❎ New Jersey has a long history of electing corrupt politicians

❎ A poll finds 80% of NJ residents believe our government officials are corrupt

❎ Keep reading for a list of some of the worst of the worst

The recent indictment of New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator on charges of bribery and influence peddling has only reinforced our image as “The Soprano State,” the moniker coined by journalists Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure in their book by that name.

This is Jersey. People expect some degree of corruption. - Dan Cassino, FDU Poll Director

The details against Bob Menendez are salacious: Cash and gold bars stashed in his home. A luxury car in exchange for influence. Acting as an illegal foreign agent.

(AP file/federal indictment/Townsquare Media illustration)
(AP file/federal indictment/Townsquare Media illustration)

But when it comes to our elected officials, New Jersey has quite a reputation.

A poll released by Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2023 found a staggering 80% of New Jersey residents believe the state's politicians were corrupt.

Poll director Dan Cassino says simply: "This is Jersey. People expect some degree of corruption."

Menendez has steadfastly maintained his innocence and said prosecutors were mistaking the routine business of being an elected official for something nefarious.

He is certainly not the first New Jersey politician to face corruption charges, but what sets Menendez apart from a long list of alleged bad actors was contained in an amended indictment.

(AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

Federal prosecutors alleges that he acted as an agent of foreign government and passes sensitive information to the Egyptian government.

Menendez has denied that, professing loyalty only to America.

Some of New Jersey’s most powerful men and woman have been taken down by greed.

Here is a list of some of the biggest corruption convictions in New Jersey’s history.

U.S. Senator Harrison Williams/Congressman Frank Thompson/Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti

With details so salacious they were made into the Hollywood movie “American Hustle,” the ABSCAM scandal riveted America.

ABSCAM was a sting operation by the FBI that began in the late 1970s and led to convictions in the 1980s of seven members of the U.S Congress as well as many others for bribery and corruption.

Three of those swept up in the investigation were from New Jersey.

Undercover FBI agents posed as Middle Eastern sheiks with buckets of cash. They even enlisted a convicted international con-artists to help the undercover agents look legitimate.

FILE - Rep. Michael Myers, second from left, holds an envelope containing $50,000 which he just received from undercover FBI agent Anthony Amoroso, left, in this videotape played at the first Abscam trial Oct. 14, 1980. If the U.S. House decides to expel Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., it will be the first such expulsion since Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Myers, D-Pa., a Philadelphia congressman, was ousted more than two decades earlier for accepting money from FBI agents posing as Arabs in the famed Abscam case. Also shown in the photo, which was made from a television monitor of an NBC-TV broadcast, are codefendant Angelo Errichetti, second from right, and convicted con man Mel Weinberg. In the film “American Hustle,” which opened, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, a highly fictionalized telling of the bizarre Abscam FBI corruption sting of the 1970s, the public official on the take is the most selfless character. (AP Photo/files)

The sheiks were looking to exchange that cash for political favors that ranged from building permits to casino licenses.

Sen. Harrison Williams was convicted of bribery and influence peddling.

Rep. Frank Thompson was convicted of bribery. He lost reelection to Chris Smith in 1981. Smith has held that seat ever since.

Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti was convicted of bribery.

All served jail time.

Harrison Williams, Richard Farhardt, Yassir Habib
In this handout from the FBI, Sen. Harrison Williams, D-N.J., left, poses with FBI agent Richard Farhardt, who is posing as an Arab shiek called Yassir Habib, circa 1980. The FBI, in a trial stemming from its ABSCAM probe, charged that Williams engaged in bribery and conspiracy when the senator allegedly promised to introduce legislation favorable to the phony shiek. Exact date and location of photo is unknown. (AP Photo/FBI)

Williams was unrepentant and refused to resign from the Senate even after his conviction. He only left Congress when it became clear fellow senators were going to expel him.

Brendan Byrne
An angered New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne announces at a news conference that he will seek to abolish the state Casino Control Commission and replace its members with permanent ones, in Trenton, N.J., Feb. 11, 1980. The change came about due to the Abscam probe. (AP Photo/Jack Kanthal)

NJ Senator David Friedland

For Jersey City’s David Friedland, crime and corruption were in his blood.  You might even say he was born into it.

His father was an attorney and served in the Assembly.

Friedland followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a noted lawyer and a political force in the Assembly and Senate in the 1970's.  Federal authorities say both men were dirty and listed the younger Friedland as too close to organized crime.

Known as a fancy dresser who was sly and cunning, David Friedland rose to power in New Jersey politics.  His fall was abrupt, and surprised no one.

In 1979, both father and son were indicted for accepting over 300,000 in bribes.

However, Friedland's story doesn't stop there.

To save his own skin, he turned informant against other pubic officials in Hudson County.  Despite his cooperation, he still faced jail time for his own transgressions.

Then, 1985, Friedland vanished while scuba diving in the Bahamas, and was presumed dead.

The U.S. Attorney wasn't buying it, and proceeded to indict him in a new corruption scandal.

David Friedland, John Kenny

Turns out, the Feds were right.  Friedland had faked his own death.  Over two years, he was tracked across Europe, Kenya and Hong Kong.  He was eventually captured in the Maldives, where he was using his stolen fortune to build a huge luxury chalet.

He served eight years of a 15-year sentence.

Friedland said he has no regrets.

From prison, he told a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, "If my life ended today, I would be content. I have lived a very full life. I never get bored. I’m like a whirlwind of energy, even in here."

Friendland died in Florida in 2022.

Senate President John Lynch

John Lynch was born in New Brunswick and followed in his father’s footsteps serving as mayor of the city before being elected to the New Jersey State Legislature.
He was chosen as Senate President by fellow Democrats in 1989.

Eagleton Institute of Politics/YouTube/Google maps/Townsquare Media illustration
Eagleton Institute of Politics/YouTube/Google maps/Townsquare Media illustration

Lynch was one of the most powerful Democratic party bosses in New Jersey, wielding enormous power over elected officials and candidates. He is often credited for turning the relatively unknown mayor of Woodbridge, Jim McGreevey, into a formidable gubernatorial candidate.

With that power, federal prosecutors say, came corruption.

The U.S. Attorney’s office began investigating Lynch’s business dealings in the mid-2000s.

He ultimately pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion charges but admitted he took a $25,000 bribe from a company he helped win permit approvals.

State Sen. Wayne Bryant

The Camden senator who legendary New Jersey 101.5 morning host Jim Gearhart dubbed “Ming the Merciless,” was chairman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee. Gearhart believed Wayne Bryant looked like the character portrayed by actor Max von Sydow in the 1990 movie "Flash Gordon."

AP/Google maps/Townsquare Media illustration
AP/Google maps/Townsquare Media illustration

Bryant was the poster boy for pension padding as he held a variety of jobs that helped boost the amount of taxpayer money he would receive when he retired.

It was, however, a low-paying job he held at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey that drew the attention of investigators.

They alleged that Bryant used his power in the Legislature to funnel millions of dollars in taxpayer money to UMDNJ.

He was ultimately convicted of bribery and pension fraud in 2008, a year after he left the Senate.

He served 40 months in prison.

State Sen. Joseph Coniglio

Sen. Joe Coniglio was accused of influence peddling, and as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, he was accused of steering millions of dollars in grant money to Hackensack Medical Center.

Hackensack University Medical Center/NJ Senate Democrats/Townsquare Media illustration
Hackensack University Medical Center/NJ Senate Democrats/Townsquare Media illustration

The hospital had hired Coniglio’s consulting firm for a $100,000 retainer.

His conviction on multiple counts was thrown out by a federal appeals court, which dismissed all but the charge of extortion.

Coniglio was released after serving less than half of a 2-and-a-half-year sentence.

He was later sued by the Election Law Enforcement Commission for using money from his campaign account to pay for his criminal defense.

Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt

A former mayor of Ocean Township, Daniel Van Pelt was serving in the state Assembly when he was caught up in a sweeping federal investigation into everything from international money laundering to the illegal trafficking of human organs.

Operation Bid Rig III led to 46 arrests in 2009, with Van Pelt among five public officials in New Jersey who got caught and faced charges ranging from bribery to extortion.

Daniel Van Pelt
Former New Jersey Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, 46, center, of Ocean Township, N.J., leaves federal court with attorney Robert Margulies, left, and an unidentified man Friday Nov. 19, 2010, in Trenton, N.J., after a federal judge sentenced Van Pelt to 41 months in prison for bribery and attempted extortion. Prosecutors said Van Pelt accepted $10,000 in cash in exchange for his assistance in securing government approvals for purported real estate projects. Van Pelt testified he considered the payment from government informant Solomon Dwek to be a consulting fee. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Van Pelt ultimately was sentenced to 41 months in prison for bribery and attempted extortion.

Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski

A former New Jersey Assemblyman, Robert Janiszewski was elected Hudson County Executive in 1997.

He was one of the most powerful Democratic bosses in New Jersey at the time.

The FBI caught him taking a $20,000 bribe inside an Atlantic City hotel room in 2000.

He would later admit he took more than $100,000 in bribes during his career, though it has always been suspected that number is much higher.

YouTube Screengrab
YouTube Screengrab

He agreed to cooperate with the FBI in their investigation into Hudson County Freeholder Nidia Davila-Colon. He was a key witness during her trial where he admitted he took thousands in bribes from Davila-Colon.

Despite that cooperation, Janiszewski was still sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Essex County Executive James Treffinger

When Democrat Thomas D’Alessio resigned as Essex County Executive after being convicted of money laundering, fraud and extortion, Republican James Treffinger won the seat in 1994 by promising clean government.

He was a rising star in the New Jersey Republican party and was eyeing a run for U.S. Senate.

He abruptly dropped out of the race in 2002 after it was revealed he was the subject of a federal corruption probe.

It was rumored, at the time, that Treffinger was trying to get himself appointed as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey so he could squash that investigation.

He ultimately admitted he had placed two of his political operatives on the county’s payroll and had taken campaign contributions in exchange for county contracts.

He was prosecuted by the man who was appointed U.S. attorney, Chris Christie.

Christie used the Treffinger case to begin building a career that would one day see him elected to two terms as New Jersey Governor.

Honorable Mention: Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague

Frank Hauge ruled Jersey City for three decades from 1917 to 1947.

His salary never exceeded $8,500 per year and he never reported any other legitimate income Yet when he left office, Hauge had an estimated net worth of over $10 million.

He supposedly had a special drawer in his office desk that he would push open toward a seated guest. The guest was supposed to drop money in the drawer.

Hague’s power and influence stretched far beyond Jersey City. His political machine was among the most powerful in the nation and had influence throughout New Jersey and into the top levels of government in Washington.

Hague’s use of voter fraud to secure power was equally as legendary and brazen.

Records from 1937 show 147,000 residents were 21-years old or older, which was the legal voting age at the time. However, more than 160,000 registered voters were reported.

Frank Hague
Mayor of Jersey City Frank Hague is shown leaving his private office to answer a summons in Jersey City, N.J., Nov. 22, 1928. Mayor Hague was placed under arrest by Frank Garrison, sergeant-at-arms of the New Jersey State senate, on a warrant issued by the legislature charging contempt. The Mayor was released in bail immediately after his arrest pending a hearing on a writ of habeas corpus. (AP Photo)

What makes all of this even more spectacular is that Hague was never convicted or charged with any crimes.

He died in New York City on New Year’s Day, 1956. As his casket left the funeral home, news reports describe a woman who held an American flag and a sign that read, “God have mercy on his sinful, greedy soul.”

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