TRENTON, N.J. – A state senator who has introduced legislation that would bar developers seeking zoning approval from donating money to candidates who oversee the zoning process once wore an FBI (search) secret recording device to gather evidence of political corruption.
Sen. Ellen M. Karcher (search), a Democrat from Monmouth County elected in 2003, told the Asbury Park Sunday Press of Neptune that she was one of the three unnamed local officials who former Marlboro Municipal Utilities Authority chairman Richard Vuola (search) tried to bribe.
Karcher told the newspaper she wore an FBI recording device twice in December 2002 when she met with Vuola to discuss the rezoning of approximately 150 acres at and around the former Marlboro Airport.
Vuola, 74, was indicted in October and again in December on federal bribery charges. He is accused of offering bribes to one official in Marlboro and two in Manalapan to secure property zoning favorable to builders in those communities. He has pleaded innocent to the charges.
Karcher, the daughter of late Assembly speaker Alan Karcher, was a Marlboro councilwoman at the time she said she was offered $150,000 in campaign money if she would vote to allow senior housing to be built on the site. She said she never told Vuola whether she would take the bribe and continued to speak out against the proposed zoning.
Karcher was elected to the state Senate on an ethics reform platform and wants her bill to help keep government officials and land developers honest.
"This really happened to me, and I was going to make sure it wasn't going to happen again," she told the Asbury Park Sunday Press.
Christopher J. Christie, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, whose office presented evidence to the grand jury that indicted Vuola, declined to comment on the case.
Karcher had spoken out against the plan that recommended rezoning land at and around the former airport for senior housing. The land has not been developed.
She called the FBI in October 2002 after she received an offer in the mail for a free grave from a cemetery that is near the airport. The cemetery's founder, Anthony Spalliero, was one of several partners in the proposed senior development. Spalliero's son, Joseph, has said the letter was a marketing tool mailed to thousands of people.
Karcher said she was later contacted by Vuola about a meeting concerning the airport property and then agreed to wear the recording device.