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Treasurer nominee pulls out under cloud

Originally appeared in on Thursday, March 29, 2001
Trenton Bureau

TRENTON -- Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco's nominee for state treasurer withdrew her name from consideration Wednesday, two days after published reports that she was fired from Citibank for conducting a cross-country extramarital affair on her company expense account.

In a brief letter to DiFrancesco that was distributed to the media, Isabel Miranda said her nomination had "fallen victim to a vicious and unfair effort" to discredit her.

Without addressing the specifics of the controversy, Miranda, who has two young children, suggested that her exit was prompted as much by family concerns as by the desire to stanch criticism of DiFrancesco's seven-week-old administration.

"I cannot . . . serve both the people of New Jersey and the real needs of my family," she said in the letter.

Miranda, through a spokesman, has denied misusing her Citibank expense account and said her 1996 departure from the bank stemmed from a disagreement with management.

Miranda's withdrawal Wednesday drew the immediate anger of Latino leaders, who claimed her demise was the product of a rumor-mongering, racist media.

Converging on Trenton for a hastily arranged news conference, a group of more than a dozen Latino dignitaries vowed to expose Miranda's accusers.

"We're going to find out where this came from and we're going to do something," said Jose Manuel Alvarez, a former chief of staff to Rep. Robert Menendez, D-Union City. "I wonder if this was a male who was not Hispanic if the same thing would have happened."

"This has been a stealth attack on a woman of integrity," said Jose Gomez Rivera of the Puerto Rican Congress of New Jersey.

The allegations were first published Monday in a New York Times article that cited unnamed sources.

In a brief prepared statement, DiFrancesco said he was "truly disappointed" by Miranda's withdrawal and called her a "person of enormous character and dignity."

"To see her reputation maligned at the hands of nameless, faceless accusers is offensive to me," he said in the statement.

Meanwhile, DiFrancesco sidestepped questions about whether Miranda may have provided false information to a state ethics commission about her current employer, U.S. Trust Company of New Jersey, a subsidiary of Charles Schwab Corp.

Miranda told officials at the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards this month that neither U.S. Trust nor its parent firm did any business with the state. The agency subsequently advised her to submit a formal "letter of recusal" in which she would pledge to screen herself from any dealings with the companies while treasurer.

However, Rita Strmensky, the agency's executive director, said she learned Tuesday that both U.S. Trust and Schwab currently do business with the Treasury Department. U.S. Trust, she said, serves as a trustee for bonds issued by the state Economic Development Authority, and Schwab serves as a broker in the Division of Investments.

Strmensky said she was surprised to learn the treasury nominee's employers were doing business with the state, but she emphasized "it is far from clear if Isabel Miranda provided me false information."

"We just don't know what her understanding was when she provided that information," Strmensky said. "You'll have to ask her."

DiFrancesco, meeting with reporters late Wednesday afternoon, said he believed Strmensky's agency had cleared Miranda of any potential conflict of interest.

"They told me everything was OK," he said. "I took their word for it."

Strmensky, however, said her agency does not serve to vet Cabinet nominees. She said she and her staff of seven had no easy way to verify information given to them.

"A lot of time we never even hear of Cabinet nominees," she said. "Our role is an advisory one. I advised Isabel Miranda to submit a recusal letter, and that's what she did."

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