A New Jersey politician is in the news today and for once it’s not someone tied to Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal (although our story certainly involves Christie). This time it is the former chief of staff to Mercer County’s County Executive. Convicted in 2005 of steering contracts to a trash hauling firm in which he held an ownership interest, Harry Parkin decided to try to go back to practicing law. The New Jersey Supreme Court found him unfit and disbarred him.
Our story begins years ago during Parkin’s role as chief of staff to the county executive. In that role, Parkin served as the county government’s liaison with the Mercer County Improvement Authority. That agency was responsible for oversight of the county’s trash hauling and disposal program.
Prosecutors say that the Authority gave the county’s trash hauling contract to a company called Central Jersey Waste and Recycling. That company was allegedly owned by a top Republican donor. The contract was awarded under Parkin’s watch.
Sometime during the contract, the Authority’s executive director resigned and joined Central Jersey Waste and Recycling. If that isn’t bad enough, Parkin decided to then invest in the business himself. It may have been legal if he disclosed the arrangement to the state’s ethics people, recused himself from matters involving the company and was above-board in his dealings. But this is New Jersey!
Prosecutors say that to hide his interest in the company, Parkin disguised his investment as a loan to another company owned by the nephew of the company’s founder. Lest you think that this was all one big misunderstanding as Parkin claimed, numerous audio recordings were played to the jury during his trial including one that said, “You won’t see my name anywhere.”
Business for Central Jersey Waste and Recycling continued as usual for a while. Prosecutors say that Parkin was able to steer a contract for a big demolition project to the company despite another company submitting a lower bid.
Justice usually prevails, however. Parkin may have said that no one would see his name anywhere but he didn’t exactly get his wish. At the time of his indictment his name was on every local TV station and newspaper. Ultimately he was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. An appeal kept him out of jail for a while but he ultimately lost and had to serve the time.
Parkin is now out of prison an apparently hoped to return to practicing law. The New Jersey Supreme Court closed that door as well.
Stories of public corruption in New Jersey are nothing new. Ditto for illegal contract steering and other shenanigans in the waste hauling business. The real stories are the backgrounds of the two key figures in this debacle, Harry Parkin and Chris Christie.
Chris Christie? Yes! More on that below.
The allegations surrounding the Central Jersey waste disposal contract deal with Parkin’s role as liaison to the county’s Improvement Authority. Parkin had other duties as well.
Probably because he was a lawyer (and former prosecutor too), Parkin was charged with developing Mercer’s County ethics programs. He also previously served in the military as a Green Beret.
Parkin tried to argue that all the good deeds he performed while working in the public sector should mitigate a long prison sentence. The court disagreed and appeared to take the opposite position. At sentencing U.S. District Court Judge Garrett Brown said,
This is a sad situation. Everything I see indicated that before this period of time Mr. Parkin was a well-respected, successful attorney. He served honorably in the military. He was the person responsible for developing and enforcing ethical standards in (Mercer) County and he was very strict as to others’ ethical conduct.
Judge Brown also said Parkin’s misconduct “cuts at the very fiber of the American political system.”
Earlier in this post I mentioned Chris Christie. The embattled New Jersey Governor was New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney at the time of Parkin’s prosecution and wasn’t one to mince words even back then.
An article in nj.com published at the time of sentencing quoted Christie as saying,
This office is going to pursue public corruption, prosecute offenders and seek the toughest sentence. Seven and a half years in a federal prison is a significant sentence. I think it represents justice for the people of Mercer County.
In my view he [Parkin] believed the rules didn’t apply to him. He demanded ethical conduct of others, but he did not demand ethical conduct of himself. He was the consummate insider and double-dealer who used his position and influence to serve himself as he professed to serve the public.
We have to hold officials accountable. . . . We will continue to probe corruption in this county and the rest of the state.
There is a certain amount of irony here. Two well esteemed prosecutors now disgraced. Although Governor Christie hasn’t been charged with any crime, his legacy is clearly in jeopardy because of many allegations of political favoritism.
There is an old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unfortunately, for many public figures that appears to be true.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a plea for whistleblowers. Schemes involving political corruption, like all corruption, ultimately collapse. We know that lesson from thousands of years of history. We also know that it can be a daunting task to stand up against greed and corruption, especially when there are powerful political figures lurking behind the scenes. Like the Biblical battle of David versus Goliath, big corporate executives and political bigwigs can be brought down. That usually doesn’t happen, however, without a whistleblower who takes the first step.
Even though stopping corruption is the right thing to do, Congress understood that many a would-be whistleblower has a family to feed. Losing a job can hurt their family. As an added incentive to report wrongdoing, the federal False Claims Act pays whistleblowers awards for speaking up about corruption involving federal programs or dollars. Many states (including New Jersey) have similar programs for corruption involving state tax dollars.
Is a waste hauling company overcharging for services to the local city or county? There could be an award for that. Even if you decide not to become a whistleblower, call us for a no charge, no obligation confidential consultation to see if you qualify for an award.
And what about the awards? The awards under the False Claims Act are based on a percentage of whatever the government collects from a wrongdoer. Million dollar awards are common. These definitely are not the $1000 cash awards commonly associated with fraud hotlines or crime stopper programs.
MahanyLaw – America’s Whistleblower Lawyers
The whistleblower legal team at Mahany Law have helped their clients collect over $100 million in awards. Some awards have measured in the tens of millions of dollars. We have the experience, drive and tenacity to take on the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world. We can’t do that without folks like you – whistleblowers ready to take the first step.
Worried about losing your job? Whistleblower retaliation is illegal. If you suffer retaliation we will fight to get your job back or receive an award for damages.