In the Money: Senator Robert Torricelli And His Campaign Contributors.
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
Convicted felons, associates of the American Mafia, Mafia-corrupted Labor Unions, Mafia-tainted gambling Casinos, international con artists, including Wanted Fugitives, and associates of Islamic terrorists are among those who have contributed to the campaigns of Senator Robert "The Torch" Torricelli, an analysis of Federal Election Commission records, published reports, and other documents reveals.
Robert Torricelli was born in New Jersey in 1951. His father, Salvatore, was a lawyer from Corleone, Sicily. Torricelli followed in his family traditions, obtaining a law degree from Rutgers in 1977 and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard in 1980. In 1982 Torricelli was elected to Congress and has frequently been in the news, not as a result of his legislative agenda, but because of his personal life, which has included involvement with a variety of high-profile women such as activist Bianca Jagger. Nicknamed "The Torch" because of his volatile temper, Torricelli has publicly attacked members of his own party, such as the 1999 incident at the Library of Congress between Torricelli and Frank Lautenberg, the Senior Senator from New Jersey. Said Lautenberg to the New Yorker Magazine about the confrontation: "He threatened to cut my balls off!"
Torricelli has also received notoriety because of his championing of conspiracy theories about the Central Intelligence Agency; in 1995 Torricelli claimed the CIA was involved in a conspiracy to cover-up the actions of an alleged asset in Guatemala accused of complicity in two murders; in 1996 Torricelli claimed the CIA was conspiring against him by offering assistance to his Republican opponent in their U. S. Senate race.
In 1990 the Public Interest watchdog group Common Cause released a report on 'Torricelli PAC,' a Political Action Committee set up by Torricelli in New Jersey. Federal law makes it illegal for a member of Congress to accept a gift worth more than $100. Members must also submit under Penalty of Perjury personal financial disclosure statements. Federal election laws also limits contributions by individuals to $1,000 to the campaign of a Congressman and $2,000 to a Senator, and those individuals must be U. S. citizens. However, a candidate can set up a State PAC, whose disclosure requirements are not required by Federal law. A citizen can make unlimited contributions to a State PAC and there are few restrictions as to how that politician can spend those funds.
The Common Cause report detailed how Torricelli spent $147,000 of 'Torricelli PAC' funds during 1987-1990 on such items as speeding tickets of his Aides, dues for Torricelli's private Club, The Harvard Club, meals in fancy restaurants, overseas trips, gifts for friends from upscale Department Stores, and over $1,300 in florists bills. The contributor listed who gave the most money to 'Torricelli PAC' was a businessman with a controversial background, Grover Connell, who gave Torricelli $35,000.
Grover Connell is a multi-millionaire with business interests in agricultural commodities and real estate who has donated millions of dollars to politicians during the last four decades. In 1978 Connell was indicted by the Feds for his role in the infamous "Koreagate" scandal in which several members of Congress were caught accepting bribes from Korean officials. Charges against Connell were eventually dropped. Seven years later Connell and his partner Joseph Alioto were sued over their sale to Korea of tons of rice at below-market value, an action that devastated many American rice farmers. Alioto, the son of a fish merchant from Sicily, was a lawyer whose political career was eclipsed by published reports detailing his familial ties to the Mafia, which included John Alioto, who served for many years as Godfather of the Milwaukee Mafia Family. Alioto's career was also mired by indictments on kickback charges, Conflict of Interest charges, admissions by Alioto that he stole $150,000 from a client, and Alioto's confession that he paid no income taxes during the years he served as Mayor of San Francisco.
According to an Associated Press report, Torricelli has invited Connell to accompany him on political trips to countries where Connell has business interests, including Communist North Korea and Turkmenistan, the Islamic Republic denounced worldwide for its persecution of those of the Christian Faith. As Congressman, Torricelli acted to stop a flood-control project that would have encroached on a business site of Connell's in New Jersey, although Torricelli claims his decision was based solely on the advice of the Sierra Club.
A loan to Torricelli by Connell of $100,000 in 1992 would lead to the first of many investigations of Torricelli, according to a report by John Solomon of the Associated Press. Torricelli used the money to invest in a new financial institution owned by friends, First Savings Bank. The loan was unsecured, meaning Torricelli would not have to pay it back if he defaulted. This deal between friends gave the Congressman a quick profit of $144,000.
For legal advice on the Connell/First Savings Bank deal, Torricelli hired criminal lawyer Abbe Lowell, who specializes in defending politicians accused of ethics violations. Lowell has publicly stated that he found nothing improper about this transaction. Abbe Lowell has also defended Chicago Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, convicted on Federal counts of campaign finance fraud, conspiracy and Obstruction of Justice, Speaker of the House Jim Wright, who resigned after being charged with 69 violations of House campaign finance rules, Pennsylvania Congressman Joseph McDade, who beat a Federal bribery indictment, spending $300,000 of campaign contributions in the process, President Bill Clinton during his Impeachment trial, and Congressman Gary Condit, currently under investigation in regards to the disappearance of Washington Intern Chandra Levy.
Convinced that Torricelli had broken Federal laws in the Connell/First Bank deal, FBI agents in New Jersey began an investigation, eventually questioning Torricelli Under Oath in 1995. However, officials in the U. S. Attorney's office in Newark turned down several FBI subpoena requests for documents, which the agents perceived to be stonewalling by that office to the benefit of Torricelli. The U. S. Attorney in Newark, Faith Hochberg would later recuse herself from the investigation once she was nominated as a Federal Judge, a position Torricelli lobbied for her to receive, and the case was assigned to her Deputy Robert Cleary. Torricelli later used his political influence to lobby for the promotion of Cleary as U. S. Attorney. Frustrated FBI agents then took the unusual step of turning over evidence from their stymied probe to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducts investigations into the nominations of Judges and U. S. Attorneys.
In 1995 Torricelli began his campaign for a seat in the U. S. Senate, waging a bitter and controversial contest against his opponent while utilizing a variety of fundraisers of various backgrounds to assemble his war chest. Torricelli raised $12 million and as a result was appointed Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, whose aim was to wrest control of the Senate away from the Republicans. Torricelli helped raise over $80 million for that Committee, an unprecedented amount.
One fundraiser for the Torricelli Senate campaign was the $2,000 a plate event held at the home of convicted felon Francis Walsh, owner of Walsh Trucking Company. In 1988 Walsh was named in a landmark prosecution of the Teamsters Union and the Genovese Mafia Family. The indictments listed a veritable "Who's Who" of mobsters, including Genovese Family Godfather "Fat Tony" Salerno, capo "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, Vincent "Fish" Cafaro, James "The Little Guy" Ida, and Teamsters officials Tony Provenzano and Stephen Andretta.
Stephen Andretta and Tony Provenzano have been identified in FBI documents as among those responsible for the abduction and murder of former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa. Andretta was later convicted of loan sharking and racketeering and Provenzano was convicted of racketeering and murder. "Fat Tony" Salerno was among those convicted in the famous "Commission" trial prosecuted by Rudolph Giuliani. "Matty the Horse" Ianniello was sent to prison for income tax evasion. Vincent "Fish" Cafaro turned 'rat' and testified against several Mafia figures, including Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti and Genovese Family Godfather Vincent "The Chin" Gigante. James Ida is now serving a Life sentence for racketeering and murder. Francis Walsh pleaded guilty to charges he bribed Teamsters officials and served time in prison. Congressman Torricelli, when questioned by U. S. News & World Report about his association with the Walsh family, shrugged off criticism. "Walsh did something wrong, and he paid a price," the Congressman minimized. Federal Election Commission records show that in addition to the fund raiser for Torricelli, Francis Walsh donated $1,000 to Torricelli's 1996 Senate campaign and the Walsh family has continued into this year their contribution of thousands of dollars.
The Teamsters Union has been generous in its support of Robert Torricelli, according to FEC documents. In 1996 the Teamsters, then headed by Ron Carey, donated $10,000 to Torricelli's campaign. Carey was later removed as Teamsters President by the Feds and indicted this year on charges of financial fraud involving his 1996 re-election campaign. Carey was acquitted. Carey was succeeded as Teamsters President by James Hoffa Jr., whose Union gave Torricelli $10,000 in 1999 and 2000.
In 1996 Torricelli was caught on an FBI wiretap soliciting contributions over a telephone at a Florida pizza parlor under surveillance for suspected Mafia ties, the Associated Press' John Solomon would later report. Among those captured speaking with Torricelli were Francis and Sam Roti, the nephews of Fred Roti, a Chicago politician convicted in 1993 of racketeering, bribery, and extortion with members of the Chicago Mafia Family and the Laborers Union. On the FBI tapes Torricelli asks for $1,000 contributions from the Rotis and their associates and the Rotis then suggest that their native Chicago would be a good place for Torricelli to raise funds, even though Chicago is a thousand miles away from the constituents Torricelli would represent.
Nicolas Castronuovo, the owner of the pizza parlor and his grandson Nicholas Melone later pleaded guilty to evading the government of $100,000 in taxes, according to a Miami Herald-Tribune report. Sam Roti was indicted in 1993 on Federal tax charges, which were later dropped, according to an ABC News report. Fred Roti, along with Chicago Mafia figures Tony Accardo and Joey Aiuppa and Laborers Union Vice-President John Serpico were named in a 1999 Federal civil racketeering lawsuit filed to end Mafia dominance of the International Laborer's Union. Serpico was convicted in July 2001 on Federal fraud charges involving misuse of the Union's Pension funds. The Laborer's Union contributed $7,000 to the 1996 Torricelli Senate campaign, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
The Mafia-tainted gambling industry is one that has contributed extensively to the election campaigns of Robert Torricelli, according to Federal Election Commission documents. In 1996 Torricelli received $15,000 from Mirage Resorts, $11,000 from Ballys, $3,500 from Circus Circus, $3,500 from the Boyd Gaming Corporation, $3,500 from Showboat Casino, $1,000 from Trump Taj Mahal, $9,800 from MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, $5,000 from Harrahs', and $4,000 from the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. Only months after receiving these large donations, Torricelli opened a Convention of gambling Casinos in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. There Senator Torricelli issued an impassioned criticism of those who are opposed on moral grounds to gambling. Stated the Senator: "The real story (of gaming) is not as presented by the Christian Coalition!"
The current Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, figures in a Newark Star-Ledger report regarding a financial transaction in 1998 which gave Senator Torricelli a paper profit of $220,000 on a investment of only $5,000, a return of 4,400%. Torricelli was one of only 15 people who made an initial investment in the Internet Telecommunications firm e.Volve Technology Group, whose stock price skyrocketed once acquired by eVentures Group, an Internet holding company. Among the main figures in eVentures Group are convicted felon Kerry Rogers and Mayor Goodman.
Kerry Rogers was convicted in 1985 for his participation in a $20 million bank fraud case in New Jersey. Rogers was prosecuted in 1995 by Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III for his promotion of an Internet gambling website and Rogers was indicted by the Feds in 1998 for his role in promoting the Internet gambling website 'Winner's Way,' operated out of the Dominican Republic. Before being elected as Mayor of Las Vegas, criminal lawyer Oscar Goodman served for over 30 years as the "mouthpiece of the Mob," representing Mafia figures including Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, Meyer Lansky, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, and Philadelphia Underboss Phil Leonetti. Goodman has flaunted his Mafia associations and portrayed himself in the Mafia epic movie "CASINO."
The Star-Ledger also reported Torricelli made a $50,000 profit in an investment in the Internet Dietary Supplement Company Compare Generiks. This stock deal was brought to him through the Blind Trust he set up in 1994 in response to the public criticism of his Grover Connell/First Savings Bank deal. Torricelli set up the Trust vowing to his constituents he would not again participate in his own investments. Torricelli did in fact violate that promise in 1998 with the Compare Generiks deal, but only publicly admitted it in 2000 when the Media disclosed the transactions. The Compare Generiks stock was later found to have been illegally manipulated by securities con artist Lawrence Penna, aka Lawrence Joseph Pennacchio, an associate of Torricelli's who was convicted by the Feds for his role in a $200 million stock rip-off of investors. Penna would also plead guilty to illegally laundering $20,000 into Torricelli's 1996 campaign.
Common Cause has also reported Torricelli's actions that have benefited the American drug manufacturers lobby. As detailed in their June 2001 report, the Schlering-Plough Corporation made a $50,000 contribution in May 1999 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, then headed by Senator Torricelli. The report noted that the very next day, Torricelli introduced legislation favorable to the manufacturers of 7 drugs, including the popular anti-allergy drug Claritin. A Schlering-Plough Executive would later contribute $5,000 to Torricelli's Legal Defense Fund.
Torricelli's acceptance of money from members of the Islamic community has raised the interest of members of law enforcement during the past several years, according to numerous published reports. Earlier this year the Bergen Record reported that Federal authorities had subpoenaed records from the Bergen County Democratic Organization in regards to a 1996 fundraiser for Torricelli held at the Al-Ghazaly Islamic School in Jersey City. As is common in regards to Torricelli fundraisers, many contributors were not residents of the State Torricelli represents, New Jersey. Three New York residents, Arshad, Mahzar, and Mohammed, are among those who turned over checks they were told to leave blank except for their signatures, believing the money was going to Torricelli's campaign. Instead, the money went into the county party's account at Bridge View Bank. At the time Gerald Calabrese, the Mayor of Cliffside Park was the Chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Organization, as well as a Founder of Bridge View Bank. Federal authorities have questioned the bank's Chairman, Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph Parisi Sr., in regards to suspicious deposits and withdrawals made by Parisi during that time period. Federal authorities have also subpoenaed Torricelli's banking records and are investigating support given to the Torricelli campaign by the County organization.
In 1993 U. S. Senator John McCain, a former Prisoner of War, entered into the Congressional Record a challenge to the FBI and the Justice Department to share information on an international Islamic terrorist organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, (MEK), also known as the People's Mujahedin of Iran and the People's Holy Warriors. By that time, the MEK and their associates had funneled massive amounts of money into the campaigns of many members of Congress, some of whom were lobbying government officials on their behalf. Among those were Congressman Torricelli, who, according to FEC documents and numerous published reports, accepted over $100,000 during the 1990s from associates of this organization.
In response to Senator McCain's request, the FBI, State Department, and other law enforcement agencies released information about the MEK, which was founded in the 1970s by young Iranian Communists with the aim of overthrowing the Shah of Iran. FBI documents show that MEK members murdered several U. S. military members and civilians in this quest and that MEK members were among those in 1979 who invaded the U. S. Embassy in Tehran, kidnapping 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and installed a puppet Communist regime, the new Iranian government banned the Communist MEK and they fled to neighboring Iraq, where they received the support of Dictator Saddam Hussein. MEK terrorists fought alongside the military of Iraq during the 8-year war between Iraq and Iran and continued their association with Hussein during the Gulf War against the United States and it's allies.
As a result of these warnings by the U. S. government, by 1997 only four Congressmen were still accepting substantial contributions from the MEK and their associates, according to an issue of The Iran Report, a publication of the Middle East Data Project. That report named the four as being Robert Torricelli, Gary Ackerman of New York, Dan Burton of Indiana, and James Traficant of Ohio. In February 2001 the FBI arrested 7 Iranians at the Los Angeles International Airport for illegally raising funds for the MEK. The 7 solicited money from travelers after showing them photographs of children starving in Iran, with the promise that their money would go to humanitarian relief efforts. Instead, according to the FBI, the money was used to buy rocket-propelled grenades and other explosives, which have been used by the MEK in their attacks on innocent civilians.
Senator Torricelli's eagerness to accept money from foreigners with questionable backgrounds became one of the focuses of the Campaign Financing Task Force put together in 1997 by U. S. Attorney General Janet Reno. The Task Force has been the target of criticism from Republicans and many members of the Media, who for years called on Reno to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the myriad campaign finance frauds conducted during the 1996 elections. Reno steadfastly refused to do so and the Task Force investigated notorious figures such as Charlie Trie and John Huang, who funneled huge amounts of foreign money into various Democratic campaign funds, as well as the infamous "Bhuddist Nuns" scam that poured money into the campaign of Vice President Al Gore. Despite the criticisms, the Task Force to date has indicted 8 associates of Torricelli for illegal contributions to his 1996 Senate campaign. Seven have been convicted, while an eighth remains a Fugitive from Justice.
In September 1998 the Task Force announced the indictment of an international businessman from the Philippines, Mark Jimenez, also known as "Mario Crespo," on charges that Jimenez made multiple illegal contributions to political campaigns in 1996, including Torricelli's. At the time Jimenez was the President of an international computer Services Company operated out of Miami named Future Tech International. Three months later Future Tech and its Chief Financial Officer, Juan C. Ortiz accepted a plea bargain by which the company pleaded guilty to income tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions. Future Tech was fined $1 million and paid another $200,000 to the Federal Election Commission.
In April 1999 the Task Force added 47 additional counts against Jimenez, alleging conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion, false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and illegal contributions to several Democratic campaigns. By that time Jimenez had fled to his native Philippines, where, with the help of President Joseph Estrada, he was elected to that country's House of Representatives. However, Estrada was later Impeached and removed from office on corruption charges and Jimenez could be a potential witness against Estrada in upcoming criminal proceedings. Meanwhile, the United States has continued to pressure the Philippine government to extradite Jimenez back to the United States to stand trial. Jimenez has responded by hiring as his attorney Kenneth Starr, the Tobacco industry lawyer and former Special Prosecutor who will be forever linked in U. S. history with the Monica Lewinsky debacle.
In May 1999 the Campaign Financing Task Force secured guilty pleas from lawyer Berek Don, a top Republican leader in New Jersey political circles whom nevertheless illegally funneled money into the 1996 Torricelli campaign. Don admitted he laundered through the campaign $11,000 given to him by his associate David Chang. Don also pleaded guilty to Federal charges of defrauding two real estate partners of over $100,000. In December the Task Force announced that Don's partner in his law firm, Carmine Alampi, who was given a position on Torricelli's Senate campaign committee, had pleaded guilty to his role in making illegal contributions.
In June 2000 the Task Force secured the convictions of South Korean national Cha-Kuek Koo, who pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions in the names of other people to the 1996 Torricelli campaign. Koo, who as President of LG Group, a Korean-based telecommunications and finance conglomerate, funneled $20,000 in illegal contributions to the campaign by convincing his employees to make these donations. These funds were then reimbursed by David Chang, a businessman born in Communist China who has a history of financial dealings with the Communist North Korean regime. The Task Force also announced that Audrey Yu, a co-defendant of David Chang, had pleaded guilty to lying to a Grand Jury about her knowledge of destruction of documents relating to charter flights arranged for Torricelli's campaign trips by Chang. Press reports have indicated that the Charter flights, along with an art auction at the Four Seasons Hotel organized by Philippe Hababou, and a fundraiser in New Jersey organized by David Chang, are targets of the investigation by the U. S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, which by this time had taken over the investigation from the Task Force.
In June 2000 the Bergen Record reported that David Chang had pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired with others to make illegal donations of over $50,000 to the 1996 Torricelli campaign, as well as Obstruction of Justice charges and Solicitation of Perjury before a Grand Jury. Chang also admitted falsifying records in regards to 19 chartered flights of airplanes he arranged for Torricelli during his travels seeking election to the United States Senate. Criminal lawyer Abbe Lowell expressed his apparent stunned response on behalf of his client Torricelli: "Both the Senator and the campaign are disappointed that David Chang may have been involved in illegal conduct!" As a member of Congress, Torricelli should not have been surprised as to Chang's criminality, as it was a matter of public record that Congressman Jay Kim, an activist in California's Korean community, pleaded guilty in 1997 to receiving $12,000 in illegal contributions from Chang. As a consequence, Kim was defeated in his bid for re-election to Congress.
Congressman Kim's guilty plea came 2 years before a notorious trip to South Korea in which Senator Torricelli invited David Chang to accompany him. Torricelli had arranged meetings between himself and key government officials, who believed Torricelli's agenda was the discussion of governmental affairs. However, once the meetings began, Torricelli introduced Chang, who was pushing a plan to buy a bankrupt South Korean insurance company. The governmental watchdog evote.com has reported that Korean government officials were furious over Torricelli's 'bait and switch' tactics and that the U. S. Ambassador had to issue an embarrassing apology to the South Korean Finance Minister.
After Chang pleaded guilty to illegally laundering money through the Torricelli campaign, the foreign money manipulator made a series of startling allegations regarding Torricelli, including his claim that Torricelli advised him to flee America to escape prosecution once the Federal investigations had started. In addition to the thousands of dollars of contributions, the New York Times has reported that Chang has told investigators he gave Torricelli an $8,000 Rolex watch, 10 Italian made suits worth thousands of dollars, and other gifts of cash and goods. Torricelli has angrily denied Chang's allegations.
Also, Chang has claimed that he was visited by several men unknown to him on the weekend he was first incarcerated in December, 1999, and that these men made overt threats that he was to keep quiet as to his business dealings with Senator Torricelli. Federal authorities have extensively investigated these claims, which are eerily identical to a plot line in a Mario Puzo Mafia novel. Martin Budnick, a senior prison official at the Hudson County Correctional Center where Chang was taken after his arrest, has told authorities that he visited the Center at the request of an aide to his friend Robert Janiszewski, a Hudson County executive who is a close associate of Torricelli. Budnick, who normally works Monday through Friday at the Center claims that his weekend visit was to procure an extra blanket and food for Chang, who had complained of cold and hunger. The identities of two other men who visited Chang in jail have not yet been made public. A Federal Grand Jury investigation of these allegations has to date not resulted in any indictments.
The public statements by Torricelli and his associates regarding David Chang have ranged from Torricelli calling him "my friend" once Chang was indicted, to Torricelli's lawyers denouncing Chang as a "pathological liar," once Chang pleaded guilty, according to the New York Post, to Torricelli once again calling Chang his friend, from whom he accepted "no illegal gifts," according to The New Republic. Court documents relating to Chang's initial arrest noted that the foreign financier has used at least 2 passports, 3 birth dates, and has had two wives at the same time. However, a New York Post article has portrayed Chang as a hero, wearing a wire on behalf of the NYPD in an investigation into the 'White Tigers,' a Chinatown gang that in 1983 kidnapped, tortured, and raped 4 girls. The 4 were freed because of Chang's heroics and authorities stated the gang intended to murder the girls once they were through with them.
In August 2001, a business associate of Chang, former State Department official C. Kenneth Quinones, an expert on Communist Korea, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges relating to his efforts to facilitate business deals between Chang and the government of North Korea. Of particular concern to Federal investigators is Chang's claim he gave to Quinones several gifts, including a Rolex watch, a new car, expensive suits, and other gifts of cash and goods, according to a New York Post report.
Another financier whom Torricelli gave a position on his 1996 Senate campaign finance committee is Philippe Hababou, who became an International Fugitive when he fled his native France in late 1995 where he was wanted on charges of defrauding investors in an international securities scam. Hababou was also involved with members of the French Mafia in a money laundering and stolen checks scam.
Once on the lam in the United States, Hababou hooked up with another Fugitive from Justice, Mark A. Rousso, aka "Marc Amand," who was wanted in France on stock fraud charges. Hababou and Rousso quickly set up similar stock fraud scams in the U. S., raking in millions of dollars as the two hooked up with Congressman Torricelli. Soon, both were attending fundraisers where they had their photographs taken with President Clinton. Rousso pleaded guilty in 1999 to money laundering and securities fraud charges. In 1996 Hababou was convicted "in absentia" in France on the French Mafia stolen checks case. In December 1998 Hababou was arrested at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City where he and Rousso had laundered and gambled huge amounts of stolen money. French authorities secured Hababou's extradition after Hababou pleaded guilty in September, 2000 to laundering thousands of dollars into the Torricelli campaign, as well as laundering over $5 million he and Rousso made in their U. S. stock scam. The New York Times has reported that Hababou has implicated Torricelli Assistant campaign director Adam Crain in this illegal contributions scheme.
Questions have also arisen regarding $35,000 in outstanding loans that Senator Torricelli did not list on his personal financial disclosure forms to the Senate Ethics Committee in 1998 and 1999, according to a report in the Bergen Record. The outstanding loan was the remnant of a $125,000 loan Torricelli took out in 1995 from investment broker Matthew Gohd, who also managed the Blind Trust of Torricelli's investments. Investigators have also examined transactions by which Gohd issued two checks for $15,000 to convicted felon Philippe Hababou on the very day after Torricelli took out a $50,000 installment of the loan from Gohd. The checks were used to buy 30,000 shares of Internet Channel, Inc., a new high-speed Internet access service provider. According to a report from evote.com, all of the initial investors in Internet Channel lost their money in this venture except for one; Robert Torricelli, who sold his shares to an undisclosed party for full value.
In February 2001 two former employees of an oil company told the FBI that they were asked to make $1,000 contributions to the 1996 Torricelli campaign and were then reimbursed by the company's President, former Iranian Ambassador to the United States Hushang Ansary. Those donations were well orchestrated, as 13 of Ansary's employees made contributions totaling $50,000 to the Torricelli campaign on the very same day, June 3, 1996, according to a report in the Washington Post. Ansary has admitted asking his employees to make the contributions but has denied reimbursing said employees.
In March the New York Times reported that four members of Torricelli's Congressional staff, whose salaries were paid by the U. S. taxpayers, worked for several months almost exclusively raising funds for Torricelli's 1996 Senate campaign. The Times also reported that Torricelli and senior aides had been warned that this was a violation of Federal law and yet they took no action, according to a member of the finance committee who has been granted immunity from Prosecution. One employee, Roberta Stern, was paid $70,000 in taxpayer money, according to government documents.
In July 2001 the Bergen Record reported that Englewood Cliffs real estate mogul Richard Kurtz had admitted to illegally donating $62,000 under the names of various individuals to the Torricelli campaign. Kurtz claimed he did so under the direction of finance committee assistant director Adam C. Crane. The New York Post has reported that Senator Torricelli is an investor in one of Kurtz' apartment buildings in New Jersey.
The Star-Ledger reported this year that trucking company executive Joseph Supor had come forward to allege that during the 1996 Senate campaign, aides of Torricelli coerced him into persuading 7 of his employees to write checks to the campaign in the amount of $1,000, which Supor says he reimbursed to said employees, unaware such activity was illegal. Supor also claims Torricelli himself made several unsolicited phone calls to him asking for money and that he personally delivered $18,000 to Torricelli at his home, but insists that he did not ask for any favors in return and that Torricelli offered him nothing in return for the many thousands of dollars in coerced contributions.
In April 2001 agents of the U. S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan searched Senator Torricelli's home in New Jersey. Torricelli admitted in a television interview that his attorneys personally escorted the agents through his home to assure them that there were no documents or items in his residence of interest to their investigation.
In response to the growing investigations of Torricelli campaign financiers, Torricelli founded in 2000 a separate Legal Defense Fund. One of the first controversial associates of Torricelli to donate money to this fund was Grover Connell, who gave Torricelli $10,000. According to FEC documents, waste management contractors Frank and Peter DiTommaso also contributed $10,000 to this fund. This gift is even more generous given the statement issued by a spokesperson for the Senator, who says Torricelli does not even know these two men. At the time of the donations, the DiTommaso brothers, owners of Interstate Industrial Corporation, were the subjects of a Federal, New York City, and New Jersey Casino Control Commission investigation into allegations of ties to the Mafia.
The City investigation was prompted by a $30 million contract sought by the DiTommaso brothers' business to assist in the closing of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, an illegal Mob-controlled landfill that was only closed after the election of former Mafia Prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani as Mayor of New York. The City as a result of their investigation canceled the $30 million contract.
The Federal investigation of the DiTommaso brothers concerned their purchase of a Staten Island waste station controlled by Edward Garafola. who is married to the sister of former Gambino Family Underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Garafola was indicted in March 2000 along with Lawrence Ray, an executive of the DiTommaso brothers' Interstate Industrial Corporation, and Daniel Persico, nephew of Colombo Family Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico, on Federal charges involving a $40 million stock 'pump and dump' scam. Interstate Industrial Corporation was also denied a contract by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 2000 to perform work on an Atlantic City gambling casino.
Federal Election Commission records also show that Frank DiTommaso contributed $1,000 to the Torricelli campaign on March 26, 1999 and that DiTommaso Family members made several other $1,000 contributions that year. The DiTommaso brothers have denied they have ties to the Mafia and their integrity has been publicly vouched for by Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari.
Another contributor to Torricelli's legal defense fund is former Congressman Frank Guarini, Chairman of the National Italian American Foundation. This organization made headlines in 1998 when it joined with the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) in calling for a demonstration outside the Manhattan offices of the producers of the hit HBO series The SOPRANOS, which both organizations claimed reinforced negative stereotypes about Italian-Americans. The demonstration was called off after reports in the Media revealed that NECO President William Fugazy was a convicted felon named in Court proceedings as a Mafia Associate. Fugazy was one of many convicted felons who received a Presidential Pardon from Bill Clinton during the final hours of his Administration. Among the Board of Directors of the National Italian American Foundation is John J. Cafaro, President of the Cafaro Company of Youngstown, Ohio. Earlier this year Cafaro pleaded guilty to bribing Congressman James Traficant of Ohio, who has had extensive ties to members of the Pittsburgh Mafia Family. Cafaro is expected to be a Prosecution Witness against the Congressman at his Federal bribery and racketeering trial scheduled for next February.
Also contributing to Torricelli's Legal Defense Fund are gambling Casino owners Stephen Cloobeck and Donald Trump, Mark Hochberg, husband of Faith Hochberg, the former U. S. Attorney whose Judicial appointment Torricelli lobbied for, and Cliffside Park Mayor Gerald Calabrese.
In August the Washington Post reported that Torricelli has spent an incredible $1.5 million on lawyers defending him in the various investigations, despite the fact that the Senator had not yet been charged with a crime. Half of the $1.5 million was doled out by his re-election campaign fund, with the other half coming from his Legal Defense Fund. $30,000 has been paid from Torricelli's campaign fund to Adam C. Crain, his 1996 campaign treasurer. In February, the New York Times reported that three top Aides to Torricelli, Adam Crain, Executive Assistant Roberta Stern, and former campaign manager David Plouffe, had received letters from the Justice Department notifying them they were targets of the investigation into the 1996 Torricelli campaign.
In addition to his Campaign Fund and Legal Defense Fund, Senator Torricelli operates a New Jersey State Political Action Committee fund called "TorchPAC," which replaced the much-criticized "TorricelliPAC." "TorchPAC" was founded with the publicly expressed intent of providing a Forum for average citizens to become involved in the political process, as well as provide funds to charitable organizations. However, a July 2001 report in the Bergen Record noted that while the fund has received over $80,000 to date, only $875 dollars had been doled out to four New Jersey civic organizations and charities, whereas $30,000 had been given to two political consultants.
Senator Torricelli has responded to the Federal investigations of his associates by mounting a counter-attack against the Federal Prosecutors, calling for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor, claiming that a Republican Justice Department cannot objectively handle this case. The Justice Department has rejected Torricelli's demands, noting that the U. S. Attorney handling the investigations is Mary Jo White, who was appointed to that position by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Ironically, Mary Jo White has also handled the investigation of the Clintons over the Pardon of several criminals, including fugitive financier Marc Rich, who illegally traded with the terrorist government of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. White's office has a history of successful Mafia prosecutions, including that of the Gambino Mafia Family's John "Junior" Gotti, and is also investigating the $50,000 given by the children of convicted heroin trafficker Rosario Gambino to Roger Clinton.
Torricelli has also accused Prosecutors of illegally leaking information to the Media about their investigations. In late August it was revealed that the U. S. Attorney's office in Manhattan had requested subpoenas for the phone records of Associated Press reporter John Solomon. This action is extremely unusual and has outraged members of the Media. In 1999 a Prosecutor in the Manhattan U. S. Attorney's office was removed from the case against John "Junior" Gotti after it was alleged the Prosecutor revealed information about the case to a reporter. A Daily News reporter later publicly claimed that that reporter was the New York Post's Al Guart, an award winning Mafia investigator and contributor to AmericanMafia.com.
Federal Prosecutors have also issued subpoenas for purchases made by Torricelli and several of his closest aides of one of Torricelli's books, according to a September report in the Capital Hill weekly ROLL CALL. The subpoenas concerned purchases made by Torricelli's ex-wife Susan, former girlfriends Patricia Duff and Judy Balaban, Jamie Fox, a former Chief of Staff, and campaign staff Aides Adam Crain and Roberta Stern. The subpoenas, later withdrawn, suggested Federal Prosecutors were targeting book signing events in Washington and Miami in 1999 and the sources of the monies used to pay for the books.
The Roll Call report also detailed analysis by legal experts who expressed the opinion that statute of limitations on charges relating to Torricelli's 1996 Senate campaign would expire on November 5th of this year. Thus, if indictments had not yet come down by that time, there would be few crimes left the Feds could charge Torricelli with. The November 5th deadline came and went without incident and on November 15th Mary Jo White announced that she would soon be resigning her position as U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
If Torricelli is not indicted, it will lead credence to those on the political Right who have claimed a Special Prosecutor should have handled these cases from the beginning, noting that while several "small fish" were convicted ‚ and given minor sentences, - not a single politician who was a recipient of these illegal funds was ever charged.
Mr. James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached by writing to JAMESDE@prodigy.net
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