For disbarment -- Chief Justice Weintraub, Justices Jacobs, Proctor, Mountain and Sullivan and Judges Conford and Collester. Opposed -- None.
Respondent is charged with participation in a corrupt transaction involving the payment of moneys to public officials.
Respondent represented James Chiusano, a builder, whose corporation, White Birch Realty Corp., wanted to develop lands for housing in Gloucester Township. Respondent sought to obtain planning board approval. The negotiations were quite extended. An impasse occurred when the mayor, Joseph Menna, said the township would want White Birch Realty Corp. to donate 15 acres for a municipal building.
The acreage thus sought by Menna was very valuable. Respondent says he asked a friend, John Pasquariello, to intervene. Pasquariello was the deputy mayor of another municipality. Respondent explained that he enlisted Pasquariello's aid because Pasquariello could tell Menna that
five or six acres would suffice for a municipal building as was the fact in Pasquariello's municipality. After meeting with Menna, Pasquariello reported to respondent that Menna was so persuaded, but that Menna wanted a "political contribution" of $25,000 to $30,000 in connection with an impending political contest.
According to respondent and Chiusano, both were outraged by this demand. It was not the thought of a "political contribution" that was repugnant, but rather the amount Menna sought. To respondent and Chiusano, a few hundred dollars would be appropriate; neither had experienced a contribution in excess of $1,000 in dealing with local government. Chiusano indignantly rejected the request. But Chiusano later relented; the project still needed final subdivision approval, and further, Chiusano wanted no trouble on the job. He told respondent he would pay $15,000.
We interrupt the narrative to say there is not the slightest doubt that everyone concerned, including respondent, knew the payment would be corrupt,*fn1 involving bribery or extortion or both depending upon statutory definitions of the offenses. One would be naive to suppose that respondent or anyone else thought the payment was a "contribution." [63 NJ Page 212] This brings us to respondent's role in the matter. Respondent says that when Chiusano decided to pay $15,000, respondent suggested that the payment be in "cash." The reason he gives is that he knew there was a political rift within the official family in the township and it could be hurtful if the dissidents learned the mayor had received the contribution. It is not evident how cash would be more assuring in that regard, but if that postulate is accepted, the manner in which the cash was obtained remains incomprehensible. Chiusano had $6,500 in cash which he delivered to respondent and which respondent held as cash. Chiusano needed $8,500 more to complete the required total of $15,000. Respondent advised Chiusano to obtain the additional $8,500 through the medium of a check to respondent's order which he would cash at his bank. But, says respondent, it occurred to him that if Internal Revenue Service should learn of the check, it might not accept the explanation that he was a mere conduit and might insist upon taxing respondent with respect to it. Hence respondent asked Chiusano to add $4,000 to the $8,500, thereby increasing the check to $12,500.*fn2 What remains unexplained under that thesis is
why Chiusano or his corporation did not cash a check for $8,500 and thus save $4,000. At any rate, the check for $12,500 was drawn to respondent's order, endorsed by respondent, and then by his secretary who cashed the check at respondent's bank and deposited $4,000 in cash in respondent's bank account. That bank account was respondent's individual account and not the account of the law firm in which he was a partner.*fn3
The cash sums of $6,500 and $8,500 were placed by respondent in a brown envelope, and respondent again called on his friend, Pasquariello, to make delivery. Pasquariello, who insisted in his testimony that he was just running an errand, said that before he could make delivery he was contacted by a member of the other local faction, one Donald Mitchell, who laid claim to a share. Pasquariello testified that he was troubled by this development, and after mulling it over for a couple of weeks, he decided to split the $15,000 between Menna and Mitchell. This he did, and without consulting either respondent or Chiusano. Pasquariello's testimony is remarkable, and incredible, but we draw no inference on that account against respondent.
The payment of the $15,000 led to federal indictments against Menna and Mitchell. Menna pled guilty and Mitchell was convicted upon trial.
The foregoing establishes inescapably that respondent knowingly participated in a criminal event by aiding the participants, whether Chiusano or Menna was the moving party. Respondent counseled Chiusano as to how to make the payment, cashed a check to his own order to ...