DRPA watchdog resigns

September 27, 2014 - The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA)  has made headlines again: DRPA resignation a sign things haven't changed(Asbury Park Press); DRPA watchdog resigns, alleges board meddling (Philadelphia Inquirer);DRPA inspector general to resign, cites interference with job (NJ.com); DRPA Inspector General Resigns (NJTV); DRPA watchdog quitting(Courier-Post).  You can watch the latest installment of this corrupt soap opera here.

We've been here before.  In an April 27 editorial, the South Jersey Times asks:  "Aren't South Jersey politicians interested in restructuring the agency and cutting perks so bridge users can save money?"  Of course, we all know the answer to that one:  Saving money for taxpayers is not what the DRPA does.

In April 2013, we learned that the DRPA was under investigation by a federal grand jury and last December, we read that the investigation had been expanded by federal prosecutors and that members of the DRPA Board, including Senate President Sweeney's brother (who holds an appointed position on the Board courtesy of...) had been served with subpoenas and ordered to produce records, etc.

Despite all the action by federal prosecutors, the Legislature has been largely kept in line when it comes to ignoring the open corruption going on at the DRPA.  In January, the State Senate meekly confirmed the appointment of South Jersey Democrat Party Boss George Norcross'  most prime piece of Republican manhood to a judgeship on the Superior Court.  The move stunned the New York Times, which wrote:  "In New Jersey, Leader of an Agency under Investigation is given a Judge's robe."

While George Norcross owns the board, his brother, Senator Don, makes out by using one of the DRPA's controversial developments to be his home-away-from-home as his fig-leaf "residency".

The DRPA is a huge source of patronage and fundraising for the Democrat machine.  With its direct political appointments and vendors it represents a means to reward loyalists and to extract contributions to campaigns, party committees, and PACs.

This has been a bad year for the DRPA.   First are the ongoing law enforcement investigations and civil lawsuits concerning the DRPA and other aspects of the Norcross empire.  As if the amount of information coming out of the Ironworkers' criminal case and Inquirer-related legal actions wasn't enough, two DRPA Board members, including Sweeney's brother, Richard, are up for reappointment.  

So far the State Senate has not examined the role a DRPA board member played in getting Casino Control Commission approval on a construction company founded by Mafia figure Yogi Merlino.  After being denied approval over the course of two decades, in 2010 the company got the go-ahead to work in the gaming industry.  A big part of the reason for that was Robert Sweeney's testimony in favor of Yogi Merlino's son, Joseph Merlino, and that of DRPA board member Al Frattali, who runs the Ironworkers' pension fund.

Testifying on behalf of Joseph Merlino, Ironworkers Local 399 President Robert Sweeney told the Casino Control Commission:  "I have four successful sons; one of them died.  I wish (Merlino) could take his place."

DRPA board member Frattali seconded that with:  "He's the kind of guy I wish my daughter would bring home to marry."  We shit you not, he actually said that.  Isn't that a line from the movie Goodfellas?  The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement called it "a travesty".

The terms of Richard Sweeney and Al Frattali are up this year.  So far, the Governor hasn't said if he will replace them.  It is time for Senate Republicans to step up for honest government.