Senator is embroiled in a Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) scandal involving allegations of massive kickbacks, Politico reports. Yesterday, Donald Bernard Sr., who was the senior projects manager at the company that ran Newark’s water infrastructure under the direction of then-mayor of Newark, New Jersey Cory Booker, pled guilty in federal court to accepting nearly $1 million in bribes from contractors.
In December, Donald Bernard Sr.’s former boss at the Newark company, Linda Watkins-Brashear, also pleaded guilty to similar corruption and kickback charges. Former contractor Giacomo “Jack” DeRosa pleaded guilty earlier this week to money laundering charges over kickbacks paid to Bernard.
Could all of this corruption at a massive and essential piece of infrastructure have happened without Mayor Cory Booker knowing about it? Allegations and complaints about the NWCDC were near constant during his tenure, but he failed to address them or push for an investigation into the corruption.
When Booker took office in 2008, the NWCDC, through its city contract, was running Newark’s entire water delivery apparatus — from the reservoirs to the purification plants. Its engineers and planners worked directly out of Newark City Hall.
Trustees appointed by a judge in 2013 to “wind down” the NWCDC and return water operations to the city are now suing Cory Booker in bankruptcy court. They maintain Booker’s failure to monitor the agency caused the extreme corruption which robbed the fiscally struggling city of its few resources and placed its antiquated water infrastructure at significant risk.
Cory Booker was forced to admit he never once attended an NWCDC board meeting his entire time in office even though he was the agency’s ex-officio trustee. Just last week, Booker’s attorneys argued that he is immune from financial liability because his role on the Newark water board was a “de facto responsibility of the office of mayor.” So, not doing a duty levied upon your office makes you immune from being responsible for not doing your duty?
Allegations of malfeasance at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) have been raised by local residents, reporters, and lawmakers for many years. The NWCDC is a non-profit agency created to protect the Newark watershed.
City Councilman Augusto Amador also led an investigation into corruption and kickbacks at the NWCDC. He was one of the most vocal and earliest critics of the excessive spending going on at the Newark agency. He said, “I’m surprised about the amount of money that was stolen…When I first looked into it and looked at the books that were submitted to the Council, the amount that was involved was nowhere near what we’re seeing now, but I’m not surprised by the indictments.”
The Newark watershed has grown substantially over the years and is now responsible for the entire water delivery infrastructure in the city. United States Attorney Paul Fishman unearthed the extensive corruption at the NWCDC that occurred on Cory Booker’s watch.
“This is bigger than I thought,” Dan O’Flaherty said after the guilty pleas of two more NWCDC suspects were uttered this week. O’Flaherty is an economics professor at Columbia University and a former Newark City Hall staffer.
Dan O’Flaherty and a group of concerned citizens formed The Newark Water Group to delve into the corruption allegations long swirling around operations at the NWCDC. He wrote a detailed report of the agency’s mismanagement entitled “Hog Wild” in 2011.
The NWCDC had a budget of about $11 million per year. According to O’Flaherty, $3 million of the budget was “pure pass-through,” which the non-profit infrastructure agency “never actually got their hands on.”