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DiFrancesco wants ethics issue resolved

Originally appeared in the Star Ledger on 04/17/01

Calling allegations of impropriety stemming from a series of 1994 real estate transactions and personal loans "baseless" and "political," acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco asked the Legislature's ethics committee yesterday to immediately consider the charges.

"I respectfully request that the Joint Committee on Ethical Standards immediately convene to consider whether sufficient credible evidence exists to proceed with an investigation of the charges brought against me," DiFrancesco wrote in a letter to Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto (D-Hudson), chairman of the committee.

"In the fervent hope of maintaining my good name in light of these baseless charges, I now request immediate action by the committee," DiFrancesco wrote.

Two Democratic lawmakers from Bergen County, Sen. Byron Baer and Assemblyman Charles "Ken" Zisa, filed the ethics complaint against DiFrancesco in February after news accounts of a 1994 real estate transaction in which four friends lent DiFrancesco $575,000 to help him stave off a $1.2 million bank foreclosure."

Among those lending DiFrancesco the money were Anthony Sartor, a member of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and an engineer whose firm has done millions of dollars in state work, and M. Joseph Montuoro, a member of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

Baer and Zisa questioned whether DiFrancesco had been given "gifts" both from his friends, who lent the money at a relatively low rate of interest, and from the bank pursuing the foreclosure, which excused $350,000 of the delinquent loan as part of a settlement.

Last month, the committee determined that the February complaint fell within its scope of review. Yesterday, DiFrancesco asked that the committee proceed immediately to a follow-up step: consideration of the merits of the complaints.

"I am deeply concerned that the complaint in this matter was filed for political reasons, in a partisan effort to harm my gubernatorial candidacy," said DiFrancesco, who is seeking the Republican nomination for a full term as governor in November's elections. "Please do not allow this committee to become a political tool for this purpose."

News of the 1994 loan default and bailout triggered more damaging news coverage of DiFrancesco's personal finances.

Among other things, it was revealed that payments into a failed Scotch Plains real estate venture by the state's largest home builder, K. Hovnanian, bankrolled DiFrancesco's payment of a $535,000 legal judgment against him in 1996. In addition, DiFrancesco's signature, which he now claims was forged, appeared on 1989 loan agreements in which the acting governor's brother was to borrow $95,000 from a Union County trash hauler implicated in a price-fixing case.

DiFrancesco has defended his actions as proper in every case, and has denied any conflict between his private financial dealings and his work as president of the state Senate and acting governor.

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