New Jersey power broker George Norcross charged with racketeering in waterfront redevelopment case

The indictment alleges that George Norcross and others got property rights along the Camden waterfront and collected millions of dollars in state-backed tax credits.

Associated Press

Jun 17, 2024, 5:17 PM

Updated 32 days ago

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New Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III was charged Monday with operating a racketeering enterprise, threatening people whose properties he sought to take over, and orchestrating tax incentive legislation to benefit organizations he controlled.
Norcross, seated in the front row during a news conference by Attorney General Matt Platkin, angrily denounced the charges, later calling Platkin a “coward” and demanding a speedy trial.
The charges against the 68-year-old Norcross and five others come as New Jersey is already under a political and legal microscope, with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez on trial in New York on federal corruption charges. Platkin, also a Democrat, cast the charges as law enforcement cracking down on wrongdoing.
“When we say no one is above the law, we mean it and we will continue to hold accountable anyone who puts their interest above the public interest, no matter how powerful they may be,” Platkin said.
In a 111-page indictment unsealed on Monday, the attorney general alleges a scheme reaching back to 2012 in which the defendants — called the “Norcross Enterprise” in the indictment — used his political influence to craft legislation that served their own interests.
Among the allegations against Norcross are charges that he threatened a developer who would not relinquish his rights to waterfront property in Camden, New Jersey, on Norcross’ terms. The indictment cites a profanity-laden phone recording of Norcross in which he tells the developer he will face “enormous consequences.” The person asks if Norcross is threatening him, according to the indictment. “Absolutely,” Norcross replies.
The indictment also said Norcross and the co-defendants extorted and coerced businesses with property rights on Camden's waterfront and obtained tax incentive credits, which they then sold for millions of dollars. Platkin described Camden as long suffering from economic decline.
Defense lawyer Michael Critchley accused Platkin of having a “vendetta” against Norcross, noting that the waterfront development had been investigated for years by several agencies, including federal prosecutors in Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as Platkin’s predecessor.
“And every agency that looked at this matter for the past seven years … came up with nothing,” he said at a news conference.
Norcross, the executive chairman of the insurance firm Connor Strong & Buckelew, had been widely viewed as among the most influential unelected Democrats in the state.
He was a Democratic National Committee member until 2021 and previously served as the head of the Camden County Democratic Party. A close friend to the former state Senate president, he was a behind-the-scenes power player and well-known financial backer to Democrats in the state and nationwide.
Norcross, a resident of Palm Beach, Florida, once listed as a member of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, cast the prosecution as politically motivated. He said Platkin blamed southern New Jersey Democrats for fallout from allegations that a staff member on Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's 2017 gubernatorial campaign had been sexually assaulted. It wasn't immediately clear what that fallout was. Platkin was Murphy's general counsel when the Legislature investigated the allegations.
“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 Monday outside the attorney general's office.
Norcross explained why he appeared at the news conference.
“I want to witness an extraordinary embarrassment and outrageous conduct from a government official who stands up there and tries to act like he’s holier than thou,” Norcross said.
In addition to Norcross, the defendants are: his brother Philip A. Norcross, 61, of Philadelphia, a New Jersey lawyer; George Norcross’s longtime lawyer William M. Tambussi, 61, of Brigantine, New Jersey; Camden Community Partnership chief executive and former Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, 56, of Sicklerville, New Jersey; Sidney R. Brown, 67, of Philadelphia, chief executive of trucking and logistics company NFI; and development company executive John J. O’Donnell, 61, of Newtown, Pennsylvania.
An attorney representing Philip Norcross called him a stellar lawyer with an “unblemished reputation.”
“The notion that he would be charged with crimes is simply outrageous,” Kevin Marino told The Associated Press. Marino declined to address specific allegations in the indictment. Philip Norcross, the attorney, and U.S. Rep Donald Norcross, are all brothers of George. U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross said in a statement that he looks forward to his brothers telling their side of the story.
“I love my brothers,” he said in a statement. “I believe in the rule of law, and they will have the opportunity to defend themselves during their day in court.
Henry Klingeman, Redd's attorney, said she was surprised by the charges.
“She’s done nothing wrong,” Klingeman said. “What she has done is serve the Camden community in public and not-for-profit roles for more than three decades. She has cooperated fully with the grand jury investigation for over a year and is unaware of evidence of wrongdoing by her or others.”
Messages seeking comment were left with a lawyer for Tambussi.
Brown and O'Donnell had no attorneys yet, according to the attorney general's office.
Monday's indictment wasn't the first time the tax incentive has come under scrutiny
Murphy's administration ordered a task force to investigate tax incentives not long after he took office in 2018. In 2019, Norcross disputed resulting allegations that there was anything corrupt about the incentives that benefited his companies.


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