'Christmas Tree' probe reaches local legislator Union City Day Care, Assembly office of Brian Stack subpoenaed
by Jessica Rosero
Apr 10, 2007 | 893 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last Monday, March 26, the latest subpoenas relating to the federal "Christmas Tree" probe were delivered to the home districts of three New Jersey legislators, including to the office of local Assemblyman Brian Stack.

Stack, who plans to run for state Senate in the June Democratic primary, currently represents Union City, West New York, Hoboken, Weehawken, Guttenberg, and part of Jersey City in the state legislature. He is also Union City's mayor.

Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie launched a federal investigation into the entire New Jersey legislature's use of "Christmas Tree" grants, which are last-minute items that legislators slip into the state budget toward the end of the budget year to fund special-interest items such as road improvements and school funding in their districts.

The investigation is looking into whether any legislators or their families benefited personally from the grants. Brian Stack's wife Katia runs the Union City Day Care Center, but the two are in the midst of finalizing their divorce.

"We view this as just part of the whole review of the legislature's 'Christmas Tree' grant process and we are cooperating fully," said Joe Lauro, spokesperson for Union City. "There were two subpoenas delivered - one to the Union City Day Care Center [for records pertaining to grants], and one to Brian Stack's Assembly office. Not to Brian. It didn't go to him directly."

According to local reports, the records involving millions of dollars in special grants were also subpoenaed from the offices of Senator Nicholas Scutari of Union and Senator Joseph Coniglio of Bergen County.

Two separate subpoenas

There may be some suspicion on the part of investigators because Stack's wife runs the day care center. A separate December subpoena was issued to the city regarding a $100,000 grant for the day care center. That grant had been used for repairs to the center after a water main break in 2004 badly damaged several classrooms.

The suspicion among the Union City administration is that the December subpoena stemmed from a lawsuit that the mayor of Bogota filed last year against several legislators who hold two elected offices. The December subpoena was issued by the state, not from the U.S. Attorney's office.

"No one benefited from this [grant] other than the people who use the day care center," said Lauro. "All the money went to capital projects."

Stack maintains that no one personally benefited from the day care grant.

Special grants investigation

Federal investigators are looking into whether the "Christmas Tree" grants were awarded based on need and not steered towards organizations that would directly benefit the lawmaker or their family.

Prosecutors have recently subpoenaed three years of records from the Governor's Office, involving nearly $1 billion in these special interest grants, and several other subpoenas have gone out to leaders in the state Senate and the General Assembly, including Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny of Hoboken.

It is Kenny's seat that Stack is hoping to claim this June, as Kenny has decided to retire from it at the end of his term. Stack may face off for the seat against West New York Mayor Silverio "Sal" Vega.

Jessica Rosero can be reached at jrosero@hudsonreporter.com
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