George Norcross: Influential New Jersey Attorney General Accuses Democratic Power Broker of Racketeering

Mike Catalini/AP

Democratic power broker George Norcross, center, speaks outside the court complex in Trenton, New Jersey, June 17, 2024.

Trenton, New Jersey

New Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross was charged Monday with operating a racketeering enterprise, threatening people whose properties he sought to take over and orchestrating tax incentive legislation to benefit the organizations he he was in control.

Norcross, sitting in the front row at a news conference by New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin, angrily denounced the accusations, later calling Platkin a “coward” and demanding a speedy trial.

The charges against Norcross, 68, and five others come as New Jersey is already under a political and legal microscope, with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez on trial in New York for federal corruption. Platkin, also a Democrat, filed a lawsuit against law enforcement cracking down on wrongdoing.

“When we say no one is above the law, we mean it, and we will continue to hold accountable anyone who puts their self-interest ahead of the public interest, no matter how powerful that interest may be,” Platkin said.

In a 111-page indictment unsealed Monday, the attorney general alleges a scheme dating back to 2012 in which the defendants — called “Norcross Enterprise” in the indictment — used his political influence to craft legislation that served their interests.

Among the allegations against Norcross are accusations that he threatened a developer who would not relinquish his rights to waterfront property in Camden, New Jersey, on Norcross’s terms. The indictment cites a profanity-laden phone recording from Norcross in which he tells the developer he will face “tremendous consequences.” The person asks if Norcross is threatening him, according to the indictment. “Absolutely,” Norcross replies.

The indictment also states that Norcross and co-defendants extorted and coerced businesses with property rights to the Camden waterfront and obtained tax incentive credits, which they then sold for millions of dollars. Platkin described Camden as long suffering from economic decline.

Defense attorney Michael Critchley accused Platkin of having a “vendetta” against Norcross, pointing out that the waterfront development had been investigated for years by multiple agencies, including federal prosecutors in Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as by Platkin’s predecessor.

“And every agency that has looked at this over the last seven years…has found nothing,” Critchley said at a news conference.

Norcross, executive chairman of the Conner Strong & Buckelew insurance company, was widely considered one of the state’s most influential unelected Democrats.

He served as a member of the Democratic National Committee until 2021 and was previously head of the Camden County Democratic Party. A close friend of the former state Senate president, he was a behind-the-scenes power player and well-known funder of Democrats across the state and nation.

Norcross, a Palm Beach, Fla., resident who was once listed as a member of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, called the lawsuits politically motivated. He said Platkin blamed Democrats in southern New Jersey for the fallout from allegations that a member of the Democratic governor’s staff. Phil Murphy’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign was sexually assaulted. It was not immediately clear what those consequences were. Platkin was Murphy’s general counsel when the state legislature investigated the allegations.

“I want Matt Platkin to come here and judge this case himself, because he’s a coward, because he forced the people in this building to carry out his will,” Norcross said Monday outside the office of the Attorney General.

In explaining why he appeared at the press conference, Norcross said: “I want to witness extraordinary embarrassment and outrageous conduct by a government official who stands there and tries to act as if he were holier than thou. »

The other defendants are Norcross’s brother, Philip Norcross, a New Jersey attorney; William Tambussi, George Norcross’s longtime attorney; Dana Redd, executive director of the Camden Community Partnership and former mayor of Camden; Sidney Brown, chief executive of trucking and logistics company NFI; and John O’Donnell, director of a development company.

A lawyer representing Philip Norcross called him an exceptional lawyer with an “unblemished reputation”.

“The idea of ​​him being charged with crimes is just outrageous,” Kevin Marino said. Marino declined to respond to the specific allegations contained in the indictment.

Philip Norcross and Representative. Donald Norcross of New Jersey are all brothers of George.

Donald Norcross said in a statement that he looked forward to his brothers telling their side of the story. “I love my brothers,” he said. “I believe in the rule of law and they will have the opportunity to defend themselves during their day in court. »

Henry Klingeman, Redd’s attorney, said he was surprised by the charges.

“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Klingeman said. “What she has done is serve the Camden community in public and nonprofit roles for more than three decades. She has fully cooperated with the grand jury investigation for more than a year and is unaware of any evidence of wrongdoing by her or anyone else.

Messages seeking comment were left with an attorney for Tambussi.

Brown and O’Donnell do not yet have an attorney, according to the attorney general’s office.

Monday’s indictment is not the first time the tax incentive has come under scrutiny. Murphy’s administration ordered a task force to investigate the tax incentives shortly after he took office in 2018. In 2019, Norcross disputed resulting allegations that there was anything wrong with it. corrupt in the incentives his companies benefited from.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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