What to Know
NJ’s Attorney General said his office was too slow in stepping up corruption fighting efforts, but is now pressing for
"If I have one regret about last year, it was not standing up our office of public integrity and accountability earlier," said Gurbir Grewal
The AG was asked about questions of corruption in communities linked to two powerful Democratic state senators in Linden and North Bergen
New Jersey’s State Attorney General said his office was too slow in stepping up corruption fighting efforts, but is now pressing full steam ahead to work with whistleblowers on allegations brought to his office.
"If I have one regret about last year, it was not standing up our office of public integrity and accountability earlier in my administration,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “The purpose for standing that up was giving the public confidence again in government across the state."
NBC New York asked the Attorney General about specific questions of corruption in communities linked to two powerful Democratic state senators in New Jersey: Nick Sacco in North Bergen and Nicholas Scutari in Linden.
”We don’t confirm or deny the existence of investigations,” said Grewal. “Period.”
Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) is accused in a town audit of ripping off taxpayers of more than $150,000 for not showing up for work repeatedly over the years as Linden's town prosecutor.
Scutari has not returned repeated calls for comment.
And in North Bergen, Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who also serves as a state senator, has been facing questions about corruption in his town by NBC New York since February of last year. One allegation, that Sacco associate and former North Bergen Housing Authority Director of Security Geoffrey Santini was being paid for more than the time he worked — a so-called “low show job.” Santini was removed from his position at the NBHA three months later and has denied wrongdoing.
NBC New York also reported on allegations that public housing apartments were given to several of Mayor Sacco’s political supporters over poor families on a waiting list. Several NBHA workers said retaliation followed against suspected whistleblowers. Nepotism at the board of education was another issue raised by town workers – with dozens of relatives and friends of Mayor Sacco and other town leaders hired in the school system. Each allegation of wrongdoing denied by town spokesmen Paul and Phil Swibinski — owners of the private public relations firm, Vision Media.
Speaking generally, the attorney general said his independent anti-corruption body is not affected by party or position.
“While I am appointed by the Governor, I am constitutionally independent. I think that should give anyone in the state who wishes to report criminal activity involving public officials the confidence that we will run out each and every allegation and follow the evidence wherever it leads, to whoever it leads” Grewal said.
Last month, NBC New York also reported issues raised by some town workers concerning possible voter fraud in North Bergen.
One North Bergen Board of Education employee who requested anonymity, told NBC New York that political pressure to support Mayor Sacco may be leading to public employees voting in North Bergen, even though those workers live outside Hudson County.
“The reason why they have their addresses in North Bergen even though they don’t live there, is because they’re expected to vote when elections roll around,” said the employee who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing retaliation.
The I-Team profiled three possible cases out of about two dozen found by searching databases where workers had home addresses in other counties like Bergen or Passaic, but voted in the Township of North Bergen — which is in Hudson County. One example questioned the voter registration and record of North Bergen Detective Marc Francin.
The Swibinki’s denied any wrong-doing by Francin and the other workers. Last week, the spokesmen distributed a press release with “fake news”-like rhetoric, calling the I-team the “Lie Team.”
That October 1st release also accused NBC New York of ignoring a key fact in the case of Detective Francin, by omitting the fact that Francin hasn’t voted since 2014.
“When veteran journalists deliberately omit a key fact, and don’t care about the damage their dishonest reporting causes, this so-called I-Team more closely resembles a Lie Team,” the Swibinskis said.
Yet, on September 20th, NBC New York reported that on behalf of Francin, Vision Media reported their official statement stating the detective, “…is an outstanding police officer who hasn’t voted at all since 2014, when he was also living part-time with his parents in their North Bergen home. How can someone who hasn’t even voted in five years be used as proof of an ongoing voter fraud scheme? By falsely accusing him of illegal voting, NBC is smearing this officer’s good name.”
NBC New York obtained some of the invoices and payments between the Township of North Bergen, the North Bergen Housing Authority and the Swibinski’s P.R. firm, Vision Media. From 2015 to 2018, Vision Media invoiced both taxpayer-funded entities $812,220 for services including monthly retainers, video services, graphic design, reimbursements for postage, political event planning and advertisements with various news outlets.
As for Det. Francin, since that October 1st “Lie Team” press release, NBC New York obtained multiple records where detective Francin listed his home address in the Township of Saddle Brook (Bergen County).
His 2006 mortgage for that Saddle Brook house states that he resides there. The mortgage also states the loan would be in default if Francin provided, “innaccurate information” about the home being his “principal residence.”
Other documents pointing to the Saddle Brook home as Francin’s primary residence include a medical collection notice in 2006 and federal court bankruptcy filings by Francin in 2015 and 2017.
In the federal filings, under “Where you live,” Francin entered the Saddle Brook Home in Bergen County. In the second federal court filing under “Nature of Debtor’s Interest in Property,” Francin entered, “Home.”
Hudson County Election records show that from the time he signed that mortgage in 2006, Francin voted twenty-six times through 2014 using a Hudson County address in the Township of North Bergen. It was a condo owned by his parents until 2010.
In response the latest documents uncovered by NBC New York, Vision media said:
"It's absolutely disgraceful to see NBC News continue to smear this dedicated police officer who has done nothing wrong by exposing his private, personal financial records, just to advance their biased, false and politically-motivated attacks. Detective Francin is the real victim here and is being used as a pawn by Jonathan Dienst and David Paredes in their vendetta against North Bergen."