Mayor Rivera doesn’t have to reveal legal donors

12 01 2008


PASSAIC — As Mayor Sammy Rivera faces corruption charges, supporters are raising money for him. But he doesn’t have to report how much money is in his legal defense fund or who’s contributing to it.

That contrasts with the rules he had to abide by when he ran for reelection in 2005: Every campaign contribution received had to be reported to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The head of the election commission said it has never been asked to rule on public scrutiny of legal defense funds. But one state legislator said she will propose a bill mandating disclosure of any money raised for criminal defense.

“The newly emerging criminal defense funds should be subject to the same disclosure rules as any other campaign contributions,” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, who has been a vocal supporter of reforming pay-to-play — the practice of granting jobs and contracts to campaign contributors. “I will put in a bill to change it.”

Rivera, 61, was charged in September in a bribery sting. He said last week he has no idea who is contributing to the fund or how much money it has received.

“I have nothing to do with that,” Rivera said of the trust. “None of it goes to me. It goes directly to the lawyer. Whatever is left, maybe we can give it to charity.”

It’s not the first time an elected official’s legal defense fund has drawn public scrutiny. When Paterson Mayor Marty Barnes set up a legal defense fund-raiser in 2001 as he faced bribery charges, two residents filed a complaint against him in state Superior Court. The complaint asked the court for full disclosure of every contributor, but a judge denied the motion, implying it was politically motivated.

Rivera’s legal defense fund was set up as a private trust, according to his attorney, Henry Klingeman. A private trust is a special tax designation set up by an individual entity through which money and other assets can be transferred. Herman Acosta, a Passaic resident, is the trustee, Klingeman said. Neither Rivera nor Klingeman would provide Acosta’s phone number, and he is not listed in the city’s telephone directory.

A private trust fund is not subject to the same financial disclosure regulations that elected officials must obey when fund raising for political campaigns. In that case, candidates must report every contribution they receive to the election commission. Contributions are limited to $2,600 to one candidate per election.

Nor is a private trust required to register with the state as a charity, because the donations are not tax deductible, according to the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs.

New Jersey has no law to specifically address legal defense funds of elected officials, said David Wald, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office. But local elected officials are required to disclose gifts, reimbursements or prepaid expenses exceeding $400 received during the prior calendar year from anybody, excluding relatives or members of their immediate families.

Chris Donnelly, a spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said that in general, contributions to a private trust would not fall under Local Government Ethics statutes, but that it was unclear whether the mayor must report the money raised on his financial disclosure forms.

The forms are due April 30 of each year and contain information from the prior calendar year.

“Therefore, at this time, we cannot determine what information the mayor may or may not disclose,” Donnelly said. Rivera said he believes that because the money is not being given to him directly, but is going to his lawyer, it does not count as a gift.

Klingeman said he has advised Rivera not to disclose names of contributors and the amount they have given, out of respect for their privacy.

“Look, the mayor is innocent until proven guilty. If his friends want to help him then what’s wrong with that?” he said. “The last thing they want is scrutiny by the press and government.”

Klingeman also challenged the notion that Rivera’s contributions were given to him to gain favor.

“It’s a dubious proposition to believe that someone is going to give to a political figure under federal indictment in the hope of receiving some political reward,” he said.

E-mail: mandell@northjersey.com

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3 responses

14 01 2008
a tax payer

Yeah right… Donate or else., Maybe you won’t be laid off! When is this corruption going to stop?

This is just another shining example of how this administration operated.

There were so many hirings and promotions bought with “DONATIONS” its not even funny. Now come the layoffs. Pay to stay. Maybe you’ll stay… LOL

17 01 2008
shlomo

looks like his gastric bypass surgery worked. How much weight did he lose?

6 05 2008
LMAO

Look you can’t blame the feds for not wanting to know where the money is coming from. It is just more work for them in charging him for where he got the legal defense money…

Anyway I am curious on who he going to give up just to get off, LMAO

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