Is there a Mocco/Wainstein connection?

A picture's worth ...

Mocco had been photographed at Wainstein's headquarters.
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Mocco had been photographed at Wainstein's headquarters.

When is a photograph just a picture, and when is it a “smoking gun?”

Recently, photos were published in the New Jersey Globe website depicting former North Bergen township clerk Joe Mocco entering the campaign headquarters of mayoral hopeful Larry Wainstein.

The site’s editor in chief is David Wildstein, the former Christie administration official of Bridgegate fame. Mocco was convicted of racketeering and election fraud during his time in office more than 30 years ago. Wildstein wrote in the Globe that Mocco is a frequent “presence” at Wainstein’s headquarters.

For years, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco has alleged that Mocco plays a strategic role in Wainstein’s campaign. Wainstein’s team denies that Mocco has any direct involvement with the campaign, Wainstein’s third attempt to unseat Sacco.

“These photos were our smoking gun.” — Phil Swibinski

Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for Sacco, claims that the photos are proof of Mocco’s involvement in the campaign.  Mocco is not on the ballot, and there has been no proof or admission that he’s a campaign employee.

“Some things that were uncovered were hinted at it, but these photos were our smoking gun,” Swibinski said. “We believed it to be true, but it was more in the vein of a rumor.”

While the photos reveal that Mocco has visited Wainstein’s headquarters a number of times, neither Mocco nor Wainstein have said that Mocco is involved.

Though Mocco had been barred from political activity as a condition of his parole, his parole is over; he is now free to communicate with elected officials or those running for office.

The Mocco years

Joe Mocco was the township clerk in the 1970s and ‘80s, when his brother, Peter, was mayor of North Bergen. Peter Mocco lost a North Bergen mayoral election to Anthony DeVincent in 1979, but in a 1985 successful recall election, DeVincent lost to a ticket that was backed by Joe Mocco.

On the ticket Mocco supported was Nicholas Sacco, an assistant superintendent of schools who won his first elected office to the township Board of Commissioners. He worked with Mayor Leo Gattoni.

The following year, Joe Mocco was one of 10 men arrested in a 1986 high-profile bust for a racketeering scheme. They were accused of accepting an estimated $5 million annually in bribes in exchange for allowing companies to illegally dump construction debris in North Bergen. Mocco was fired by then-commissioner Sacco in 1987, and was sentenced to prison in 1991. Since then, Mocco hasn’t held any elected office or government position.

That same year, Mayor Leo Gattoni retired from office for unrelated reasons, and nominated Sacco to fill his seat. From that day on, Sacco has been mayor.

Does Mocco matter today?

The Hudson Reporter recently asked Wainstein’s campaign by email about what influence Joe Mocco might have on the Wainstein campaign. Some minutes later, Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based political consultant, responded to the inquiry by implying that Wainstein had nothing to do with Mocco’s past criminality. “Wainstein was 14 years old,” he said.

However, those working against Wainstein continue to allege that Mocco is connected to Wainstein.

“I think part of it is a vendetta against the mayor,” Swibinski said. “Sacco fired [Joe Mocco] after he was accused of corruption charges, and I think he’s held onto that grudge since then. It says a lot about Wainstein and who he’s willing to work with in order to grab onto power.”

Adamarys Alonso Gavin, a co-manager for Sacco’s campaign, takes the photos seriously.

“Larry Wainstein has denied that Joe Mocco is behind his campaign for years, but unlike Larry, pictures don’t lie,” Gavin said. “Every North Bergen resident should be outraged that Larry Wainstein not only has been caught lying to all of us, but that he would associate himself with a criminal like Joe Mocco, who has been desperately trying to grab onto power for the last 30 years. Joe Mocco is one of the most notoriously corrupt politicians in New Jersey history, and anyone who willingly works with him should be absolutely disqualified from public office.”

The mayoral election is on May 14.

For more perspective on this story, see ‘Between The Lines’ in the Feb. 21 North Bergen Reporter or online. For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.