Developer Joseph Barry pleads guilty Admits to $114,900 in illegal cash payments to former county exec

Waterfront developer Joseph Barry, 64, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to making five cash payments, four of which are on videotape or audiotape, totaling $114,900 to former County Executive Robert Janiszewski. The payments were in connection with state and federal funding for the Shipyard project on Hoboken’s northern waterfront.

Before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano Tuesday, Barry acknowledged that “after-the-fact” payments in 2000 and 2001 were monetary “rewards” for Janiszewski’s favorable support in securing $8.8 million in grants and loans for the Shipyard development project between 1996 and 2000.Janiszewski pleaded guilty to extortion and tax evasion charges last year for taking more than $100,000 in bribes from various sources and has been a cooperating witness for the government since 2000. Since being apprehended, Janiszewski has named local officials and contractors who allegedly gave him illegal payments. He wore a wire and has also been videotaped by the FBI and IRS receiving payments, according to government officials. He is currently awaiting sentencing.

During the time period of the cash payments, Barry, who lives in Peapack-Gladstone, was the president of the Applied Companies and related companies, including Shipyard Associates. In 2001, after Applied’s offices were searched by the FBI, his sons, Michael and David, took over the company. The company has not been named in connection with Barry’s plea; only Barry personally.

Last week, Barry said, “I made a terrible mistake. I take responsibility for it, and will get on with my life.”

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, who has brought a series of corruption charges against Hudson County politicians, said a plea agreement had been reached on Friday, June 18. Barry has pleaded guilty to four counts of an indictment first filed on Oct. 15, 2003. Those counts are for making “illegal payments in connection with a federal program.”

Christie commented Tuesday, “Using his considerable resources, Mr. Barry helped corrupt the corruptible and added further to the criminal atmosphere that exists in Hudson County government.”

The remaining counts of the original indictment against Barry will be dismissed, according to Judge Pisano.

According to Pisano, each of the counts carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but under the terms of the plea agreement, Barry will likely face between two and two and a half years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 6 before Pisano.

Barry will also have to pay $1 million in restitution that will be distributed to the federal and state agencies that assisted in the funding of the Shipyard project. Christie said that the reason that the restitution was not more than $1 million was because the grants and loans received were used “for their intended purpose” and the projects “benefited the public in some way.”

Originally, after Barry’s offices were raided, the FBI asked Barry to become a cooperating witness against other figures, the way Janiszewski had been. But Barry refused to become part of the investigation.

Christie said Tuesday that the plea deal is not based on any willingness of Barry to cooperate with government officials.

“There was no cooperation,” said Christie Tuesday. “We were confident throughout that we had a strong case, and we believe that justice was done.”

Christie said that this will not be end of investigations into corruption in Hudson County.

“The effort in Hudson County is ongoing, and will be ongoing for a long time,” said Christie.

Still up in the air is the fate of Barry’s co-defendant, longtime Janiszewski aide and political consultant Paul Byrne. According to Christie, the federal government intends to continue the prosecution of Byrne, and a tentative trial date is set for February (see sidebar). Byrne had been accused of helping bring payments to Janiszewski from others. But none of the charges to which Barry pleaded guilty involved Byrne.

The judge’s questioning

During the course of Tuesday’s hearing, Barry stood at the defense table with his hands folded behind his back, answering a series of questions from the judge which established the facts of the case.

Barry acknowledged he received state and federal funding, grants and loan guarantees, several of which were administered by the county.

“Did Robert Janiszewski take some kind of official action in connection with the county government’s participation in each one of these funding benefits?” asked Pisano.

“Yes,” answered Barry.

Barry said that Janiszewski had written letters in support of the grant and loan applications.

“Beginning in or about 2000, did you make after-the-fact cash payments directly to Robert C. Janiszewski to reward him for official actions he had already taken in connection with [the state and federal loans and grants]?” asked Pisano.

Barry acknowledged that he had made five payments. The payments to which he pleaded guilty were $30,000 on May 24, 2000; $30,000 on Jan. 23, 2001; $15,000 on March 16, 2001; $14,900 on April 12, 2001; and $25,000 on July 18, 2001. All but the first were caught on video or audio tape, officials said.

Some have wondered how, if the funds involved are from the federal government and the state, Janiszewski could have been involved. There were, according to the federal government, chances for Janiszewski to influence where the money went, and some county offices were involved in its administration. For example, Applied received, for the Hoboken Shipyard development project, approximately $6.69 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1998. The application was submitted by Hudson County’s Division of Housing and Community Development.

In total, according to U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, Barry and his companies received $8.8 federal or state loan, grants or loan guarantees between 1996 and 2001 that came under scrutiny. Christie has noted that all of the loans and grants were used for their intended purpose.

Projects going forward

The Applied Companies was founded in 1970 by Barry and his father, Walter, while the younger Barry was a practicing lawyer. He had gotten a degree in English from Rutgers University and then graduated first in his class from Rutgers Law School. Since that time, Applied has become Hoboken’s largest development company, working on both subsidized and luxury housing.

Applied’s projects include thousands of low and moderate income units in Hoboken, North Bergen, and Bayonne, as well as: the 1,160-unit $150 million Shipyard Development Project on Hoboken’s waterfront; Port Liberté, a 1,650 unit waterfront condominium community in Jersey City; the 42-story luxury Palisades rental residence overlooking the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee; the proposed W Hotel on Hoboken’s waterfront; and new housing in Long Branch.

Christie said Tuesday that he does not believe that Barry’s guilty plea should affect any of the Applied Companies’ projects that are under construction or that are planned for the future.

Barry is also the former owner of the Hudson Reporter newspaper chain, but sold it five years ago. He founded the chain in 1983. In 1999 he sold his share in the chain to minority partners David Unger and Lucha Malato, who had been with the paper since the early 1980s and who serve as co-publishers.

After Barry was indicted last October, he said that he was innocent and that he would fight the charges against him. Last week, neither Barry nor his attorney, Joseph Hayden Jr., commented on the decision to make a plea now.

SIDEBAR Byrne to face trial in February

Political consultant and one-time best friend of former County Executive Robert Janiszewski Paul Byrne could not say much about the guilty plea issued by his co-defendant Joseph Barry last week, except that he would continue to fight his own charges.

Last June, Janiszewski, testifying as a government witness in the federal corruption charges against Freeholder Nidia Davila-Colon, defined Byrne as a “consultant” who did business behind the scenes, often without Janiszewski’s knowledge. Davila-Colon had alleged that Byrne had at times served as a conduit for bribes to Janiszewski.

Janiszewski claimed Byrne was among a handful of Hudson County vendors who regularly passed along bribes to him from others.

Among those Janiszewski accused was Hoboken-based developer Joseph Barry. Janiszewski said Barry had passed some bribes to him through Byrne.

In October, 2003, Byrne and Barry were charged in connection with the bribes Janiszewski claimed he received. Byrne was charged with fraud and conspiracy.

Last week, Barry pleaded guilty to paying Janiszewski $114,900 in five payments, but these did not involve Byrne.

When contacted this week concerning part of the joint case, Byrne said he could not comment directly on the case, but he continued to maintain innocence regarding charges he acted as Janiszewski’s agent for accepting bribes.

Byrne’s attorney, Joseph T. Coyle, said Barry’s plea was a vindication of Byrne.

“If anything, Joseph Barry’s guilty plea goes one step further in establishing Paul Byrne’s innocence,” he said. “As I understand it, Joseph Barry’s plea involves only his direct dealings with Robert Janiszewski in the time frame from January through July 2001. Bear in mind that during this time frame, Robert Janiszewski was not only holding public office and running Hudson County government, he was also an admitted corrupt elected official operating as a federal informant.”

Byrne did express gratitude to Barry.

“I have the utmost affection and respect for Joe Barry, and I wish him and his family the very best during this time,” Byrne said.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said he intended to move ahead with his case against Byrne with a tentative trial date set for next February. Byrne’s defense team filed a motion last week that allowed them more time to prepare his defense.

Although unable to comment in his own defense, Byrne, prior to being charged, did say he had worked as a paid consultant to Barry’s company, Applied Housing, and that he got an agreed-upon salary from Barry for Byrne’s services.

“I got everything by check from the Applied Companies,” Byrne said. “Joe Barry and I had a long-standing business relationship, and I’m proud of that fact.”

Byrne, however, did comment on his own state of mind, saying he had nothing to be ashamed of and was keeping himself busy through his efforts to promote embryonic stem cell research.

“What have I been doing? I’m the Right to Hope Committee chairman,” he said. “That’s my focus. It is a source of comfort to me.”

Byrne has been suffering from a number of health problems, including near-blindness.

Unlike Janiszewski, Byrne said he continues to reach out and make contact with public officials.

“People are not ashamed to talk to me, and I have had built coalitions that include people like Senator Jon Corzine, Bob Torricelli and Gov. Jim McGreevey,” Byrne said. “These people have confidence in me. Everywhere I go, people hug me. I’m totally accepted. Unlike Bobby, I can still walk around in this town.” – Al Sullivan