A task force Gov. Phil Murphy convened to scrutinize the state’s tax breaks is subpoenaing documents which it argues might show how businesses tied to political powerbroker George Norcross made false claims about their plans to leave the state without the incentives.
The subpoena came at the heels of a bombshell, 75-page report from the task force last week detailing how several of those companies won at least a half billion dollars of tax breaks for moving to Camden, either by knowingly providing untrue information about plans to leave the state, or by crafting the incentive program to directly benefit themselves.
The task force is charged with determining “whether any company was able to defraud or misuse the tax-incentive programs through any oversight failures,” the subpoenas read.
Friday’s subpoenas are seeking documents and communications for the plans of those four companies – The Michaels Organization, NFI, insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew where Norcross is a partner, and Cooper University Health Care where Norcross is executive chairman of the board of trustees – to move to “alternative locations” across the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
All four companies, according to the report, provided questionable information on their Grow New Jersey tax break applications which should have, but ultimately did not, raise “red flags” among staffers at the Economic Development Authority, which oversees the program.
In the case of Cooper, their award should have been $7 million rather than the $40 million of tax breaks they were granted.
The task force, in its subpoena, is seeking any documents regarding the prospective Philadelphia office sites that the four companies submitted to law enforcement and state officials since Jan. 1, 2015.
Additionally, the subpoenas are seeking documents about site visits the four companies made to these prospective locations, and communications between real estate brokers, along with any business plans and analyses of the prospective sites.
Norcross has denied any wrongdoing on the part of himself and his businesses – he has sought the chance to appear before a legislative committee, similar in nature to the task force, which his political ally Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, convened.
Sweeney wants to extend Grow NJ for another seven months past the July 1 expiration so that lawmakers and the Murphy administration have more time to hash out the next batch of incentives – a move Murphy has opposed.
“We’re not just dealing with a broken system, we’re dealing with a rigged system… I’m horrified by what I read, this is worse than what we thought,” Murphy said last week, contending that the tax breaks were “riddled with unfairness and bad behavior.”
Representatives for all four companies and Norcross could not be reached for comment.
But their attorneys are asking the court to reconsider Mercer County Judge Mary Jacobson’s ruling allowing the task force to continue its work. The attorneys are also asking the court to modify the subpoenas so that they can cross-examine witnesses and present their own evidence in order to defend themselves.
Both matters are scheduled to be heard before Jacobson on July 12.