Tax incentive task force makes first criminal referral

The special task force convened by Gov. Phil Murphy to investigate potential abuse of the tax incentives programs administered through the state Economic Development Authority made its first criminal referral Friday.

A letter by Chairman Ronald Chen refers to law enforcement evidence “of unregistered lobbying on behalf of special interests, which materially affected the legislation and regulations governing New Jersey’s tax incentives granted to businesses,” according to a statement from the task force.

“As we have said, we are going to follow the facts in a search for the truth,” Chen said in the statement. “Whether that means recertifying companies, seeking voluntary payments and terminations, or making referrals, we plan to be thorough, objective and efficient.”

The statement did not list specific details, and that did not sit well with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who issued a statement of his own.

“The announcement by the task force of alleged criminal activity regarding the state’s tax incentives is vague and incomplete,” Sweeney said. “Everyone agrees that the public should scrutinize state spending, which is why the task force must say who is being investigated, what law was broken, and which law enforcement agency was notified.

“This task force was asked to ‘follow the facts’ and ‘get to the truth.’ They should follow their own mandate and allow the public to see the truth.

“If any companies violated their agreements or defaulted on their promises to the EDA they should be identified. If anyone committed fraud, lied or cheated, they should be held accountable.”

In the task force’s statement, Special Counsel Jim Walden reiterated a message from its first hearing last month, encouraging businesses who may be out of compliance to come forward voluntarily.

“We are grateful to the many companies who promised cooperation from Day One, and we encourage more to come forward,” he said. “But we will also be diligent in ferreting out wrongdoing where we must, including by making referrals to other civil or criminal investigators when we find sufficient evidence.”

The task force’s next hearing will be on May 2 in Newark.