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DiFrancesco releases tax returns, shows annual income of up to $557,000

Originally appeared in The Associated Press on Friday, March 23, 2001

Associated Press Writer

He's no millionaire like former Republican governors Christie Whitman or Tom Kean, but Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco has been making a robust annual income of between $431,000 and $557,000 since 1994.

Staff in the governor's office released copies of the acting governor's state and federal income tax returns for seven years late Friday.

DiFrancesco said he hoped the voluntary public disclosure would put an end to "gotcha politics and journalism" concerning private loans he received or arranged in connection with real estate deals that had gone bad.

"For seven weeks I have endured my opponents and the press delving into every facet of not only my life but that of my family and friends," DiFrancesco said in a news statement. "I am hopeful that we can move on, leave the politics of personal destruction behind, and get on with the issues that really matter to people."

The papers did not appear to reveal any new financial problems. There were some ties between family income and public policy.

The 1998 tax return shows the purchase and quick sale of $37,700 of stock in Merrill Lynch and $25,000 of stock in Glimcher Realty.

Merrill Lynch was chief on a team of brokers who handled the $2.8 billion pension bond deal approved by the Legislature in 1997. Glimcher is the developer of the Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth, a $360 million project that got a lot of government help in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, reduced environmental regulations and highway improvements.

No one could make much hay about the $231 profit the DiFrancescos' earned after selling the stock in the two firms within two months.

Also, the 1997 return shows Diane DiFrancesco worked part-time as an insurance broker for Buckelew & Associates, a firm once owned by Highway Authority chairman Joseph Buckelew. Tolls on the Garden State Parkway have become a fighting point on the 2001 campaign trail.

Spokesman Tom Wilson said neither detail was significant. He called it preposterous to infer either company won preferred treatment from state agencies because of DiFrancesco's brief financial interest.

"The Senate president has absolutely no role in the operations of the executive branch," Wilson said. "The facts do matter."

The tax returns do not list all stocks or other equities owned, only the value of those that happened to have been sold.

No tax returns were released for 1993, when DiFrancesco borrowed $575,000 from friends to help him avoid a bank foreclosure on a commercial building he owns in Chatham. The DiFrancescos earned $436,913 in 1994 and $431,036 in 1995, the years those loans were paid off.

Of the past seven years, the DiFrancescos had their best year last year, earning $557,994. In fact, they had to pay a $300 penalty to the IRS because their prepayments based on forecasted income was a bit too small. Their accountant, Robert Rehm, said such small errors in forecasting are common among clients in their income bracket.

Income in 2000 included $383,707 in wages, $90,350 in capital gains from the sale of assets, and $43,798 in rental income from property they own.

Whitman and her husband, John, had inherited wealth from their families and maintained a high investment income while in office, earning $1.8 million in 1999. However, being full-time acting governor in 2001 is likely to cost the DiFrancescos a lot of money.

The DiFrancescos' primary income for seven years has been from wages, ranging from $506,700 in 1997 to $383,700 in 2000, when Diane earned $51,700 of it. When DiFrancesco took over as acting governor full time on Jan. 31, he left his Warren Township law firm, DiFrancesco Kunzman Coley Yospin Bernstein & Bateman.

That means his share of the income will plunge this year since the governor's salary is $130,000 and outside wage income is prohibited. There is a free mansion and $75,000 expense account to ease the impact.

While his political opponents had no immediate response Friday to the thick set of complex papers, Jim Manion, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, objected to the fact the communications director in the governor's Statehouse office prepared and handed out the information rather than DiFrancesco's political campaign.

"This is an outage for taxpayers to be charged for this unprecedented amount of paper," Manion said, adding state Republican chairman Garabed Haytaian should have paid for it. "Whatever expenses are involved should be reimbursed by Mr. Haytaian and the campaign."

Wilson said when a sitting governor releases returns, it is appropriate for his staff to handle the chore. He said others do it when they are still candidates.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey and Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, a candidate for the Republican nomination, have both released their tax returns over the past month, and had demanded that DiFrancesco do the same.

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