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Where the Streets Are Paved With Gold
The legacy of Robert Torricelli

By Jeff Brewer | Bio
jbrewer@politicalusa.com

10/4/2020

 

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Public servants used to go to Washington to serve the public interest-not their own. It was well understood that for many people, getting elected to public office was not the path to getting rich. It was presumed that some noble or higher call, rather than the desire to amass personal wealth, motivated people to serve.

Evidently, Robert Torricelli didn’t subscribe to this concept. Rather, he did the improbable; he’s become a rich man on a congressional salary. Indeed, since first winning public office in 1982, Torricelli has accumulated wealth and extravagance beyond any reasonable level. Unfortunately for him, much of it was garnered through unethical, if not illegal means. As the record shows, Torricelli repeatedly benefited from favorable loans and the occasional quid pro quo.

Consider that in 2001, Torricelli sold his home for $905,000, even though the 2,415 square foot home appraised for only $328,400. In turn, Torricelli bought his favorite estate in Rosemont, NJ—an expansive, $1.2 million dollar farm.

While Torricelli shopped for a million dollar home, he was also looking at yachts. He even found one to his liking…for $405,000. According to his spokeswoman, the Senator would use the proceeds from the sale of his home in Englewood, NJ to buy the boat. Of course, since Torricelli had agreed to put the money gained from his home’s sale towards the Rosemont property, the spokeswoman’s comments were false.

So where did Torricelli plan on getting the money to buy a luxury yacht and the million-dollar estate in Rosemont? He has been a public servant for the last twenty years. When he first took office in 1982 as a representative, congressional salaries were $69,000 annually. Considering that Torricelli maintained two homes—one in Washington, D.C. and the other in New Jersey—it’s difficult to craft a scenario that would allow him to acquire additional luxuries unless, of course, someone supplemented him along the way.

That’s where Asian businessman David Chang enters the fray. In June 2000, he pled guilty to making $53,700 in illegal donations to Torricelli’s 1996 Senate campaign. He’s currently serving an 18-month sentence. Among the gifts Torricelli accepted from Chang in exchange for the Senator intervening in several of Chang’s failed business deals, were various items, including: Cufflinks from Tiffany’s, at least 14 deliveries of envelopes of cash to Senator Torricelli’s home, a 52-inch TV and stereo system valued at $1,700, 12 Italian-made suits, an antique grandfather clock valued at nearly $4,000, and at least one Rolex watch priced at $9,200.

Chang admitted to prosecutors that in return for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts, Torricelli "provided many forms of assistance to Chang and his companies, including recommending his companies for government contracts, introducing Chang and his business associates to foreign business leaders, and attempting to enlist the assistance of the State Department and National Security Council officials in recovering a large debt that the North Korean government owed to one of Chang’s companies."

In an April 2001 speech on the floor of the Senate, Torricelli defiantly berated those who accused him of any wrongdoing. "I do not deserve this treatment, and I will fight for my reputation with every ounce of strength in my body…These issues of illegal activities are not only false, but unbelievable. I have never, ever done anything at any time to betray the trust of the people of New Jersey. Never!" Not surprisingly, court records document that Torricelli "launched a public campaign to vilify and discredit Chang, referring to him…as a delusional perjurer and suggesting that his allegations were manufactured for political reasons." However, federal investigators concluded that Chang had presented credible testimony and evidence to back up his allegations against Senator Torricelli.

After conducting an investigation into the Chang/Torricelli relationship, the Senate Ethics Committee concurred with the Court’s findings, issuing a report to Torricelli, which concluded, "After evaluating the extensive body of evidence before it and your testimony, the Committee is troubled by incongruities, inconsistencies and conflicts, particularly actions taken by you which were or could have been of potential benefit to Mr. Chang…Your actions and failure to act led to violations of Senate rules and related statutes." In other words, Torricelli lied to his colleagues while under oath, and broke multiple campaign finance laws. But while the Senator’s accuser is behind bars for making illegal donations, Torricelli got the proverbial slap on the wrist for accepting them.

The FBI, nonetheless, is continuing its investigation into the dubious lifestyle of the disgraced Senator. NBC Nightly News recently broadcast that, "Torricelli is in court attempting to keep secret details of an FBI probe into allegations he took thousands of dollars in gifts and cash. Bureau sources say over five years, Torricelli spent three times more cash than he withdrew from his personal accounts."

If Robert Torricelli had gotten his way, he would have won another six years to use his position to line his own pockets. With his removal from the Senate on the docket for January, perhaps law enforcement can ratchet up their probe into Torricelli’s malfeasance. And if matters proceed accordingly, Torricelli can find another line of work…such as breaking rocks with David Chang.

  

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