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Attorney General Seeks to Restore Seizure of Birdsall Assets

4-3-13

One of New Jersey’s largest and most politically influential engineering firms, Birdsall Services Group, and seven of its top executives were indicted in March for conspiring to funnel more than a half-million dollars in illegal campaign contributions through employees.

Under a court order signed by a Monmouth County Superior Court judge, the state Attorney General’s Office temporarily took possession of all of the company’s holdings.

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On Monday, a federal bankruptcy judge granted Birdsall access to more than $1.6 million in seized money to pay its employees, a temporary lifeline to keep the company afloat and prevent derailing hundreds of public projects.

The state’s Attorney General, Jeff Chiesa, told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that he plans to appeal the order in federal district court,

“We have a very serious indictment in this case where we allege first degree charges in money laundering and other charges where a firm was essentially hiding the fact that it was making political contributions and still receiving millions of dollars and still receiving millions of dollars in state contracts,” Chiesa explained. “Our concern, as a law enforcement agency, is to be sure that the money is there, is watched and not used in ways that would disturb the investigation and might result in dissipation of assets without anybody watching.”

In response to the bankruptcy judge’s rationale, Chiesa said that seizure of Birdsall’s assets was not intended to prevent innocent workers from getting paid.

“We think they should get paid but we want someone keeping an eye on the money that’s there,” he said.

Asked about reports that Birdsall was co-host of a fundraiser for Gov. Chris Christie during Christie’s 2009 run for office, Chiesa said he couldn’t comment on that specifically, insisting that the focus of his investigation is on political contributions that skirt the law.

“Firms that want to engage and do public contracts can’t tip the scale in their favor,” Chiesa said. “Through our indictment, we allege that’s what [Birdsall was] doing … hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions and millions of dollars in contracts.”

An annual report from the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming showed gaming revenue down in 2012. But Chiesa finds a silver lining in the nongaming revenues which saw an increase.

“I think the numbers are showing us that people feel more comfortable, they are going down there. Now on the gaming side, the numbers are down. We also know that superstorm Sandy had a big impact on that for who knows how long a period of time. But certainly in that last quarter, [it] had a significant impact on what happened.”

Beginning April 22, Atlantic City casinos will be allowed to hold fantasy sports tournaments, collecting fees through the same system established for games like poker and blackjack. Chiesa said the new activity is another way for casinos to broaden their appeal. “This is an activity we think will draw a lot of excitement,” he said. “The casinos are very happy to have that down there. We think it’s another amenity that makes it very attractive.”

Although wagering on fantasy sports is not considered a gambling activity, Chiesa said regulations are in place to make sure that it’s done responsibly and to ensure protection against participation from excluded gamblers including those who are underage.