Friday, November 09, 2007

DeFilippo - Ledger - State launches investigation

Published in the Star-Ledger, Friday, November 9, 2007

Probe focuses on Union politicos
Subpoenas seek info from top Democrats

Star-Ledger Staff

State officials have opened an investigation into matters involving some of Union County's most powerful Democrats, The Star-Ledger has learned.

The focus of the ongoing investigation points toward county Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo, the former freeholder who heads the Union County Improvement Authority and is a legislative aide to Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Union).

DeFilippo confirmed the existence of five subpoenas that demand documents and information about her public and private business dealings. The contents of the subpoenas, which were served in September and October, were described by DeFilippo this week in an interview.

"When you wear several hats, you acquire enemies over the years," she said.

DeFilippo is a towering political figure in Union County, where Democrats dominate most town councils and have held a 9-0 lock on the freeholder board since 1997. She does not hold elected office. But as head of the county committee, DeFilippo hand-picks the Democratic candidates for freeholder, mayor and council in the county.

According to DeFilippo, the subpoenas seek:
  • Financial and other documents for the last three years from the Improvement Authority, which each year awards millions in contracts to construction, law and engineering firms.

  • An explanation of her duties as Cohen's aide. Cohen said he also received a subpoena in late October, asking for any records pertaining to his employment of DeFilippo.

  • All records relating to the county Democratic Committee's involvement in last year's primary election in Roselle, in which allegations of voter fraud are being investigated by the state Division of Criminal Justice.

  • A client list and financial records from Camelot Title Agency, a Woodbridge company in which DeFilippo owns a minority stake.
David Wald, a spokesman for the state Attorney's General Office, declined to discuss the subpoenas, saying "We don't confirm or deny criminal investigations."

According to documents, Camelot's owners also include Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), who said he was a "passive investor" with a 5 percent stake in the firm. Last year, he reported between $10,000 and $25,000 in income from Camelot on his state financial disclosure form.

"I haven't seen any subpoenas, haven't been contacted by anyone," said Cryan, who is also state Democratic chairman.

DeFilippo, who owns 10 percent of the company, is not required to report how much she makes from Camelot, and declined to tell The Star-Ledger. DeFilippo also said she has had no involvement with the operation of the company since she helped promote it during its startup three years ago.

"I'm a small piece of a cog of the wheel," DeFilippo said. Asked why she was brought into the partnership she said, "because I know a lot of people."

The late Sen. Joseph Suliga (D-Union) was a founding partner in Camelot, which performs title searches, sells title insurance and refinances mortgages, DeFilippo said. Other founding partners included Steve Edwards, she said.

Edwards is also the founder of Business & Government Insurance Agency, which does business with numerous governmental agencies in New Jersey, including six towns in Union County. Phone and e-mail messages left with Edwards yesterday were not returned.

DeFilippo said the Union County Improvement Authority had never used Camelot Title in any of its real estate transactions.

Real estate records do show that Camelot filed papers in 2005 as part of a deal in which the Improvement Authority sold land to a developer. But it appears Camelot was hired by the developer, and not the Improvement Authority.

"We have absolutely never issued any money to Camelot," she said.

A phone message left yesterday for Robert Sebia, who is Camelot's president, was not returned.

As for her $10,000-per-year job as a legislative aide to Cohen, DeFilippo said she has been doing that job since 1990 and provides Cohen analysis and recommendations on legislative and budget matters.

Cohen corroborated her explanation.

"She has one of the most brilliant minds in the state," he said.

Another subpoena directed at DeFilippo and the Union County Democratic Committee asks for all records pertaining to the 2006 Roselle primary, DeFilippo said.

Criminal Justice investigators have also served subpoenas on the county Board of Elections, officials have said, asking about the handling of absentee ballots during last year's Democratic primary.

DeFilippo said the state subpoena delivered to her committee seeks all records of the party's involvement in that race.

The subpoena served on the Improvement Authority is less specific.

"Basically they want to see everything we've done here since 2004," she said. "We'll be shipping it in a truck."

DeFilippo said she is complying with all the subpoenas and welcomes the scrutiny.

"I've been involved in politics for 35 years, and I do it in the most aboveboard and transparent manner," she said. "I just want to know who's going to say, 'Sorry, Charlotte' when this is all over."

Jonathan Casiano contributed to this report. Ian T. Shearn may be reached at or (973) 392-1671.

Online story here. Archived here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.