Federal prosecutors have launched a probe into the Newark Watershed Authority for actions it took while chaired by the city’s then-mayor Cory Booker, sources said.
The inquiry centers on alleged misappropriation of taxpayer funds first uncovered by the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office and a local watchdog group.
While Booker — who is now a US senator — served as the agency’s ex-officio chairman between 2007 and 2012, his former law firm, Trenk, DiPasquale, Webster, raked in $1 million in legal fees. Elnardo Webster, Booker’s 2006 campaign treasurer, served as the authority’s general counsel.
The Post previously reported that the law firm paid Booker $700,000 — even after he became mayor. Booker claims the payments were part of a “separation agreement” for work done before he was elected.
Booker’s campaign spokeswoman said he “had nothing to do with the business the firm conducted with the Watershed, nor did he have a hand in their getting a contract there.”
The authority spilled the beans about the federal probe in a separate court proceeding as it sought reimbursement from the city for expenses, said Renee Steinhagen, executive director of NJ Appleseed, a public-interest law firm that represents a citizens’ group.
Booker refused to respond to news of the story, prompting this editorial from the Murdoch Post: (the outlet which reported the story in the first place):
Even though he’s running for re-election to the US Senate, Cory Booker refuses to answer key questions about millions siphoned from a commission he chaired.
The questions for the former Newark mayor boil down to two:
Did he know about the taxpayer dollars that went to enrich his pals at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. while he was chairman? And were checks he continued to receive from his law firm after becoming mayor a quid pro quo?
These questions take on a new importance now that a federal prosecutor is looking into them, as The Post’s Carl Campanile reported Monday.
Booker’s law firm of Trenk, DiPasquale made $2 million doing legal work for the city of Newark — $1 million on the watershed alone.
Meanwhile, the firm continued to pay Booker $700,000 throughout most of his mayoral tenure — including a final payment of $30,000 in 2012 that was “accidentally” left off his subsequent federal disclosure forms.
Booker has been all over the map with explanations, first denying the firm paid him or that he did any work for the firm, then blaming omissions on an accounting error, then saying the payments were from a “confidential” separation agreement.
If a written copy of his separation agreement with Trenk, DiPasquale exists, Booker could clear up much of the confusion simply by releasing it. Why won’t he?
Booker's a slippery fellow.
It sure would be nice to see federal prosecutors get him.