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New Jersey Influential Figure Faces Racketeering Charges In Waterfront Redevelopment Case

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New Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III was charged on Monday with operating a racketeering enterprise, threatening property owners he aimed to take over, and manipulating tax incentive legislation to benefit organizations under his control.

Norcross, seated prominently during Attorney General Matt Platkin’s news conference, angrily refuted the charges, labeling Platkin a “coward” and calling for a quick trial.

The charges against the 68-year-old Norcross and five others come at a time when New Jersey is already under intense political and legal scrutiny, with Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez facing federal corruption charges in New York. Platkin, also a Democrat, presented the charges as part of a broader effort to combat corruption.

In a 111-page indictment unsealed on Monday, the attorney general detailed a scheme dating back to 2012 involving the defendants, referred to as the “Norcross Enterprise” in the indictment, who allegedly used Norcross’s political clout to create legislation that favored their interests.

The allegations include claims that Norcross threatened a developer who refused to give up his rights to Camden waterfront property on Norcross’s terms. The indictment cites a profanity-laden phone call where Norcross warns the developer of “enormous consequences,” to which the developer asks if Norcross is threatening him. Norcross reportedly responds, “Absolutely.”

The indictment further alleges that Norcross and his 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 highlighted Camden’s long-standing economic struggles in his remarks.

Defense lawyer Michael Critchley accused Platkin of harboring a “vendetta” against Norcross, pointing out that several agencies, including federal prosecutors in Philadelphia and New Jersey, had investigated the waterfront development for years.

Norcross, the executive chairman of the insurance firm Connor Strong & Buckelew, has long been considered one of the most influential unelected Democrats in New Jersey.

A former Democratic National Committee member until 2021, Norcross also led the Camden County Democratic Party and was a close associate of the former state Senate president. He was known for his behind-the-scenes influence and financial support of Democratic causes both within the state and nationally.

Norcross, residing in Palm Beach, Florida, and formerly listed as a member of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, characterized the prosecution as politically driven. He claimed Platkin blamed southern New Jersey Democrats for repercussions following allegations of sexual assault by a staff member on Democratic Governor Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign. The specific fallout remains unclear. Platkin was Murphy’s general counsel during the legislative investigation into the allegations.

Norcross explained his presence at the news conference.

The other defendants are: his brother Philip A. Norcross, 61, a New Jersey lawyer based in Philadelphia; George Norcross’s longtime lawyer William M. Tambussi, 61, of Brigantine, New Jersey; Camden Community Partnership CEO and former Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, 56, of Sicklerville, New Jersey; Sidney R. Brown, 67, of Philadelphia, CEO of the trucking and logistics company NFI; and development company executive John J. O’Donnell, 61, of Newtown, Pennsylvania.

An attorney representing Philip Norcross described him as a stellar lawyer with an “unblemished reputation.”

Philip Norcross, the attorney, and U.S. Representative Donald Norcross are all brothers of George.

U.S. Representative Donald Norcross expressed his anticipation of his brothers having the opportunity to present their side of the story.

Henry Klingeman, Redd’s attorney, stated she was surprised by the charges.

Messages seeking comment were left for Tambussi’s lawyer.

Brown and O’Donnell had not yet retained attorneys, according to the attorney general’s office.

This is not the first time the tax incentive has faced scrutiny. Shortly after taking office in 2018, Murphy’s administration initiated a task force to investigate tax incentives. In 2019, Norcross denied allegations of corruption related to the incentives benefiting his companies.

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