July 17, 2006

Political Graft & the Stenders

Dictionary.com's thesaurus lists words for graft: Kickback, fraud, fix, dishonesty, corruption, con, collusion, and bribe

The publication “Union County Directions” is published by the County of Union through the Union County Alliance (UCA) using tax dollars and county employees. There is a mound of evidence that the publication is being used as campaign literature to promote candidates supported by the Union County Democratic Committee.

The Union County Alliance's (UCA) Newsletter "Directions" was originally a County of Union Newsletter. The county freeholders made the UCA the publisher and gave the money needed to pay for the production and printing to the Alliance. By doing this, the county could side-step the procurement bidding process.

The printing of the first two newsletters were handled by printing broker Richard Stender, d/b/a SVO Printing. Richard was the husband of then sitting Freeholder Linda Stender, who was also on the Board of the Union County Alliance. Stender is currently an assemblywoman and is running for Congress.

Richard was able to charge $20,000 more for each issue he printed than the next highest bidder.

See quotes and invoices mentioned below

SVO, owned by Richard Stender, husband of Linda Stender, charged Union County Alliance $31,892.40 for printing and mailing the summer 1999 issue of Directions (see attached invoice E). This was $13,970 more than quoted by Rentec Design Studio, who quoted printing and mailing for $17,920.

The UCA was also charged an additional $634 for film that was not included in SVO’s quote but was in Rentec’s (see attached quote C). Stender also printed the Fall 1999 issue of Directions, this time charging over $18,000 not including the film charge.

For printing the first two issues of Directions, Richard Stender charged UCA over $33,238. The Union County Alliance has claimed that they are exempt from the Open Public Records Act so getting quotes, invoices and records is impossible without their cooperation. Their un-cooperation proves their guilt.

In 2001, when Joe Renna was working for the County of Union he obtained a quote to print a 24 page full color version of Directions. AFL quoted the printing and mailing at $26,989. (see attached quote G). Richard Stender quoted the same job for $71,315, over $44,326 more than AFL. (see attached quote H). Concerns raised by Joe Renna about the difference in the cost of printing caused the county to use AFL. Renna was served with termination papers stemming from SVO not getting the contract. In the proceedings, evidence showed that e-mails used as evidence by the county were back-dated. The Judge found the county lacked credibility and ruled in Renna’s favor. The docket numbers for the case are: (OAL DKT NO. CSV 3196-03, Agency DKT. NO. 2003-2371)

Did Assemblywoman Stender try to obtain a contract for her husband?

The content of this newsletter is controlled by the County's Public Information Department. The Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA) argues that the UC Democratic Committee should reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of the newsletters, which are mailed to every postal patron twice a year just days before the primary and general elections, which we believe is a violation of Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) laws.

Mike Murray, who is now the president of the Union County Alliance was originally the director of public information for the county. Just as the current head of public information does, Murray made sure that the candidates up for re-election would be prominently displayed throughout the newsletter. The newsletter would be designed and redesigned to make sure that the Democratic party's selected candidates would be featured. Not only the freeholder candidates but those who could use help in their campaign in local elections as well.

For instance the two covers below show how the Summer 2002 issue of Directions was originally designed and then as it was actually printed. Note that the three freeholders that appear on the cover were the ones who were up for re-election that year. Freeholder Proctor needed a little extra boost since he was running as an incumbent by being appointed to fill a vacancy as most current sitting freeholders were.

Also note how the County of Union removed their name as co-publishers.

Original cover design featuring Senior Citizens:

Cover changed to feature campaigning freeholders:

This is the second in a series of findings. Previously reported:

Rubbing out a Freeholder

When sitting Freeholder Don Goncalves was up for re-election in 1999, he had fallen out of favor with the Union County Democratic Committee and did not get their support for the party line. His image was digitally removed from a photograph that appeared in the Directions Newsletter. This was done so it would not give Goncalves any publicity that may have helped his campaign. The before-and-after photos appear below.

Original photo of incumbent Democrat candidates for Freeholder Chester Holmes, Assembly Candidate Linda Stender, Freeholder Don Goncalves and Union County Alliance Director and Kean University president Henry Ross.

The photo as it appeared in the Directions Newsletter which was mailed to every postal patron before the election with Freeholder Don Goncalves rubbed out. Goncalves’ arm was made to look like it belonged to Ross.

Upcoming features in this series will be:

Political mail designation manipulations

Newsletter produced but not sent to press because it wouldn't make into mailboxes in time for Election Day

The Union County Alliance – let the sunshine in