Not long ago, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was, according to some Democrats and media talking heads, Obama 2.0. The tall, photogenic Booker was going to be our next African-American president, we were told.
Booker bounded to the U.S. Senate in a special election after Gov. Chris Christie declined to appoint a Republican who would run for the seat, a stunning act of bad faith that conservatives should not forget in 2016.
Booker is Senator for the Facebook age. The Rhodes Scholar and Yale law grad spends more time in Washington, New York and Hollywood than in gritty Newark.
He is seen at the right parties, has the right model arm-pieces and gets big money from the beautiful people. Like Paris Hilton, Booker, with little record, is famous for being famous. His top Senate goal is to take a selfie with all 99 of his Senate colleagues. Call him Senator Kardashian.
But while getting famous, Cory Booker also got rich.
On Sept. 5, The Newark Star Ledger reported that the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI are investigating the looting of the Newark Watershed, a runaway city-controlled agency that Booker and his cronies appear to have used to line their own pockets.
Booker received payments totaling $698,000 between 2007 and 2012 from Trenk DiPasquale, a law firm where he once worked that in turn raked in over $2.5 million in fees from the Watershed and the Newark Housing Authority.
Yet there’s no paper trail: neither Booker nor the Watershed has produced contracts explaining their relationships with Trenk DiPasquale. Booker even omitted his payments from the U.S. Senate mandatory financial disclosure, only to add an amendment to his filing when his tax return revealed the money months later.
He has offered three different public explanations of what the money was for: services rendered, an equity interest, and (most recently) a “separation agreement for work he performed before he became mayor,” according to his campaign spokesperson.
The criminal investigation and potential prosecution were set in motion on Feb. 19, 2014 when the New Jersey Office of Comptroller detailed the allegedly corrupt practices of Watershed Executive Director and longtime Booker ally Linda Watkins-Brashear.
Watkins-Brashear wrote unreported checks to herself for $200,000, reaped $700,000 in two severance packages, gave more than $1 million in contracts to her friends and ex-husband, and lost $500,000 in dubious stock ventures, the report states.
When asked about the transactions by the state comptroller, Watkins-Brashear invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
Through her attorneys, Watkins-Brashear said the report wrongly laid blame at her feet and said she acted at all times with the knowledge and approval of then Mayor Cory Booker’s administration.
Perhaps most significantly, Booker installed his close friend, former law partner, and campaign treasurer Elnardo Webster as the Watershed’s general counsel. It was an extremely lucrative arrangement for Webster and Trenk DiPasquale, which was paid more than $1 million dollars by the Watershed in the five years after Booker was elected mayor — at least $400,000 of which there was no contract for.
That’s Booker delivering over a million dollars going to a law firm that was passing $698,000 to Mayor Booker under what Booker now claims was a “separation agreement,” despite the fact he reported it on his tax returns as earned income from a business in which he materially participated. Linda Watkins-Brashear twice gave herself lucrative “severance packages” as cover for her fraudulent payouts.
Now Booker is shunning debates with his thoughtful Republican opponent, Jeff Bell, probably because he does not want to answer questions about the $698,000. But voters deserve better. Chris Christie’s alleged misdeeds seem pedestrian next to the junior senator from New Jersey.
Cory Booker will not follow in the steps of Barack Obama. He is far more likely to follow in the steps of fellow New Jersey Democrats “Pete” Williams, Mayor Hugh Addonizio Mayor Ken Gibson and Mayor Sharpe James, all of whom went to jail. Meanwhile, Booker’s official biography and his Wikipedia page have been scrubbed to omit any mention of his former law firm, which made him $698,000 richer while mayor.
Roger Stone is author of "Nixon's Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon" (Skyhorse Publishing) which will be released on August 11.