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Treasurer nominee faces fiscal suspicions

Originally appeared in the Star Ledger on 03/27/01

Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said yesterday he continues to support his nominee for state treasurer, Isabel Miranda, who has angrily denied a report that she was fired from Citibank in 1996 for misusing her expense account to pursue an affair with a co-worker.

"I've known Isabel Miranda and her family for many, many years, and I'm very confident in this nomination," DiFrancesco said at a hastily called press conference, with Miranda by his side. "I stand by this nomination. I'm outraged really by what I've read and the innuendo behind it."

DiFrancesco also said he was "disappointed" that the Senate Judiciary Committee had canceled a hearing set for yesterday to consider her nomination. The panel plans to take it up Thursday.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, reported yesterday that Miranda had been fired from her job at Citibank after auditors confronted her 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.

Miranda, 45, acknowledged the affair with the co-worker, Donald Browne Jr., to whom she is now married, but said her departure from Citibank was the result of "a disagreement with my immediate supervisor."

She said she could not discuss the details of her departure because she had signed a confidentiality agreement with Citibank.

But she said, "Today, my reputation has been falsely and unfairly maligned. Unnamed individuals whose motivations are at best questionable have accused me of something that is completely false."

Sally Cates, a spokeswoman for Citigroup's Asset Management Division, confirmed yesterday that both Miranda and Browne were employed by the bank and left in February 1997. She declined to elaborate.

For DiFrancesco, yesterday's developments were the latest in a series of setbacks that have plagued the acting governor since he took over from former Gov. Christie Whitman at the end of January. Questions about troubled real estate investments and loans from a state contractor and prominent developer have arisen as he seeks the GOP nomination for a first full term as governor.

The Times cited co-workers who claimed Miranda was fired from her prestigious Citibank job in 1996 because of evidence that she and Browne, an executive for Citibank in California, had charged the bank for frequent cross-country trips during their affair. Brown was terminated the same day, but Miranda insists that she resigned only because of a dispute with her supervisor.

The two divorced their spouses in 1995, and Miranda and Browne married in Florida shortly thereafter. Browne was a private banker with the firm, based in San Francisco until he was transferred to New York City in 1995. Miranda was head of trust and estates for the U.S. division.

DiFrancesco, asked whether he was aware of the allegations at the time he made the nomination, said: "I knew her ex-husband had made these allegations to the company."

The ex-husband, Henry Mazzucca of Fanwood, could not be reached for comment last night.

Several senators said yesterday they had received anonymous letters or e-mails last week raising questions about Miranda's tenure at Citibank.

Sen. William Gormley (R-Atlantic), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said the committee and administration were "working together" to get more information about Miranda's departure from Citibank. He said he expected the nomination would be heard by the committee Thursday.

Gormley said he told DiFrancesco early yesterday that both Democratic and Republican committee members felt they needed more time to review the allegations. He said he will be meeting with staff today to determine precisely what information the committee needs to find out, and whether it will need to issue subpoenas to obtain it.

Miranda was aware of the allegations and was prepared to meet them head-on yesterday in her scheduled appearance before the Judiciary Committee.

Reading a statement she had planned to give committee members, Miranda, who was born in Cuba, said: "Today, you have the opportunity to send the message that you will not tolerate the politics of personal destruction. . . . You have the opportunity to say that the word of an Hispanic woman looking you eye-to-eye is better than gossipy rumors spread by people whose names are unknown and whose motivations are obvious."

DiFrancesco told reporters that Miranda should have been allowed to appear before the committee.

"I asked them to have a hearing today, at the very least to let Ms. Miranda speak," he said.

But Gormley said it was in Miranda's best interest to delay the hearing until panel members can review the allegations. He also praised her work as the current chairwoman of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's board of directors.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Codey (D-Essex) said he believes the Judiciary Committee should subpoena officials at Citibank to come to the committee to clarify the issue.

"If the allegations are true, they are obviously very troubling. Did the governor know? And if he did know, why wasn't the committee informed?" Codey said.

Codey, meanwhile, also said he is concerned that Miranda intends to take a leave of absence from her job as senior vice president of U.S. Trust Company of New Jersey to serve as treasurer. He expressed concern that she might encounter potential conflicts of interest.

Earlier in the day, Sen. John Lynch (D-Middlesex), a committee member, said he was eager to hear Miranda's testimony. He said he has had some dealings with her as chairwoman at UMDNJ.

"My limited interaction with Isabel has all been good," he said. "We woke up to this so certainly I'm not going to pre-judge anything."

Lynch said the issue did not arise as part of the Judiciary Committee's scrutiny of the nominee. Except for judges, who undergo a more rigorous review, gubernatorial nominees must answer a five-page, 19-question inquiry from the committee.

Staff writers Dunstan McNichol and David Kinney contributed to this report.

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