Cops, Courts and Fire Government

Democratic NJ Power Broker George Norcross Indicted On Racketeering Charges

The charges rocked the state’s political community.

By Sophie Nieto-Muñoz | New Jersey Monitor

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin speaking at an event. File photo.

George Norcross III, a powerful Democratic power broker, was charged with racketeering on Monday along with five others including his personal lawyer, his brother, and a former Camden mayor.

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin unveiled the 13-count indictment during an unusual press conference in Trenton in front of an audience that included Norcross, who sat in the front row and refused to move seats when asked to by someone in Platkin’s office.

The indictment accuses Norcross of overseeing a criminal enterprise, using direct threats and intimidation to win development rights along the Camden waterfront and then benefiting from millions of dollars in state-issued tax credits.

In one instance, the indictment alleges Norcross told an unnamed developer who didn’t want to give up their waterfront property that he would ensure the developer never does business in Camden again. The indictment alleges that Norcross later recounted the conversation this way in a recorded conversation:

“Are you threatening me?” the developer asked.

“Absolutely,” Norcross responded.

The indictment includes salty language not uncommon in New Jersey politics. It alleges Norcross once threatened a developer that he would “f**k you up like you’ve never been f**ked up before.”

Platkin said Monday that Norcross and his allies manipulated government programs designed to attract development and investment to instead suit their own financial desires.

“Instead of contributing to the successes of the city of Camden, through a series of criminal acts alleged in the state’s case, the Norcross enterprise took the Camden waterfront all for themselves,” the attorney general said.

The charges come during a turbulent year in New Jersey politics. In March, Democratic Party bosses lost the chance to use county-line ballots to push their favored candidates during primaries, and in May, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s second corruption trial in the last seven years began in a federal courthouse in Manhattan. Menendez, a Democrat, has indicated he will seek reelection as an independent in November if he is not convicted, a move that is certain to harm the chances of the Democratic nominee to succeed him, Rep. Andy Kim.

Norcross’ co-defendants are his brother Philip Norcross, who runs the Parker McKay law firm; Dana Redd, the former Camden mayor; Bill Tambussi, Norcross’ attorney; Sidney Brown, the head of trucking company NFI and a Norcross business partner; and John J. O’Donnell, a real estate developer and president of The Michaels Organization. There are also several unnamed co-conspirators, Platkin added.

“This alleged conduct of the Norcross enterprise has caused great harm to individuals, businesses, nonprofits, the people of the state of New Jersey, and especially to the city of Camden and its residents,” Platkin said. “That stops today.”

When a reporter asked about Norcross’ presence at the press conference, Platkin refused to comment.

The charges including racketeering, official misconduct, conspiracy to commit theft, financial facilitation of criminal activity, and misconduct by a corporate official.

Norcross denies the allegations. Norcross, an insurance executive and chairman of the Camden-based Cooper University Health Care, has long maintained great political power in Camden and in greater South Jersey. His brother Donald is a member of the House of Representatives.

Speaking to reporters after the charges were released, Norcross suggested the case is Platkin’s payback for being “humiliated and exposed” in front of a legislative committee that investigated rape allegations of a campaign staffer for Gov. Phil Murphy (the staffer has said she told Platkin about her claims and he mishandled them). Norcross also suggested Platkin’s political ambitions are to blame — Norcross called Platkin a politician “masquerading as an attorney general.”

“I want to go to trial in two weeks. I want Matt Platkin to come down here and try this case himself, because he’s a coward, because he has forced people in this building to implement his will,” Norcross said.

Platkin’s announcement comes on the heels of charges his office filed Friday against two South Jersey Transportation Authority board members who are alleged to have used their positions to punish a Norcross foe.

The new allegations stretch back to at least 2012.

Norcross and his allies wielded their political influence — at the time, Norcross was aligned with the state Senate president, Stephen Sweeney — to tailor economic development legislation to their preference before extorting and coercing landowners to obtain property rights in Camden to benefit Norcross and his allies, Platkin alleges.

“As George Norcross himself allegedly said, ‘This is for our friends,’” Platkin said.

Platkin alleges Norcross and his allies helped pass a state law in September 2013 called the Economic Opportunity Act. Norcross, in a meeting with allies ahead of the law’s enactment, said he wanted to use the new legislation to construct an office building for free, according to the indictment.

The indictment says the Norcross team exchanged emails with top political leaders at the time, including then-Gov. Chris Christie and Sweeney, sending talking points in support of the bill. And following the law’s enactment, lawyers lobbied to amend it in a way that would benefit Cooper hospital, according to the indictment.

Authorities allege Philip Norcross touted the law — even while noting “this probably is not such a good thing” — because the state would cover tax credits for all capital and related costs for developers coming to Camden with jobs.

“Over ten years, it’s a hundred percent, and … it will cause real havoc, it’s unlimited,” he said in a recorded conversation, according to the indictment.

Overall, the law doled out lucrative tax breaks to businesses in the form of billions of dollars. Later, Murphy’s administration would establish a task force to investigate how the awards were granted.

The charges announced Monday include allegations surrounding the L3 complex, two three-story buildings and surface parking on a 21-acre lot near the Camden waterfront. The claims offer an illustration of how Platkin’s office alleges the Norcross team operated.

Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit redevelopment organization, was seeking to purchase the L3 site. Norcross allies intervened, according to the indictment, by having the Camden mayor’s office instruct the nonprofit’s leaders to meet regularly with Philip Norcross “so the Norcross Enterprise could monitor what the nonprofit was doing,” the indictment says. Philip Norcross then told the nonprofit it would suffer repercussions if it chose their own developer instead of one of the Norcross team’s choosing, according to the indictment.

In the end, Cooper’s Ferry — which could have partnered with a developer and earned millions from shared profits — instead sold the property at a “discounted price” to the Norcross-chosen developer, the indictment says. Cooper University Health Care then bought a substantial ownership share in the developer and over the next four years, won $27 million in state tax credits, the indictment says.

The state also claims that after this episode, a Norcross ally threatened the Cooper’s Ferry CEO, forcing him to resign. Cooper’s Ferry became Camden Community Partnership in 2021. Redd is now its president and CEO.

Norcross’ appearance at Platkin’s press conference — he was not invited — caused a stir. When a member of Platkin’s team asked him to move, a lawyer for one of the defendants defended him.

“Is there someone more significant than the lead defendant in the case to have a seat in the front row while he’s being excoriated by the attorney general of the state?” the lawyer asked.

Norcross remained where he was.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

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