TRENTON - The U.S. Attorney's Office issued subpoenas to Democratic and Republican legislative offices yesterday, seeking information regarding last-minute grants that lawmakers have stuffed into the state budget since 2004.
The subpoenas, which also seek broad budgetary information, landed in the offices of all four Assembly and Senate leaders. They appear to be part of a widening investigation into whether lawmakers have steered money to causes that benefitted themselves.
All legislative officials involved said they were fully cooperating with investigators' demands.
The grants are a longtime late-night tradition in Trenton. Last year's budget, for instance, included about $300 million in last-minute grants for causes like the Cherry Hill Library and for an electric generator and sidewalks in two Gloucester County towns.
Yesterday's subpoenas appear to be part of a federal criminal probe of State Sen. Wayne R. Bryant, a powerful Camden County Democrat.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has been investigating whether Bryant was paid a part-time salary at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) to do nothing other than use his former chairmanship of the Budget and Appropriations Committee to steer money to the school.
Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts and two other Camden County legislators, Sen. John H. Adler and Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, confirmed that they had been interviewed recently by federal authorities about Bryant.
Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney of Gloucester County was also interviewed, according to a lawyer familiar with the investigation. Sweeney could not be reached for comment last night.
All four Democratic lawmakers are political allies of Bryant. Greenwald chairs the Budget Committee and Sweeney sits on the Budget and Appropriations Committee.
"I've tried to be as helpful as possible about the federal government's questions about Sen. Bryant and issues involving UMDNJ," Roberts said in a statement.
"Federal officials spoke to me for about a half-hour in December about the senator and UMDNJ. I can't discuss specifics, but the conversation was brief and professional."
Adler, too, said he had been interviewed "for roughly half an hour to talk about issues relating to UMDNJ and state budgeting." Authorities, he said, were particularly interested in budget increases for UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, where Bryant had his part-time job.
Adler said they also asked about R. Michael Gallagher, the school's former dean, who hired Bryant. A federal monitor appointed by U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie has accused Gallagher of spending UMDNJ's money lavishly and doctoring the books to ensure himself an annual bonus.
Adler said authorities asked him about Bryant "in the context of state budgeting issues and, I guess, in the context of Gallagher."
A lawyer familiar with the case said the four lawmakers voluntarily were questioned by Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick after they had been contacted by the FBI.
Authorities asked all four lawmakers about Bryant's role in securing funding for UMDNJ, and all four said that the senator had never spoken to them about the topic, the lawyer said.
All four also were asked about the hiring of Gallagher as dean of the school and about a recommendation letter for him that some had signed, the lawyer said.
Gallagher's son, Michael, had worked in the legislative offices shared by Greenwald and Adler. Greenwald said the younger Gallagher's resumé had been supplied to them by the office of now-Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who was a U.S. senator at the time.
The younger Gallagher interned in Corzine's Barrington office in 2001, but Corzine had no relationship with the elder Gallagher, according to the governor's spokesman, Brendan Gilfillan.
Yesterday's subpoenas indicate the U.S. attorney's probe has expanded beyond Bryant.
Subpoenas were received by the district offices of Roberts, Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex), Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R., Hunterdon), and Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R., Morris). They also went to the Statehouse offices of both the Senate and Assembly Republicans and the Assembly Democrats.
Lance said Republican senators had "been in no way involved in the dead-of-night budget additions of recent years" and he commended the investigation.
"Corruption is not a partisan issue," Roberts said in a statement. "If the U.S. attorney is going to conduct an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing, it's an inquiry that we welcome and will assist in."
It was not clear whether or how yesterday's developments tie into a legal dispute that played out earlier in the week between the U.S. attorney and the Office of Legislative Services, the Legislature's legal arm.
Federal prosecutors were in court on Wednesday to try to force the Legislature to hand over documents that they had subpoenaed as part of the investigation into Bryant.
Whether the disputed documents sought broad or narrow information was unclear. The court hearing was closed to the public, and its outcome is unknown.