What is Hart Associates? Questions surround consulting firm, subpoenaed by Attorney General, that did business with Garcia

Several Hudson County and Union City political players said last week that they’ve never heard of a consulting firm that did business with the city’s recently-dissolved Democratic organization – and the state Attorney General’s office is looking into the company as well. Within the last three weeks, the state Attorney General’s office has subpoenaed financial records relating to the Union City Democratic Organization (UCDO) while it was chaired by Union City Mayor and State Assemblyman Rudy Garcia, who recently relinquished the chairmanship, and records related to the UCDO’s payments to Hart Associates, a consulting firm whose legitimacy some people are questioning. The answers have led to even more questions. The firm appears to be based out of Newark. The UCDO, which is the city’s Democratic organization, made three payments totaling $5,000 to Hart Associates between September of 1999 and March of this year. Why is the Attorney General looking into the firm? “Someone with a political ax to grind probably fabricated the facts to the Attorney General’s office,” Garcia said last week. There are plenty of axes grinding in Union City right now. Garcia was the UCDO chairman from 1998 until recently, when the city’s community relations director, Brian Stack, took over. Stack, a Garcia foe, has since dissolved the organization and formed Union City First, the UCDO’s successor organization. Despite the increasing opposition to Garcia, who has been blamed by critics for the city’s recent budget problems, several people seemed to think the Hart issue concerns more than just politics. One man? The address listed on the forms appears to be a home address of Newark’s city clerk, Robert Marasco. The address is that of a residential apartment building. Inside, Marasco’s name is listed on a mailbox, as is the word “HART.” Marasco did not return the numerous phone messages left for him over several days last week. Several county politicos, even those involved extensively in Union City, said last week that they have never heard of Hart and don’t know what Marasco’s relationship is to Garcia. Garcia declined to comment on who is behind Hart Associates. “There are thousands of consulting firms in the state of New Jersey,” said Garcia. “What is the big deal?” When asked last week what type of work the company performed for the UCDO, Garcia said, “Demographics and stuff.” He added, “Hart is a political consulting firm. They gave advice on different issues.” He declined to elaborate. An official at the Essex County Clerk’s office could not find a record of the company. “I was able to go back to 1983,” said the official. “And there is nothing by that name here.” When asked if a company had to be registered, the official said, “The only way to open a commercial account legally is by registering your business [with the county].” He further added, “Let me put it this way. Any legitimate business person would want to register their business.” Officials from the Attorney General’s Office said that their practice is never to comment on subpoenas that have gone out or will go out. UCDO, do you know? The only officers at the UCDO who would have had to know about checks being written to companies and individuals are Garcia and former treasurer Sergio Panunzio, Stack said. When the subpoenas were first issued last month, Panunzio would not comment on the company. He could not be reached last week due to death in the family. Garcia said last week that the UCDO had a seven-member board, but he was only able to name one other officer besides Panunzio. That officer could not be reached for comment due to an unlisted phone number. Stack, who just recently received the books from the UCDO, said, “The other officers have no say or access to the monies being spent. It comes down to the treasurer and the chairman.” Stack was not a member of the UCDO even though he had had a truce with Garcia for nearly a year. According to UCDO financial records, the first of three checks issued to Hart Associates was written out on Sept. 7, 1999, for $1,000. In that entry, the company is spelled “Heart Associates” and listed with a Newark address. The second check was written on Nov. 16, 1999, for $2,000 to Hart Associates, with no address listed. The last check was issued on March 3, 2000, to Heart Associates for another $2,000. Despite the different spellings of the firm’s name, Garcia confirmed that the spelling is Hart Associates. Some of the records were presented to a Grand Jury on July 12.


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