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South Jersey

July 02, 2000

Moran campaign violations uncovered

Courier-Post staff

City Councilman Francisco "Frank" Moran was treasurer of a nonprofit corporation that illegally funneled $5,000 into his election fund during his 1997 run for office, state election records show.

The records also reveal the first-term Democrat and mayoral hopeful failed to account properly for more than $16,000 that flowed through two campaign accounts that he controlled and benefited from that November.

The campaign irregularities are surfacing as federal authorities continue to investigate the activities of Mayor Milton Milan and those close to him, including how they raised and spent campaign cash in 1997.

A federal grand jury indicted Milan in March on 19 criminal charges, including allegations he diverted $7,500 from a campaign fund to help pay for a trip to Puerto Rico in May 1997 and extorted a $5,000 political contribution later that year.

The mayor and his political allies actively supported Moran's council bid in the same election in which they backed Jim McGreevey's failed gubernatorial run. The Moran-controlled campaign funds were used in large part to hire street workers to ''get out the vote'' for Moran and McGreevey, a fellow Democrat.

Moran garnered 988 votes to win the 3rd Ward city council seat over challenger Kirk Jones by 186 votes. Milan hand-picked Moran to run in a special election for the council seat he vacated when he became mayor five months earlier.

A Courier-Post analysis of hundreds of New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission records found widespread election law violations by Moran's campaign and the city Democratic committee, for which he served as treasurer.

Among the findings:

-- The Alliance for Hispanic Political Effort, set up as a nonprofit group to conduct Hispanic voter registration drives, gave $5,000 to the Friends of Frank Moran account without registering as a political committee, records show. Moran is the group's treasurer.

State law requires any entity that contributes more than $3,000 to a candidate to register with the state and disclose its sources of income and spending.

City Councilman Israel Nieves, who founded the Alliance in 1992, said he did not authorize the contribution to Moran's campaign or sign a check, so the actual source of the money is unclear. Checks drawn on the Alliance account require both Moran's and Nieves' signatures.

-- The Camden City Democratic Committee reported spending $10,765 to pay Election Day street workers to ''get out the vote,'' a practice allowed by New Jersey law. The city committee, however, never disclosed the names and addresses of the workers, or check numbers, as required by law.

-- The Friends of Frank Moran account failed to record check numbers for 191 checks the campaign reported giving to street workers on Election Day, a computer analysis shows. They account for 62 percent of all checks written to pay for the final days of the campaign.

In an additional 73 cases, the campaign did not provide addresses for people it reported as receiving checks, most for $35. And a dozen names listed as receiving checks appear twice.

So far, there is no record of any sanctions or action being taken by the Election Law Enforcement Commission against Moran, Nieves or the political campaign funds they were affiliated with. Citing department policy, the commission's executive director, Frederick M. Herrmann, refused to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation by his office or other authorities into how campaign monies were raised and spent in Camden during the May and November 1997 elections.

In an interview June 8, Moran said that a commission official he identified as Lisa Foley gave him permission to not individually account for the $10,765 in street money reported as paid by the Camden City Democratic Committee because he did not have a computer. Commission officials said they never had an employee named Lisa Foley and have no record of Moran receiving an exemption.

As for the checks issued by the Friends of Frank Moran where no check number was provided, the councilman said his campaign treasurer, Guillermo ''Bill'' Santiago, used temporary checks with no numbers. The law requiring check numbers applies to all checks.

Moran said full addresses were not reported to the Election Law Enforcement Commission because some street workers did not provide them. He initially offered to provide the Courier-Post with copies of all canceled checks and other documentation, but failed to show for a scheduled meeting at his council office.

Repeated attempts to contact him since then about the documents, and the $5,000 his campaign received from the Hispanic Alliance, were unsuccessful.

Moran, a safety inspector for the Camden County Parks Department, did not return numerous messages left in recent weeks at his council office, county office and home.

Nieves, president of the Alliance, said the group never supported or provided money for any candidate.

"The Alliance is not a PAC (political action committee)," said Nieves, director of the county's Office of Hispanic Affairs and Community Development. "The Alliance is completely nonpolitical. It's for education and voter registration.

"I can assure you the Alliance never gave Moran $5,000."

Nieves showed a reporter the organization's check register, which showed no checks written since April 1997. He acknowledged the group received $10,500 from the New Jersey State Democratic Committee in the weeks before the November 1997 election. Because the Alliance is not a PAC, it did not submit public records to the state about its spending. It is Moran's campaign records that indicate a $5,000 contribution from the Alliance to his election fund two days before the vote.

The state revoked the Alliance's right to do business as a nonprofit in March because it failed to file required reports.

The Camden City Democratic Committee, which Moran served as treasurer, reported spending $10,765 to pay street workers $40 each Nov. 7, 1997, to ''get out the vote'' for a New Jersey gubernatorial candidate - namely McGreevey. The report does not explain the discrepancy that $10,765 does not divide evenly by $40.

The city committee received the bulk of its money that fall from the Camden County Democratic Committee.

Friends of Frank Moran reported spending more than $16,000 in the final days before the election, including an additional $11,000 in street money to hundreds of Camden residents to ''get out the vote.''

Get-out-the-vote money, commonly known in New Jersey as ''street money,'' is used by political campaigns or parties to pay Election Day workers for their candidates. The practice is legal in New Jersey as long as campaign officials pay workers by check. The check numbers, the names of the workers, their home addresses and the amount they were paid all must be submitted in writing to the Election Law Enforcement Commission under a 1994 change in the state election law designed to cut down on street money abuses.

Violating any section of the state's election law is a civil offense, punishable by up to a $3,500 fine for each violation.

New Jersey State Democratic Committee Chairman Thomas P. Giblin said Moran's explanation that state election officials gave him permission not to itemize street money payments did not ring true.

''That's a bunch of bull. That's not the same ELEC I deal with,'' he said. ''I wouldn't give out checks to people unless I have all the information. They are leaving themselves open for further focus.''

Zawdie Abdul-Malik, a city school board member and Moran's predecessor as treasurer of the Camden City Democratic Committee, said he has repeatedly asked Moran and others for an accounting of city committee funds to no avail. He said he even made the request in a certified letter mailed to Moran in June 1999, but the councilman never signed for the letter.

''Why won't they open up the books? Now I see why,'' Abdul-Malik said after being shown the newspaper's findings. ''These guys are guys who felt they could get away with anything. There was no accountability.''

Abdul-Malik said Moran and his allies were misusing funds ''to ingratiate themselves and to get themselves elected while totally disenfranchising the African-American members of the Camden City Democratic Committee.''

Widespread irregularities in campaign fund raising and spending in Camden during 1997 occurred during a watershed election year in the city.

After he became the city's first Hispanic mayor that July, Milan tried to expand his influence beyond the tight circle of Camden County politics. He openly chose to support McGreevey over Rep. Rob E. Andrews, a Camden County native and resident, in the Democratic primary for governor.

McGreevey, mayor of Woodbridge, Middlesex County, and a state senator, appeared at Milan's inauguration in July 1997. That November, McGreevey narrowly lost to Gov. Christie Whitman.

The campaign contribution Milan is accused of extorting from former city public defender Elliot Stomel was initially made to the South Jersey Friends of McGreevey. The PAC's chairman was former Camden municipal prosecutor Joseph S. Caruso, a Milan fund-raiser. But the PAC was not registered with the state when the contribution was made, so the initial check was never cashed. Instead, Stomel wrote another check, and the money was given before the election to Businesses for a Better Camden, a second PAC Caruso served as chairman.

Caruso pleaded guilty in federal court in January to helping Milan extort the $5,000 contribution and is expected to testify against the mayor. Milan has denied playing any role in the shakedown.

Attorney Paul Levinsohn, a spokesman for McGreevey's 1997 gubernatorial campaign, said the campaign had ''no affiliation nor knowledge'' of the South Jersey Friends of McGreevey campaign fund or the $5,000 from Stomel.

But the money was destined to help the McGreevey cause, campaign records indicate.

The $5,000 was sent to another campaign fund controlled by a Milan supporter; that fund gave a $30,000 contribution to Campaign '97, a depository for the New Jersey Democratic Committee, records show.

Democratic officials sent $29,000 to the Camden County Democratic Party, which on the same day returned a $30,000 contribution to the state fund.

The state and county committees then passed thousands of dollars down the line to Moran-controlled local committees, which failed to adhere to disclosure laws.

''The intent of the campaign finance laws are to disclose where the money is coming from and how it is being spent,'' said Herrmann, head of the Election Law Enforcement Commission. ''Campaign finance laws are there to make sure government officials are acting for the public, not special interests.''

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