Trustee (US Bank National) of the MCIA's Sussex Solar programs, and
Whereas Firstar required approval of the Sussex Freeholders, in Solar Program Amendments I and II (respectfully signed in Years 2012 and 2013), to participate in the "public-private" partnership that is Sussex Solar and
Whereas Firstar was presented, at the October 21, 2015 MCIA meeting, as having a "tax equity" deal with Sunlight General, our developer partner in the "public-private partnership" for the solar programs and
Whereas Sunlight General in Year 2015, as part of Amendment/Consent III, delivered more than $1,000,000 of tax equity contract funds to Sussex County with the amount influenced or determined by the tax equity contract and
Whereas Administrator Eskilson, CFO Re and the Freeholders accepted the tax equity payment and
Whereas Open Session and Closed Session Executive Minutes on Amendments I, II and III are released to the public:
With the contract matter long ago concluded, the below records are requested properly free of redactions. Please group the documents in folders for each numbered item listed.
1. For the Sussex Solar program, between January 1, 2012 and September 22, 2018, a copy of all communication records that the Sussex Administration and Finance Dept. has in its possession or that is held by its hired professionals and public/private partnership entities on the subject of "tax equity" and tax equity deals with Firstar Development. Identified parties are the following who were present as operating personnel and/or as professionals working on behalf of Sussex County's interests: Sussex County Administrator, Sussex County CFO, Sussex County Counsel; MCIA Counsels Pearlman and Miranda and Inglesino, Pearlman; NW Financial, Sunlight General and MCIA Counsel Mr. Jessup.
2. Between January 1, 2012 and September 22, 2018, a copy of all correspondence for new additional tax equity deals for Sussex Solar to Amendments I and II. Parties identified are the same as Item 1.
3. Between January 1, 2012 and September 22, 2018, a copy of all the minutes, open session and closed session, that the Sussex County Freeholders held to discuss "tax equity" deals and contracts.
4. The tax equity contracts with Firstar Development, be it directly involving Sussex County, Sunlight General or the MCIA, this request is made in line with the "whereas" conditions.
Nobody has been able to determine the actual value of the tax equity transferred from the county in return for $1 million. Sources have claimed that its real value was upwards of $12 million. If true, this would mean that somebody made an $11 million windfall at the expense of the county’s taxpayers. Harvey Roseff wants to find out what happened and who benefitted.
The list of excuses for not supplying the documents is quite creative. First, the county bureaucrats complained about the work load required to find a few simple documents, so they asked for extra time; then they said that the County Treasurer was out of the office, then that they needed to speak with County Counsel about it; then they claimed that they had allowed attorney Matt Boxer to remove the original files from the county building and that they were now at Boxer’s office in New York City; then they said that the request was too broad and refused to provide the documents on those grounds; now the latest is that somebody in Morris County has the documents – the originals – and that Sussex County’s bureaucrats didn’t make copies. Can you believe this?
In frustration, Councilman Roseff wrote to county bureaucrats with yet another appeal for transparency, noting that his OPRA request “is a straightforward request for records regarding the various tax equity transactions of the Sussex Solar Program. It's a simple request and only gets complicated and ‘broad’ when one doesn't want to divulge the details. As you know, the solar program business arrangement that Sussex County established is a network of business partners, hollow shell companies and many consiglieres. It is Sussex County that must responsibly handle its transaction chain and transaction documentation when an OPRA is received…”
“I am also quite concerned about the quality and purpose of Mr. Boxer's very expensive investigation and how the Office of the Freeholder Counsel has handled it. For the investigation to not even list this tax equity transaction shows the investigation was a surface level one that regurgitated what many in the public already knew. We should not be paying $500,000 for such incomplete and unnecessary work that does not correct wrongful conduct.”
Councilman Harvey Roseff is hot on the trail of the solar scammers.For the sake of Sussex County’s property taxpayers, let’s hope he prevails over the county bureaucrats.