By Briana Vannozzi
“The state was considered to be the most corrupt state in the U.S.,” said Judge Herbert J. Stern.
And Judge Stern remembers it like it was yesterday. The 1970 trial of Newark Mayor Hugh Addonizio. A corruption case that many say changed New Jersey.
“It was essentially a corruption kickback scheme. The allegation, which was proved, was that the mayor of Newark and other members of his administration were receiving kickbacks on public contracts,” said Historical Society U.S. District Courts President Keith Miller.
Judge Stern was part of a crack team of prosecutors who eventually convicted the mayor and many other local leaders.
“Until then the state was completely in the grip between bosses and organized criminals,” said Stern.
This week marks the 45th anniversary of the trial and the federal courthouse in Trenton is displaying the original court sketches. Judge Stern points out the case, with it’s colorful cast of characters, was the source for some well known TV dramas.
“Perhaps the most famous of all was Tony Boy Boiardo who was on trial with Addonizio and that was the model for Tony Soprano,” Stern said.
Back in the 1960s, Stern says Newark, neighboring Hudson County towns and Atlantic City were run by the mob. Stern and his team went after them all.
“We subpeoned every contract out of city hall over a certain amount of money and determined who the successful contractor was,” Stern said. “Then we subpeoned their books and records looking for one thing: cash.”
It was the 1967 Newark riots that, as Judge Stern puts it, finally forced law enforcement to “wake up” and begin these investigations.
“We got Jersey City cleaned up, we got Newark cleaned up, we got Atlantic City cleaned up, a couple secretaries of state, a couple of state treasurers, two Democrats, two Republicans. We were equal opportunity,” Stern said.
But former Newark Mayor Ken Gibson who succeeded Addonizio in office and who left on questionable terms remembers Addonizio differently. He recently spoke with WBGO’s Newark Today.
“Frankly, I’m going to start off by saying I think Mayor Addonizio got a bad rap from a lot of people and is still getting a bad rep,” Gibson said.
When asked if corruption just as pervasive now as it was in the 1970s Stern said, “No No. It’s not. This case began the fight.”
And while many of those characters are long gone, the sketches are available for public view all week.