The attorney for South Jersey power broker George Norcross sent letters to the homes of Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration demanding they preserve documents related to the controversial tax break program they are investigating, a move which could signal a lawsuit in the near future.
In response, Jim Walden, counsel for Murphy’s Tax Break Task Force, lambasted the move saying they should have been sent to their state offices rather than residences and said it was a “clear attempt to threaten a public entity” and “likely intended to harass, intimidate, or threaten them from performing their legal obligations.”
NJ.com first reported on the letters that were sent out by William Tambussi, who serves as counsel at Norcross’ insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew, to the home of Murphy and Task Force Chair Ronald Chen.
“It seems abundantly clear that you are attempting to threaten a public entity tasked with investigating a matter of great public importance,” Walden wrote in a letter to Tambussi, that was obtained by NJBIZ.
A senior administration official confirmed to NJBIZ that the letters had indeed been sent to Murphy’s home in Middletown. NJBIZ obtained a copy of Tambussi’s letter – a nine-page litigation hold notice overnighted to Chen’s and Murphy’s homes.
The letter demands that Murphy and members of his administration and task force take necessary steps to “preserve all documents” related to the Grow New Jersey tax breaks and Conner Strong “in anticipation of litigation.”
“You must also immediately suspend the deletion, overwriting, scheduled expiration or destruction of relevant documents, data and information on personal and employment-related devices,” reads the letter.
A spokesperson for Norcross and Conner Strong said in an email that “the documents speak for themselves.”
Norcross has been increasingly vocal about his opposition to the task force, which Murphy convened in January to scrutinize how the controversial multi-billion dollar Grow NJ incentive program was crafted, who applied, who received tax breaks and who may have unfairly cheated the program.
The task force honed in on how several businesses with strong ties to Norcross, including Strong, had a hand in either crafting the program to benefit their own interests or unfairly took advantage of the program to win massive amounts of tax credits.
Many Camden and South Jersey officials have interpreted this as an attack by Murphy on Camden in his efforts to undermine the city’s economic revitalization of the past decade.
A joint Friday statement from Camden Mayor Frank Moran and several city officials starts with “Governor Phil Murphy: “You’re Not Welcome in Our City Until You Stop Attacking It,” where they accused Murphy of singling out Camden for political reasons and harboring bad blood against the city.
“The focus of the task force has never been about one geography or one company or one person,” responded Darryl Isherwood, a spokesperson for the governor’s office. “It’s always been about determining if taxpayer dollars – including those paid by the residents of Camden – have been spent wisely, and to ensure that the program works for everybody, not just a select few.”
“Governor Murphy continues to make the well-being of the City of Camden a priority,” he added.”When all is said and done, this administration will have done more for Camden than any other administration in New Jersey history.
Several of those same officials highlighted the city’s comeback, at a pep rally on Thursday that included former Governors Jon Corzine and Jim Florio.
“Camden was under state supervision, had a national reputation for violent crime, and there was limited economic activity,” Corzine said. “Working with caring and dedicated community leaders, business and local government officials… significant progress was made in lower crime rates…and state-administered economic investments and incentives within the proper legal and accountability framework should continue to play an essential role.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, a political rival of Murphy, dismissed the task force as political and in turn formed his own similarly-goaled legislative committee, armed with subpoena power.
The governor’s scrutiny into Grow NJ and how it may have unfairly benefited Norcross-linked corporations has been viewed as a political battle between him and Sweeney – one of Norcross’ biggest allies.