Alternate headline: Republicans Predictably Cave.
Guest post by Charles C. Johnson
Mayor Cory Booker’s claim that he lives on Hawthorne Avenue has been refuted by bankruptcy documents obtained by me and by the colleague of the landlord who says that Booker paid late rent through his secretary but didn’t live at the Newark address. A personal relationship with the city of Newark to pay his rent is “emphatically an ethics violation” says a prominent attorney.
Booker also said he moved from Hawthorne Avenue to Longworth Street but a police officer claiming to be on Booker’s detail said that Hawthorne was Booker’s home on October 9th.
Booker has claimed to have moved to 19 Longworth St. while in the midst of his Senate campaign and travel to California. Booker’s 2012 ethics form reports no real estate holdings, illegally omitting the Longworth property.
In the raw tapes of an interview conducted by filmmaker Joel Gilbert and this reporter, a police officer identifying himself as Martinez replies at Hawthorne, “It’s Booker’s home” when asked if Booker lived there. Tyshaa Thomas, who lives in the adjacent building, can be heard contradicting the officer.
The bankruptcy documents provided to me show that the home was leased to the Newark Police Department and Office of Mayor, not Cory Booker personally. This fact confirms the earlier reports of neighbors and a census worker that Booker does not live at the property and that it is a police facility.
The month-to-month lease is between the “Department of Police/Mayor” and property owner Ife Okocha, who twice filed for bankruptcy, once in 2011 and 2013, and listed the 435 Hawthorne address as one of his three properties. The information is found on page 22 of the chapter 7 filing and page 20 of the chapter 13 filing.
The lease also shows serious discrepancies. In 2007 Booker told the New York Times that he was paying $1,200 a month for rent. According to bankruptcy documents in 2011, Okocha charged both the mayor and the police $2800 combined.
There does not appear to have been an arrangement concerning the property on the first floor though Booker is believed to have invited over others in the neighborhood.
A Freedom of Information request to the City of Newark for any contract or lease with Okocha was returned without any documents and sent to me
Ife Okocha would have been required to report a lease agreement with Cory Booker individually when Okocha filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and 2013 on the same Schedule G where he reported the unexpired leases with the Dept. of Police/Mayor.
If Okocha had a lease with Booker individually, and did not disclose it, Okocha would likely be guilty of perjury, and Okocha’s lawyer, if he knew, would likely be guilty of contempt of court. On the 2011 bankruptcy petition, Okocha reports $2,800 in rental income, and the only property that could produce rental income is the 435 Hawthorne Ave address.
If Booker has a sublease with the city for the Hawthorne property, that could be an ethics violation, says Eric Dixon, an investigative attorney based in New York who has worked in Newark. Dixon says that a possible personal relationship between the city and Booker on rent is “emphatically a conflict of interest” and had to be disclosed.
“The scheduling of all income is done to give the court and the bankruptcy trustee the most honest view of the debtor’s financial condition for purposes of a debt discharge,” Dixon explains of bankruptcy cases. “I’d be concerned that the lack of a written lease is either a sign of income instability, or more likely, sign that the actual income is much greater than what is disclosed.”
“It is my belief that a city agency would not refuse to enter into a written agreement, for any reason. The simplest explanation is likely the most likely: there was a desire to hide Booker’s role,” says Dixon who calls Booker’s arrangement with the city highly unusual.
Dixon continues. “As for legal liabilities – we’re talking bankruptcy fraud, we’re talking the false statements charge (similar to the perjury charge under 18 USC 1001 that tripped up Martha Stewart), even the “defrauding the United States” charge — all of this is criminal and could be pursued by an aggressive prosecutor.”
I reached out to Okocha at his phone number and through what is thought to be his Facebook but has so far received no response. Eliana Johnson, who visited Okocha at his home, was yelled at to leave his property.
Okocha is a nurse at a Veterans Affairs hospital. A colleague of Okocha who asked not to be named but whose identity has been confirmed through a phone call and a records search wrote the following last night:
“I thought you might want to know that Mayor Booker has had several problems paying his rent at 435 Hawthorne to Ife Okocha. He often goes several months without paying. Booker’s rent is paid to Ife by his secretary, and it often goes several months without being paid.”
The source continued.
“[Okocha] has shown me the text messages between himself and Bookers secretary discussing the rent being 2 and three months late at times. He had told me that Booker rents the house. I didn’t believe him, but he said that even though he rents it he doesn’t actually live there.”
Interestingly Okocha’s property taxes went down while his neighbors went way up.
The average property tax assessment in Booker’s alleged neighborhood increased by 9% between 2012-2013, while Okocha’s assessment decreased by 22%, according to assessment documents.
The Booker campaign and Booker personally did not respond to a request for comment.
The Booker campaign did answer a request from friendly Booker reporter, Ruby Cramer of BuzzFeed. Cramer claims to have seen check payments from the Booker campaign and inferred that Booker must live at Hawthorne but I never reported that Booker doesn’t pay rent—only that he doesn’t live there according to his neighbors and Cassandra Dock, a former census worker.
Unanswered in Cramer’s piece is the following:
Why does Cory Booker need 24/7 security paid in a home that he allegedly moved out of weeks ago?
Why does Cory Booker need 24/7 security on two homes?
David Weigel writing for Slate has also criticized my reporting erroneously claiming that Cassandra Dock, who was a census worker and says that she was told Booker’s purported address is a police station, is a Chris Christie supporter.
Filmmaker Joel Gilbert and I interviewed her at length on her views on Christie whom she and Donna Jackson repeatedly called a fraud. In a two-hour interview in Jackson’s car in front of city hall, Dock and Jackson criticized all of the ruling class in New Jersey, including the media, the charities, Booker, Zuckerberg, Oprah, Mayor Sharpe James, Senator Menendez, and many others.
Weigel is correct that Christie made reference to Dock during a speech a few years ago but Dock told me that she did not like being mentioned in such a prominent way. At the time it was thought that Booker and Christie might have a battle royal for the governor’s race and that Christie’s invocation of a constituent of Booker’s was a shot across Booker’s bow.
The focus on “income verification” in the Affordable Care Act is especially cynical. It became a Republican shibboleth earlier this year, possibly because its fans knew that implementing such a system fully was practically impossible, as it requires sophisticated computer matching of government income data with applications for subsidies. The rule is part of the act, but the government was not planning to implement it until 2015.
Until then, the government said it would rely on the honor system and voluntary compliance, backed up by subsequent audits. Critics of Obamacare wring their hands over this, as though most of our financial reporting to the government isn’t already based on the honor system. (Or do you get audited by the IRS every year?)
Ever heard of withholding, Hiltzik? This is hardly an unbridled “honor system.”
If you give people the chance to defraud the government, they will defraud the government. Look at what happened with the EBT card glitch in Louisiana.
They seem to think that the availability of subsidies will set off a torrent of fraud, because of course it’s worth facing $25,000 in statutory penalties in order to falsify documents to get a few hundred dollars a month in subsidies.
Hiltzik seems to think that the lack of verification will not set off a torrent of fraud, because criminals are always rational; thus, the existence of criminal penalties means there will be no crime.
Nice theory. Too bad reality proves it’s wrong.