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Senators Delay Treasurer Vote in New Jersey

Originally appeared in the New York Times on March 27, 2001


For more information see: New Jersey Treasurer Nominee Was Fired by Bank, Workers Say, (March. 26,2001)

TRENTON, March 26
The State Senate Judiciary Committee refused to hold a confirmation hearing today on Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco's nominee for state treasurer, Isabel Miranda, citing a report that she was fired by Citibank in 1996 following accusations that she had billed personal travel to her corporate expense account.

Mr. DiFrancesco and Ms. Miranda today vehemently denied that she had abused her bank expense account and characterized the report as an unfair attack on her integrity.

Saying they needed time to seek more information and to review the allegations against Ms. Miranda, Republican senators resisted intense public and behind-the- scenes pressure from Mr. DiFrancesco, who is also the president of the Senate and their party's leading candidate for a full term as governor, to send her nomination to the Senate floor today for a vote on Thursday.

The New York Times reported today that Ms. Miranda was fired as director of trusts and estates for Citibank's private banking unit after 10 years at Citibank. Current and former Citibank employees said she was confronted with evidence that she had used her expense account to pay for thousands of dollars in personal travel while having an extramarital affair with a co-worker in California.

During a news conference today, Mr. DiFrancesco and Ms. Miranda vehemently denied The Times's report, saying Ms. Miranda was not fired and did not misuse her expense account. Mr. DiFrancesco repeatedly said he was "disappointed" that senators had postponed action on her nomination.

Ms. Miranda portrayed herself as a victim of sexism, racism and an angry former husband. A native of Cuba, she likened the allegations against her to the tactics of the Castro regime.

"My parents fled that world believing that America would be a better place where truth would prevail," she said. "They came to a country where people have a right to face their accusers and a place where facts do matter, and a place where public service is a noble calling, not an occasion to destroy someone personally in the name of political gain."

Ms. Miranda denied that she had charged personal expenses to Citibank. Asked if she was fired or quit, she sidestepped the question. "We agreed to disagree," she said. "I had a disagreement with my immediate supervisor about lots of things, most of them having to do with business decisions."

Asked if one of those disputes concerned her expenses, she responded: "We had had lots of discussions. They weren't specifically about this." Ms. Miranda added that she believed that her supervisor at the time also objected to her affair with a co-worker, Donald R. Browne Jr. She and Mr. Browne were married in 1995, weeks after both divorced their spouses. Her supervisor, Franklin G. Burnside, declined to comment on Saturday.

Mr. DiFrancesco and Ms. Miranda sought to discredit The Times's report for its partial reliance on unnamed co-workers at Citibank, who included current and former executives and support staff members. Those co-workers spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal against them or their employers.

Ms. Miranda and Mr. DiFrancesco also asserted that Ms. Miranda's former husband, Henry A. Mazzucca, was the ultimate source of the allegations against her. "It was her former husband who brought that information to the financial institution she worked with through his letters to her boss," Mr. DiFrancesco said.

"This is the matrimonial case that won't go away, that's what this is," Ms. Miranda said.

Mr. Mazzucca, reached at his home tonight, said he was upset by those comments. He said his lawyer had requested Ms. Miranda's travel records during their divorce case merely to show the amount of time she was away from home during the marriage.

"Beyond that, I have no other comment," he said.

The Times's report also quoted a superior of Ms. Miranda's at the time, Philip M. Butterfield, saying that "lapses in judgment" on her part had led to her departure from Citibank. Mr. Butterfield was then chief of staff to Citibank's director of private banking and is now chief administrative officer of the Bank of Bermuda.

Mr. DiFrancesco disputed Mr. Butterfield's version of events. "I have no knowledge of that, no recollection of that, and I don't believe that that is accurate," he said.

Senator William L. Gormley, the chairman of the judiciary panel, said members hoped to take up Ms. Miranda's nomination again on Thursday. "What we want to do is look at whatever information is available to answer whatever questions or innuendos have arisen," he said.

we're going to review the facts."

But Richard J. Codey, the Senate's ranking Democrat, said the onus was on Mr. DiFrancesco and Ms. Miranda to prove that the allegations against her were untrue.

He also said that the Senate should consider using its subpoena power to call witnesses or obtain documents that could provide definitive answers.

In what were said to be lengthy and contentious back-room discussions, members of the Judiciary Committee balked at Mr. DiFrancesco's insistence on proceeding today with a hearing on the nomination. Several members noted the juxtaposition of the new contretemps with this week's anticipated climax to hearings over racial profiling by the state police.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Peter G. Verniero is to testify before the Judiciary Committee about how he handled the state's racial-profiling scandal while he was attorney general. Democrats have criticized Mr. DiFrancesco and other Republicans for pushing through Mr. Verniero's confirmation as a justice through the Senate in 1999 at the urging of then-Gov. Christie Whitman. Senators of both parties are expected to question Mr. Verniero closely about his truthfulness in statements made to the committee during his confirmation hearing.

One Republican described Ms. Miranda's confirmation as potentially a "Verniero II." And a legislative staff member said some Republican senators were furious with Mr. DiFrancesco, contending that just as belated scrutiny was being given to Mr. Verniero, Mr. DiFrancesco was asking committee members to ignore the allegations about Ms. Miranda.

"It puts them in a very bad position," the staff member said.

In their joint news conference, neither Mr. DiFrancesco nor Ms. Miranda addressed another potential obstacle to her confirmation as treasurer: the nature of her departure from her most recent private-sector position. Rather than resign as senior vice president of U.S. Trust Company of New Jersey, Ms. Miranda has taken an unpaid leave with the understanding that her job will be waiting for her when she ends her government service.

Mr. Codey, the Senate minority leader, questioned the propriety of that arrangement. "It would seem to me that she would have to sever her ties with U.S. Trust," he said. "It's what's supposed to be done. If you're going back, somebody could say you could do something that could affect your appointment later on. I can't remember another situation where that was allowed."

A spokesman for Mr. DiFrancesco said Sunday that the arrangement was approved by a state ethics officer, but Mr. Codey said he believed that that approval was made orally, not in writing. The ethics officer, Rita L. Strmensky, could not be reached tonight.

Bret Schundler, the mayor of Jersey City, who is challenging Mr. DiFrancesco for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, issued a statement in which he said, "I'm concerned about Don's perceived lack of judgment, not just because it calls into question his ability to govern effectively, but also because of the ammunition it gives Jim McGreevey," who is the likely Democratic nominee for governor.

Photo: Laura Pedrick for The New York Times, Isabel Miranda, state treasurer nominee, and Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco.

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