Former New Jersey Attorney General Robert J. Del Tufo, 82, of Princeton, who fought organized crime but was a prominent dissenting voice in the conduct of the Abscam political corruption investigation, died Wednesday of lung cancer, his family said.
Mr. Del Tufo was the son of Italian immigrants and grew up in Newark, where his father ran a parking garage. He was the younger brother of Raymond Del Tufo, who served as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, a role Robert Del Tufo also filled as he rose through New Jersey's legal system.
Mr. Del Tufo's wife, Kate Hughes Del Tufo, 66, said Thursday that her husband always did what he believed was right, even if it made him a target.
While he was U.S. attorney for New Jersey from 1977 to 1980, Mr. Del Tufo criticized the FBI's Abscam sting, questioning another federal prosecutor's supervision of a con man who operated as an informant in the case.
Mr. Del Tufo felt that at least one of the figures caught up in the sting, longtime U.S. Sen. Harrison "Pete" Williams (D., N.J.), might have been improperly ensnared.
That view was criticized by some federal officials and a federal judge, who upheld the convictions. But in 1990, Gov. James J. Florio appointed him attorney general, saying Mr. Del Tufo's stand on Abscam showed him to be "a person of principle."
Kate Del Tufo said her husband "had absolutely no trouble in taking difficult positions." Despite that, he was a modest man, she said.
"He was pathologically modest, he really was," she said. "You had to find out from other people what his accomplishments and achievements were. He never talked about them."
At the prestigious New York City law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which Mr. Del Tufo joined in 1993 after serving as attorney general, coworkers this week mourned his loss.
"Bob was well-known as a mentor, a paragon of integrity, a great tactician, and a source of great judgment," the firm said in a statement. "He will be sorely missed."
Mr. Del Tufo was born in 1933 in Newark. In an interview with Rutgers University in 2008, he spoke fondly of his childhood and the city.
"It was an extraordinarily beautiful city with nice homes," he said, recalling that his parents brought him to Proctor's Theater and ate out at the Schrafft's restaurant on Broad Street.
In the 1950s, he attended Princeton University and Yale Law School. He was legal secretary to Chief Justice Joseph Weintraub of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1958 to 1960, according to a biography of Mr. Del Tufo on the state's website.
He went on to become an assistant prosecutor in Morris County and work in private practice.
As attorney general, Mr. Del Tufo often tackled organized crime, investigating crime families such as the Scarfos and DeCavalcantes.
"Bob's entire life was devoted to public service," said his longtime friend Ed Stier, former director of the Division of Criminal Justice. "He held virtually every important job in law enforcement."
State officials on Thursday also noted his accomplishments.
"Attorney General Del Tufo had a distinguished career in public service," said acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. "Among his many accomplishments as attorney general, he created the nation's first state-level environmental prosecutor's position, and formed the nation's first statewide agency focused on combating hate crimes. He will be missed."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Del Tufo is survived by daughters Ann Jackopin and Barbara, sons Robert J. Jr. and David, and stepdaughters Caitlin Hughes and Johanna Hunsbedt. He was predeceased by his first wife, Ann.
Funeral arrangements were pending.