Though other scandals may be more prominent in New Jersey at present, the investigation into the corrupt practices of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) is slowly but surely making progress with Senator Cory Booker coming under scrutiny. The NWCDC was charged with managing Newark’s water and was paid by the City of Newark $10 million a year to ensure the city had access to potable water.
According to a report by the New Jersey Comptroller, during the time of the unethical and possibly illegal practices by the NWCDC then-Mayor of Newark Cory Booker served as chairman of the board overseeing the now disbanded agency. The corrupt and questionable practices of the NWCDC were carried out by Booker loyalists who contributed to Booker’s campaigns with one serving as a high ranking campaign officer.
Furthermore, it now appears that part of the funds gained from NWCDC no-bid contracts by one of Booker’s allies may have gone to Booker himself as part of a confidential compensation agreement with his former law firm.
The central focus of the Comptroller’s report is on NWCDC Executive Director Linda Watkins-Brashear. Brashear is a longtime Booker ally and donated more than $5,000 to Booker and friends between 2008 and 2010. Also during that time Brashear was using the NWCDC to enrich herself with taxpayer money. According to the report, Brashear wrote undisclosed checks worth $200,000 to herself, arranged to give herself severance packages worth $700,000, and steered $1 million of NWCDC contracts to her friends and ex-husband.
Another Booker ally featured in the report was Elnardo Webster. Webster served as Booker’s Campaign Treasurer for his 2006 mayoral campaign and was a founder, along with Booker, of the law firm Trenk Dipasquale before Booker became mayor. Webster served as General Counsel of NWCDC and was paid more than $1 million in legal fees by the NWCDC between 2007 and 2011.
It was later revealed by the New York Post that then-Mayor Cory Booker had an undisclosed compensation agreement with Webster’s firm, Trenk Dipasquale, and had received $689,000 from the firm while serving as a regulator of NWCDC in what could easily be described as a conflict of interest.
Both Webster and Booker are cited in the Comptroller’s report as failing to properly oversee the operations of the NWCDC. Booker never attended an oversight meeting and failed to appoint a replacement in 2010 for the agent he sent in his place.
As chair, the mayor has a lead role in ensuring the Board properly manages the affairs of the NWCDC, sets appropriate policies and responsibly spends tax payer funds. Notwithstanding that role, we found that during the time period covered by this investigation then-Mayor Cory Booker did not attend any Board meetings. The then-Mayor told OSC that he is an ex officio member of numerous boards and commissions, and did not personally participate on all of them in light of time constraints. He stated that with respect to the NWCDC, he relied on the City’s Business Administrator to attend Board meetings on his behalf. However, that individual resigned from the City’s employment and the Board in May 2010 and the Mayor never designated a replacement.
Two New Jersey State Senators from both parties, Michael Caroll (R-Morris) and Ronald Rice (D-Newark), have called for further investigation into what went wrong at the NWCDC. Senator Rice told the Newark Star-Ledger “[Booker] should be asked the same kind of question they’re asking about Christie. ‘What did you know and when did you know it?’”