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EDA task force legal bill tops $1M, public records show.

Byline: Daniel J. Munoz

The primary legal counsel in Gov. Phil Murphy's task force scrutinizing wrongdoing and corruption in the state's multi-billion dollar Grow New Jersey tax break program has so far charged New Jersey nearly $1.3 million, according to documents obtained by NJBIZ.

The work was done by Walden Macht & Haran LLP, a law firm specializing in white-collar crimes, with Partner and former U.S Prosecutor Jim Walden having done the bulk of back and forth question and answer with witnesses appearing before the task force.

Walden Macht & Haran charged the state $21,051.50 on March 6, $420,297.01 on March 31 and $855,382.02 on April 19, according to the documents. All three invoices are still pending.

The firm charges $395 an hour for a "blended rate for partners and associates" at the firm, and $90 an hour for paralegals, according to the documents. The task force's other legal counsel, Quinones Law, charges the same rate but to date has not submitted any invoices to the state.

Murphy unveiled the task force on the heels of a January audit from the state comptroller which found that the Economic Development Authority tasked with overseeing Grow NJ failed to thoroughly vet recipients of billions of dollars of tax credits that were awarded between 2005 and 2017, and lacked the means to thoroughly monitor compliance with the program.

Last week, the task force unearthed allegations that businesses with strong ties to insurance executive and South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross were able to obtain the lion's share of $1.6 billion of tax breaks that went to businesses moving into Camden.

Parker McKay, a law firm run by George's brother, Philip Norcross, was able to write provisions of the tax break law which benefited clients of the law firm, the task force revealed.

Kevin Sheehan, a partner at Parker McKay, took part in "unregistered lobbying" by crafting the Grow NJ legislation to benefit clients of the firm, according to legal documents and testimony presented at last week's hearing.

Additionally, Sheehan represented businesses that got $1.1 billion of the $1.6 billion of tax breaks awarded to corporations in return for their relocation to Camden.

But Walden has fallen under scrutiny from New Jersey attorney Michael Critchley, who plans to file an ethics complaint against him on Monday, saying that he is not licensed to practice law in New Jersey.

Walden could not be reached for comment.

Many Camden city and county officials lambasted Murphy and the task force for what they called "political" efforts to undermine what they said has been an economic boom in the South Jersey city.

"We are deeply appalled byGov. Phil Murphy, his administration and the blatantly political leaning task force established by him, for the relentless, unfounded and disingenuous attacks on the businesses making generational investments," reads a joint statement released last week by several Camden city and county officials.

"We will not be party to nor will we tolerate any efforts to turn back the hard-fought progress that has been made inCamdenover the last several years to attract businesses, rebuild our housing inventory, improve public safety and our K-12 education system," the statement adds.

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Publication:NJ Biz
Date:May 6, 2019
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