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Treasurer nominee bows out

Originally appeared in the Trenton Times on 03/29/01
Associated Press

TRENTON -- Isabel Miranda quit with regret yesterday as a nominee to become New Jersey's next treasurer, charging her nomination "has fallen victim to a vicious and unfair effort to discredit me."

Miranda became a focus of controversy after The New York Times reported Monday that she was fired by Citibank five years ago for misusing expense accounts to carry on an extramarital affair.

But more concerns were promptly raised about whether Miranda could function as state treasurer, the executive with singular authority over all state finances, while remaining affiliated with U.S. Trust Company of New Jersey, a firm that competes for business handling government bond issues.

It is this latter issue Miranda cited in her withdrawal letter yesterday. Miranda had agreed to take a leave of absence from U.S. Trust and to further recuse herself from any state decisions involving that firm, but she was unwilling to resign outright to take a state job that might last less than a year.

"I also now believe recusal is not sufficient to cure any perceived conflict I would have as a result of my leave of absence," Miranda said in her letter.

But acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said he spoke to Miranda and she was also deeply upset about the Citibank disclosures, which he denounced as incorrect and unfounded.

"She is upset. She saw her picture in the paper, on the front page of the newspaper, alleging that she has done something wrong," DiFrancesco said with some emotion concerning Miranda, a neighbor and family friend.

"She felt the circumstances were just too much for her to handle at this time given the kind of allegations that were being thrown around by everyone," he said.

The state Executive Commission on Ethical Standards issued a statement Tuesday saying Miranda could serve in the post provided she recused herself from decisions or communications linked to U.S. Trust, a subsidiary of brokerage giant Charles Schwab & Co.

But the commission's director, Rita Strmensky, said yesterday, "Everyone was operating under the information that U.S. Trust and Schwab did not do business with the state. Yesterday afternoon it became clear that was not the reality."

Miranda also resigned as acting treasurer, a post she had held since Friday.

Miranda was nominated earlier last week and her term could have been brief. DiFrancesco became acting governor on Jan. 31 to complete the remainder of former Gov. Christie Whitman's unexpired term after she left to become head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He is a candidate for election to a full term, but his current tenure as acting governor ends next January.

Miranda's scheduled confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was postponed Monday after the publication of the news report prompted committee members to ask for more time to review her confidential background investigation.

Citing unnamed current and former employees of the New York-based bank, the Times reported that Miranda was forced to resign and escorted from her Manhattan office. Auditors found evidence that she and Donald Browne Jr., an executive in Citibank's San Francisco office, had charged the bank for cross-country trips to visit each other and for trips together to places like Palm Beach, Fla., the newspaper reported.

Sen. William Gormley, R-Margate, the Judiciary chairman, and the ranking Democrat, Sen. John A. Lynch, D-New Brunswick, said they were given unprecedented access to Miranda's confidential background investigation. They said New Jersey State Police detectives had renewed their inquiry Monday into the terms of Miranda's departure from Citibank.

"I do applaud their openness in having us have access to it," Lynch said. "I believe the damage, if any, lies with the fact that the nomination was sort of rushed and mismanaged, and there was some awareness of potential problems that should have been fully explored."

Sen. Robert Martin, R-Morris Plains, said Miranda's plan to serve as treasurer without fully breaking off her ties to U.S. Trust was troublesome. "When you are working for a major bank in the state and you are the state treasurer, I think at the very least there is an issue that had to be fleshed out, and I am sure we would have probed that kind of relationship," Martin said.

Hispanic officials held a news conference to condemn what they considered merciless treatment for Miranda, claiming it would have not occurred had she not been a Cuban native. "It is very offensive to Latino women in general that this should have taken place," said Lydia Valencia, director of the New Jersey Puerto Rican Congress.

Lobbyist Jose Sosa, a former Republican Assemblyman, said Miranda should have had her day before the Judiciary committee to discuss and explain her links to U.S. Trust. But he said the other scandalous news made such a hearing impossible.

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