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DiFrancesco "repeatedly" violated ethics rules as town attorney

Originally appeared in the Associated Press on 4/17/01 4:08 AM

Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco allegedly violated several legal and ethical rules during his 16 years as an attorney for Scotch Plains, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The Times cited several confidential documents, including a 1998 report by two lawyers -- one a Democrat and the other a Republican -- which concluded that DiFrancesco should be removed from office.

Republican council members told DiFrancesco, who at the time was state Senate president, that he would be ousted unless he could explain the concerns detailed in the report. The issue, though, became moot when Democrats won control of the council that year and replaced DiFrancesco with a Democratic attorney.

DiFrancesco has adamantly denied the allegations, saying Democrats in Scotch Plains had leaked the report in an attempt to damage his campaign for governor.

"There's nothing unethical about what I did, (and) there's nothing illegal about what I did," DiFrancesco said Monday. "This is all about making Don DiFrancesco look bad after 16 years of sweating my blood for this town. It's insulting."

According to the report, council members had become convinced that DiFrancesco had lobbied township officials to give his family members a zoning change they wanted, while failing to disclose his own financial stake in the project's success.

They also were concerned that DiFrancesco had ruled on other projects involving a major homebuilder, shortly after the developer had given him $225,000 to pay off a judgment, and that he influenced township officials to drop plans for a youth soccer field because his relatives were interested in developing the property, the report said.

Officials said DiFrancesco never responded to the report, but he said he did rebut the allegations during a closed council session.

DiFrancesco also said he was never threatened with losing his job and, in fact, had been asked to stay on as township attorney. Robert E. Johnston, one of the five Republican council members at the time, disputed this claim.

"It was made clear by the Council at that point that he would not be reappointed," Johnston said Monday.

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