Every year about this time, bluefish school off the New Jersey shore. For fishermen in the right spot, it's often a stunning abundance of fortune. One minute they're waiting patiently for a bite, and the next they can hook a bluefish with live bait, lures, a piece of baloney on a hook. The fish just can't help themselves.
Federal agents must have felt like those fishermen during the investigation that eventually took down 44 people in one of the largest corruption stings in New Jersey's malodorous history. The FBI did what cops normally do when they catch a thief in the act and don't think he's acting alone they make him an informant. The informant in this case was a failed developer turned bank-fraud artist named Solomon Dwek, who then hung out his shingle as a bankruptcy fraudster who would launder money or buy off politicians for a small fee. The feds threw Dwek in the water like chum and waited to see what else they could catch.
Soon enough, the feeding frenzy began. They got a mayor allegedly taking a bribe to get a construction permit. And then another. And then another. Do schools of corrupt mayors swim off the Jersey shore too? They got a rabbi picking up wads of cash in Brooklyn and laundering the money through a charity at his synagogue in Deal, N.J., on behalf of unknown persons in Israel. And as for petty officials of the Garden State building inspectors, councilmen, deputy mayors and the like you could imagine the FBI's relatively small office in Red Bank, N.J. frantically trying to arrange all the necessary surveillance to collect the evidence flooding in like the Navasink River at high tide. ("Hello, Radio Shack, I need 100 tape recorders. Yes, today.") In Thursday's big bust, more than 300 FBI agents were needed to make all the raids and arrests. They probably had to use temps.
This looks bad for my home state of New Jersey, but critics are failing to see the beauty in this bust. First of all, it shows how wonderfully diverse New Jersey has become. When I was kid, the Irish ran Hudson County and Jersey City, the Italians had Hoboken and Newark, and in later years Hispanics muscled into West New York and Union City. They did not share. Look at the names on yesterday's arrest list, and it's a beautiful rainbow of wretchedness. Italians, Jews and Irish; Hispanics, blacks and whites. Democrats and (one) Republicans. Men and women. People from age 33 to age 87.
Yet think about who's missing here in the Soprano State. That's right, none of those charged has been fingered by the feds as being a member of the Mafia. So many new groups are now involved in corrupting New Jersey that the Mob must have been crowded out of the market. We're talking progress, people.