The last week of July 2009 saw the arrests of 44 public figures in a huge FBI anti-corruption operation. “The politicians willingly put themselves up for sale,” said acting U.S. Attorney, Ralph Marra. “The victims are the average citizens and the honest business people in this state. They don't have a chance in this culture of corruption.” On behalf of all we “average citizens” I’d like to record our thanks to the FBI for the 3 years of diligent investigation that culminated in these arrests. During the 13 years I’ve been a pastor in the Garden State I’ve heard many stories of how corruption marred the lives of ordinary residents.
Today I choose one from my files. It’s the story of how the Haver family were forced from their home in Round Valley to make way for a huge public works project. It was supposed to serve the water needs of Newark and the other big cities to our East. Emma was an active member of our congregation. In her 80s her mind was as clear as a bell. She once told me: “It was the saddest day of my life, the day we moved from that valley. My children and grandchildren were robbed of their heritage.” Robbed? I wondered about her choice of that word.
I recommend to you Stephanie B. Stevens’ book Beneath These Waters for the full story. She was able to add many details to my knowledge of the nefarious careers of Hugh Addonizio and Paul Rigo. The former was a 7 term US congressman, a decorated soldier, who became mayor of Newark. He was mayor during the 1967 riots. He said of the latter move: “there’s no money in Washington. In Newark you can make a million bucks.” No, the mayor’s pay isn’t that good. In Newark there are “other ways” to get rich.
In 2008 Newark Mayor Sharpe James was convicted of fraud for conspiring to rig the sale of nine city lots to his mistress. She resold them for hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. What few citizens realize is that James was the fifth Mayor of Newark out of the last seven to face criminal charges. He replaced Kenneth Gibson in 1986. He pled guilty to federal tax evasion in 2002 as part of a plea agreement on fraud and bribery charges. Now back to Addonizio who preceded Gibson. He was indicted on charges that he received over $1.4 million in kickbacks from city contractors. These are good examples of the Bible complaint: “Your rulers are companions of thieves; they all love bribes.” And the Round Valley connection?
The Eastern cities were needing increasing volumes of water. Someone suggested two huge dams, Round Valley and Spruce Run. This would mean Raritan River water could, by pipeline from the reservoirs, be the supply. Trenton put up the construction costs on the understanding that it would all be repaid in 4 decades by the water contracts with the cities. Forgive the pun, but that was a pipe-dream. The tax payers ended up with the $16 million bill.
Paul Rigo, a Tewksbury engineer, landed the contract to oversee Round Valley. He also had a history of well-paying jobs in Newark. Ms. Stevens records an interview between Rigo and mafia hood, “Tony Boy” Boiardo. Rigo was assured of the jobs no matter who bid lower. The mob’s cut: 10% of every job or they’d break his legs! In his later confessions Rigo told of paying $250 000 in kickbacks. The Round Valley families were evicted. The construction went ahead in the early 60s. The mob and their cronies were rubbing their hands at the expected payoff. The big money was to be made on the expensive pipeline. Then the house of cards collapsed.
The $50 million pipeline contract was awarded to a Pennsylvania firm. The North Jersey Water Supply Commission unwittingly undermined the entire plot. Out of frustration and spite the cheated Newark officials withdrew from the scheme and we were left with Round Valley as a huge holding tank to supply fairly minor water needs. Corruption bought us a huge fishing spot.
This is why the bible is as relevant as the day it was inspired. Consider: “Do not accept a bribe, it blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.” The second worst thing that can happen to you is that you get caught for your last bribe; but still worse is if you got away with it. The Bible and history is here to tell you that the bigger bribes are up ahead and you’ll go down with the others. Repent before it too late!