From Bridgegate to…

Mayoral candidate raises questions about Fulop and legal contractor

In what appear to be the first serious attack in the 2017 campaign for mayor of Jersey City, the Jersey City Civic Committee, represented by an attorney who is facing Mayor Steve Fulop for re-election, issued a letter to the City Council this past Wednesday making accusations against Fulop.
The letter was issued on Oct. 12 and hand delivered to the City Council by attorney Bill Matsikoudis, who plans to face Fulop in his election bid next year.
The letter came after the City Council voted to approve a legal contract with Alreo & Donohue, a law firm that will represent city employees being interviewed by investigators in connection with Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal.
Members of the Christie administration have been investigated for shutting down lanes of the George Washington Bridge in 2012, allegedly as political retribution for the Fort Lee mayor’s lack of support of Christie’s re-election bid.
Apparently, investigators have talked to Jersey City employees, even though Fulop is a political opponent of Christie and has criticized Bridgegate.
Matsikoudis asked, in his letter, for more clarification of who Alreo & Donohue will be representing. He also suggested that Fulop was involved in his own type of “Bridgegate” in Jersey City.
Matsikoudis raised questions about a possible similar scenario involving a November 2013 crackdown on tractor trailers leaving Global Terminals, which caused a massive backup, suggesting this was done in political retaliation against Gov. Christie.
Over several days in November 2013, the Jersey City police set up checkpoints in a surprise inspection of trucks that cause hours of backup at the marine terminal. The checkpoints backed up traffic along Port Jersey Boulevard and Pulaski Street, which empty out onto Route 440. This caused massive delays of outgoing goods from the shipping terminal.
City officials said the inspections were performed after residents in the area complained about fumes and other problems with the truck traffic out of large shipping terminal on the Jersey City/Bayonne border.
Speculation at the time connected the crackdown to a pending lawsuit by the city against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which oversees many of the sea port operations) over a disputed $400 million taxes Jersey City claimed the Port Authority owed the city.
The JC Civic letter, however, made stronger claims alluding to possible illegal activity, which the city has flatly denied. No pending charges have been made public.
City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said the day after the council vote there is simply no evidence to support the claims made in the letter.

Conflict at the council caucus

The city council’s resolution reauthorizes a contract with the legal firm of Alreo & Donohoue to represent Jersey City employees involved in the Bridgegate case. The firm had held a previous contract.
Investigators looking into charges against state officials close to Gov. Christie apparently have been seeking information from Jersey City employees to assess whether Jersey City was also targeted for alleged political retribution.
The outside counsel is necessary, according to City Attorney Jeremy Farrell, because of the backlog of information requests being made and the number of employees that have been interviewed in regards to the Bridgegate scandal.
“This legal contract is based on OPRA [Open Public Records Act] requests regarding how the mayor and the city were mistreated by the Christie Administration on cancelled meetings when they refused to endorse the governor,” Morrill said. “The request is for documentation from many employees surrounding the city being mistreated.”
But Jersey City Civic’s letter gave a different spin.
“The vagueness surrounding the legal contract with Alreo & Donohoue and the apparent efforts to camouflage the exact nature of the legal services that the administration seeks taxpayer dollars to cover raise a number of questions that should be answered before the City Council approves the contract’s reauthorization,” said JC Civic in its letter to the council.

City employees need representation

“As discussed at caucus, there are multiple city employees who are on the witness list for the trial related to the GW Bridge toll closing,” Farrell said in a memo to the City Council. “There were multiple subpoenas, information requests, OPRA requests and media inquiries into this matter and the Port Authority in general. The topic at the center of this is the cancelled meetings between the city and the state related to city business when this administration took office. The employees involved are entitled to representation plus having outside counsel ensured that our responses were coordinated, exhaustive, compliant and efficient.”
The JC Civil letter, however, asks, “Why does the City need to spend $50,000 on outside counsel to answer OPRA requests? At $150 per hour, the city is getting 333 hours of legal work, or over eight full weeks of a lawyer’s time.”
Matsikoudis, at the invitation of Councilman Richard Boggiano, attempted to speak at the Sept. 10 City Council caucus to argue that taxpayers should not be paying for what he claimed was an attorney to represent Fulop against possible allegations regarding the truck stoppage. Matsikoudis was not allowed to speak, so he issued a letter instead.
“On their own, the actions of the corporation counsel at last night’s caucus meeting raise serious red flags,” the letter says. “That the corporation counsel would eliminate language from the relevant resolution that indicates the Law Firm will ‘advise the city of Jersey City with coordinating responses related to the Port Authority of New York and NJ toll lane diversions’ is highly dubious. His (Farrell’s at the caucus meeting) explanation that a 21-word definition of the law firm’s responsibilities was merely a typo, even though this language appeared in two previous resolutions, is untenable, and his complaining at the caucus meeting that this public information was somehow leaked reeks of a cover-up.”
The JC Civil letter claims that Fulop had promised to endorse Christie, but withheld the endorsement in an alleged request for a political favor and that the truck stoppage was part of the increasing conflict between Fulop and Christie.
“The Law Firm’s exorbitant contract thus begs the question: Have the law firm’s lawyers working on other issues related to the mayor and the Port Authority?” JC Civic’s letter asks. “To this end, the corporation counsel indicated the aforesaid `legal requests’ may have dealt with issues beyond the mere interaction between the mayor and governor. However, the corporation counsel would not confirm whether the ‘legal requests’ were subpoenas from the FBI or US Attorney. It has been reported that Mayor Fulop may testify on the meeting cancellations in the currently ongoing Bridgegate trial. Moreover, it is well known that former Jersey City Police Chief Robert Cowan, who was appointed by Mayor Fulop, sued the mayor and alleged that the mayor ordered police to perform pretextual seatbelt checks during rush hour outside the Holland Tunnel and pretextual traffic stops of semi trucks on Route 440, which according to Cowan were meant to intentionally create traffic jams as a way to inflict retribution on the Port Authority. Cowan said that against advice from supervising attorneys in the city’s Law Department, the mayor used Jersey City police officers who created a traffic jam outside of Global Terminal Port, which inflicted harm upon the Port Authority.”

“Matsikoudis’ letter is baseless and completely absurd.” — Jennifer Morrill
Cowan, however, withdrew his lawsuit, and no evidence against Fulop was ever presented in the court of law. None of these claims, city officials note, have been supported by any evidence yet introduced at the Bridgegate trial, which is looking into the various aspects of the case.
Furthermore, city officials said, Fulop is not likely to testify in the Bridgegate trial.
“Matsikoudis’ letter is baseless and completely absurd,” Morrill said, noting that a reference in the letter to a particular company was also baseless. “This is a make-believe issue by Bill Matsikoudis, who was at the helm when more people were arrested than in any administration in the history of Jersey City.”
She was referring to the administration of Jerramiah Healy, who saw members of his administration arrested during a 1999 political corruption sting.
However, Fulop did make a surprise decision recently not to run for governor next year. Many have wondered what made him back down.
Fulop himself said that the decision was to unify the Democratic Party behind one candidate. But even some of his close advisors questioned his statements, suggesting there were undisclosed reasons for his withdrawal.
Al Sullivan may be reached at

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