Get Great Deals At Get NJ

Panel to investigate governor's loan

Originally appeared in the Bergen Record on Friday, March 30, 2001
Trenton Bureau

The Legislature's ethics committee voted Thursday to investigate a loan that acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco got from two politically connected friends, but procedural squabbling kept the panel from acting any further.

Committee members disagreed afterward whether the vote would lead to a full investigation and testimony from witnesses, or if the panel's next meeting -- which is not yet scheduled -- would start with a vote to dismiss the issue entirely.

Two Bergen County legislators asked the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards to look into whether DiFrancesco violated ethics rules when he borrowed $575,000 at 5 percent interest from a group of friends that included Anthony Sartor, who serves on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and M. Joseph Montuoro, a member of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

DiFrancesco, who is also Senate president and a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, borrowed the money in 1994 when he was faced with defaulting on a loan on a retail building he owned in Chatham.

Sen. Byron Baer, D-Englewood, and Assemblyman Charles "Ken" Zisa, D-Hackensack, asked the committee if the low interest rate on the loan constituted an undeclared gift. They also questioned any connection with Sartor's engineering firm later winning part of a no-bid contract the state awarded to overhaul the state's motor vehicle inspection system.

DiFrancesco had urged the treasurer at the time not to sign that contract, but did recommend and vote for Sartor's and Montuoro's nominations to their respective authority posts. He repeated Thursday his contention he'd done nothing wrong.

"I don't have any concerns at all about anything I did related to ethics," DiFrancesco said. "As far as I'm concerned, that complaint [by Baer and Zisa] . . . was politically driven."

Baer said he was pleased the committee had decided to take up the issue because it was bipartisan and had the power to subpoena information if necessary.

The ethics committee, composed of four Democrats and four Republicans from the Legislature plus four members of the public, displayed some confusing politics in handling the complaint Thursday.

Shortly into the committee's discussion, Assemblyman Kenneth LeFevre, R-Atlantic, made a motion to reject the complaint because the loan occurred too long ago to fall within the committee's two year statute of limitations.

Committee members appeared ready to agree before James M. Coleman, a retired judge and former Republican legislator appointed to the committee as a public member by DiFrancesco, spoke up.

Coleman said that while the mortgages and deeds describing the loan were contained in public records that someone could have found in the mid-Nineties, he did not think the statute of limitations was exceeded. He said the law says the information has to have been available to a person showing "reasonable diligence," and the only way Baer or Zisa could have known about the loans was if they spent their time hanging out in courthouses rooting through documents.

Several committee members, including a few Democrats, said they came prepared to dismiss the complaint because of the two-year time limit but were swayed by Coleman's comments. The committee eventually voted, 9-3, that the complaint was timely.

The panel also voted, 11-0 with one abstention, that the substance of the complaint fell within the committee's jurisdiction. The committee then squabbled over a suggestion by Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Demarest, to make its records available in this case, but Democrats argued against it.

Committee members said they hoped to schedule another meeting within the next week or two.

Jersey City History
Your Ancestors' Story
Asbury Park
Bruce Springsteen's Jersey Shore Rock Haven!

The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and The Central Railroad Terminal
Visit Liberty State Park!

Questions? Need more information about this Web Site? Contact us at:
297 Griffith St.
Jersey City, NJ 07307