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New Jersey attorney general charges Democratic power broker

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(The Center Square) — New Jersey’s top law enforcement official has charged one of the state’s most influential Democratic power brokers with racketeering with indictments alleging that he and others illegally collected millions of dollars in state credits.

In a 13-count indictment, unsealed on Monday, New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin accuses George E. Norcross III, a former Democratic National Committee member and ex-chairman of the Camden County Democratic Party, of leading a criminal enterprise. Five alleged co-conspirators also were indicted.

State prosecutors allege that Norcross threatened a developer who would not relinquish his rights to waterfront property in Camden he was seeking to redevelop with other co-conspirators, including his brother, Philip A. Norcross. Norcross is also accused of using his political influence to get tax incentives that benefited organizations he and others controlled.

At a briefing on Monday, Platkin said the indictments reveal how a group of unelected, private businessmen “used their power and influence to get [the] government to aid their criminal enterprise and further its interests.”

“The alleged conduct of the Norcross Enterprise has caused great harm to individuals, businesses, non-profits, the people of the State of New Jersey, and especially the City of Camden and its residents,” he told reporters. “We must never accept politics and government – that is funded with tax dollars – to be weaponized against the people it serves.”

Platkin, who is also a Democrat, said the defendants flexed their political influence to acquire property and property rights through coercion, extortion and other criminal acts. The six defendants are all accused of first-degree racketeering, financial crimes, misconduct by corporate officials and conspiracy.

The indictment claims Norcross and his associates “used their political influence to tailor New Jersey economic development legislation to their preferences” to take over the waterfront, which at the time had one of the highest crime rates in the nation.

“Instead of contributing to the successes of the city of Camden, through a series of criminal acts alleged in the state’s case, the Norcross enterprise took the Camden waterfront all for themselves,” Platkin said.

Platkin alleges in the indictment that the waterfront developer ended up selling rights to an estimated $18 million worth of state tax credits to a group linked to Norcross’ enterprise. He said that allowed Norcross and his co-conspirators to apply for more tax credits, valued at more than $240 million.

The AG’s office also charged Norcross’ brother Philip; his attorney William Tambussi; former Camden Mayor Dana Redd; Sidney Brown, chief financial officer of NFI, a trucking company; and John O’Donnell, who heads a residential development firm. All of the defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on July 9 in Mercer County Superior Court, according to Platkin’s office.

Norcross showed up at Monday’s press conference at the justice center in Trenton, telling reporters that he refuted the charges, calling Platkin a “coward,” and demanding a speedy trial, several local media outlets reported. His attorney, Michael Critchley, told reporters that Norcross plans to face the charges “head on.”

The indictments add to a growing list of political scandals in New Jersey. The state’s senior senator, Democrat Bob Menendez, is fighting federal bribery charges alleging that he and his wife Nadine took cash, gold bars, and other compensation in exchange for using his political influence in Washington, D.C., to benefit several foreign countries.

“It’s often said that in New Jersey politics is a blood sport,” Platklin told reporters. “And what’s meant by that is that if you don’t go along with the demands of those in political power, you’ll get hurt.”

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