Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With Arrests, New Jersey Stakes Claim as Corruption Capital

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With Arrests, New Jersey Stakes Claim as Corruption Capital

Article excerpt

Move over Illinois and Louisiana. New Jersey is vying to be the most corrupt state in the nation.

The state, which has watched many of its public officials sent to jail in the past, is now trying deal with the latest news.

On Thursday, 300 agents from the FBI and the IRS's criminal investigation division swooped in and started rounding up three mayors, a state assemblyman from Ocean County and even someone identified as the chief rabbi of the Syrian Sephardic Jews in Brooklyn. So far, the dragnet has resulted in 44 arrests, and officials indicate there might be more to come.

The arrests are part of a 10-year investigation called Operation Bid Rig, which has already resulted in the arrest of 48 other officials. In the latest round, the FBI used a "confidential witness" who, among other activities, is alleged to have offered officials bribes to move his development projects to the top of the pile.

The federal prosecutor says his office has audio and video tapes of meetings that took place in diners, bathrooms, and offices to back up its claims. "We feel very confident about our evidence," says acting US Attorney, Ralph Marra Jr.

The arrests prompted federal law enforcement agents to call the state one of the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, in the nation.

Federal officials talk about the state having a political "culture" of corruption. Mr. Marra says the newly elected mayor of Hoboken, Peter Cammarano III, even joked that he could be indicted and still get 85 to 95 percent of the vote.

At a press conference, Marra said efforts by solid citizens to clean up the state had been met by derision. "They get shouted down," he said.

Political commentator Larry Sabato, who has written two books about New Jersey's corruption, says part of the blame lies with the residents.

"It could never have survived or gone as deep without a wink or a nod from the voters," says Mr. …

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