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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