Viviana Tulli was murdered by an escaped halfway house inmate

One of the most confusing aspects of the halfway house scandal – where numerous inmates escaped  halfway houses and committed horrendous crimes - is why such violent individuals would ever be released to such a low security facility in the first place. Based on records obtained by Firedoglake under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) we may be closer to an answer.

Bill Palatucci, a major fundraiser and former business partner of Governor Chris Christie, has spent copious amounts of time lobbying New Jersey officials to bolster the halfway house system for his longtime client and subsequent employer Community Education Centers (CEC) that has financially benefited from increased use of the halfway house system. Records show Palatucci was CEC’s registered lobbyist while also becoming a vice president for business development.

Lobbying For CEC

In his role as a lobbyist for CEC, for which he was generally paid $45,000 a year, Palatucci approached officials in both the New Jersey State Legislature, State Agencies, and the Governor’s office to promote CEC’s interests:

* In 2007 Palatucci lobbied then Governor Jon Corzine as well as the New Jersey Department of Corrections for a public contract for CEC in relation to a recent court ruling that found that local ordinances prohibiting the treatment sex offenders in various communities were “arbitrary and capricious.” Presumably Palatucci lobbied to help expand the use of halfway houses and other CEC services now that a court had struck down laws that prevented sex offenders from being housed within certain limits of children.

* In 2008 Palatucci lobbied the new State Parole Board chair and staff with a “discussion of services.” He also lobbied Assemblyman Louis Greenwald regarding Assembly Bill 2800 which increased funding for halfway houses. Additionally, Palatucci paid a visit to New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to “advocate review” of halfway housing licensing laws on behalf of CEC.

* In 2009 Palatucci lobbied again for halfway house licensing from Department of Community Affairs as well as for favorably amending a contract between CEC and Department of Corrections. Palatucci also disclosed that he was promoting a bill to expand halfway houses in the state of New Jersey.

After Chris Christie became governor in 2010, with considerable help from Palatucci, CEC began using other lobbyists. Palatucci had already gone beyond lobbying with CEC becoming senior vice president and general counsel for public affairs, he would ultimately resign from those positions in the wake of the halfway house scandal in 2012.

Scandal

As the halfway house scandal erupted from the publication of a New York Times story Governor Christie blamed his predecessor for the situation. Christie told reporters at an editorial board meeting to even be asked about murders that occurred from escaped halfway house inmates was unfair saying  “[T]o ask me that question presupposes that I have responsibility for something … that didn’t happen on my watch.”

But that wasn’t accurate for a number or reasons.

First, is the fact that the murder in question being raised by the reporters at the editorial board meeting – that of Viviana Tulli (pictured above) – did in fact occur eight months into Governor Christie’s term in August of 2010. And then there is the Palatucci connection which draws Christie very close to the situation. Not only is Palatucci one of Christie’s most trusted political advisors, he was previously Christie’s business partner when Chris Christie was a lobbyist.

In fact, in the year 2001, when Christie and Palatucci were both registered lobbyists and working together, one of their clients was CEC. What level of support (if any) Christie provided to CEC is unknown though Christie had nothing but praise for CEC’s CEO John Clancy. He even attended an event praising his company’s work saying a “spotlight should be put on them.”

The Curious Case Of David Goodell

Before David Goodell escaped a halfway house to murder Viviana Tulli in 2010, he had been convicted of aggravated assault and making terroristic threats in 2009 according to a parole report provided to Firedoglake. Despite that conviction Goodell was, for some reason, allowed by the parole board to enter a halfway house.

Halfway houses are not prisons. There are no guards nor locks and should an inmate decide to make a run for it the only recourse the staff at a halfway house have is to call the police like any other citizen. They are prohibited from even touching inmates let alone hindering their escapes.

Which is all to say halfway houses are not places for violent convicts like David Goodell.

David Goodell was convicted of both aggravated assault and making terroristic threats


Open Questions

So why is (or at least was) the Department of Corrections and State Parole Board fast tracking violent offenders into facilities extremely easy to escape from? Why was the State of New Jersey increasingly relying on halfway houses?

The answer might be that halfway houses had a powerful advocate in Trenton in the form of Bill Palatucci. A man who not only was a power in his own right but was deeply connected to a sitting governor. A governor who himself had a financial and amiable relationship with the company that profited from running halfway houses.

How effective was Bill Palatucci’s lobbying?

Photo provided by Tulli family.