Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Political Insider Can't Recall Key Details of Encap Deal

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Political Insider Can't Recall Key Details of Encap Deal

Article excerpt

A Trenton insider who got $12,000 a month as a political point man from EnCap's corporate parent testified Tuesday that he could not remember key meetings and phone calls with former state Sen. Wayne Bryant and other top public officials who were helping the developer behind the scenes.

"I don't recall" was Joseph Salema's response to scores of questions from the federal prosecutors trying to prove that Bryant took part in a bribery scheme.

His memory was refreshed at times by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Krieger, who showed the witness transcripts of his own interviews with federal agents as well as grand jury testimony Salema gave in 2009.

Salema, for example, acknowledged being present at the June 2004 meeting where Bryant and EnCap's lawyer, the late Eric Wisler, discussed a deal that would pay Bryant, a powerful Camden Democrat, almost $200,000 over the next two years.

The deal is at the crux of the former state lawmaker's trial in federal court in Trenton; prosecutors say that, although disguised as a $8,000-a-month retainer agreement for outside legal services, it was actually a secret bribery scheme between Wisler and Bryant.

Salema, a onetime aide to former Gov. James Florio, could not remember details of how the deal was hashed out. But he did recall telling one state official about it -- former Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin.

He testified that he told Bass Levin because he knew that she and Bryant were having conversations about the developer's projects and didn't want the community affairs chief to "look bad" or "be embarrassed" by not knowing about the arrangement.

Under Bass Levin, a former Cherry Hill mayor who served governors McGreevey and Corzine, the DCA reviewed hundreds of millions in loans and tax breaks for EnCap and its North Carolina-based parent, Cherokee Investment Partners. She also served on state boards that approved the developer's $3 billion plans to build residential golf villages on some of the state's most polluted land.

What would have happened if the public knew that Bryant was on the developer's payroll? Krieger asked Salema. Would it look like Cherokee was buying a public official? …

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