TOMS RIVER, NJ – The law firm of Dasti, McGuckin, Murphy, etc. could be facing the loss of all of their public contracts if found guilty of charges levied by Toms River Councilman Daniel Rodrick for violating Toms River Township’s aggressive pay-to-play laws. Under those laws, campaign donors who donate to a political candidate are barred from being awarded no-bid contracts by the township for a period of one year after the donations are given and possibly up to five years for violating the law.
The political corruption scandal in Toms River surfaced when Rodrick, a Republican councilman on the township governing body discovered that a pay-to-play no-bid contract awarded to McGuckin’s firm, worth an estimated $500,000 violated that law. Rodrick, through his own investigation, learned that New Jersey Assemblyman Gregory P. McGuckin had written through his law firm, an ordinance for the Township of Toms River to create the position of Director of Law. Weeks after submitting the ordinance to Mayor Maurice Hill, Hill and the Toms River Township Council appointed McGuckin to the position, essentially allowing McGuckin to write himself a new job in town hall.
According to Assemblyman McGuckin’s 2020 Local Government Ethics Law Financial Disclosure Statement, he currently holds 21 publicly appointed jobs in Ocean County and beyond including Berkeley Township (5 positions), North Hanover, Lacey Township, Lacey Township MUA, Plumsted Township, Ocean Township, County of Ocean, Ship Bottom, Hamilton, Jackson, Toms River, Surf City, Upper Freehold, Beachwood, Point Pleasant, Lakehurst and Seaside Park in a various plethora of different legal counsel positions. McGuckin’s job descriptions in those positions include public defender, municipal prosecutor, township attorney, borough attorney, joint land use board attorney, planning board attorney, board attorney, conflict attorney, special counsel for litigation and alternate prosecutor.
Rodrick not only seeks to void the appointment of McGuckin as the top lawyer in Toms River, but he’s also seeking to disqualify McGuckin’s firm for violating New Jersey’s pay to play laws. He is also seeking to have McGuckin reimburse all monies paid to him by Toms River Township for the allegedly illegal reappointment back to the township.
Section 84-3 of the Toms River code states the Township of Toms River, and any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall not enter into a contract having an anticipated value in excess of $17,500, as determined in advance and certified in writing by the Township, with a business entity, except a contract that is awarded pursuant to a fair and open process, if, during the preceding one-year period, that business entity has made a contribution that is reportable by the recipient under P.L. 1973, c. 83 (N.J.S.A. 19:44A-1 et seq.), to any Toms River Township committee of a political party, if a member of that political party is serving in an elective public office of Toms River when the contract is awarded, or to any candidate committee of any person serving in an elective public office of that municipality when the contract is awarded.
The township code also states, “A business entity that has entered into a contract having an anticipated value in excess of $17,500 with the Township of Toms River, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, except a contract that is awarded pursuant to a fair and open process, shall not make such a contribution, reportable by the recipient under P.L. 1973, c. 83 (N.J.S.A. 19:44A-1 et seq.), to any Toms River Township committee of a political party, if a member of that political party is serving in an elective public office of that municipality when the contract is awarded, or to any candidate committee of any person serving in an elective public office of that municipality when the contract is awarded during the term of that contract.”
Under Toms River Township Code 84-8, violations of this chapter shall result in penalties as prescribed within N.J.S.A. 19:44A-20.10 and 19:44A-20.11.
New Jersey election law enforcement records show McGuckin donated a total of $6,950 to the political campaign of Mayor Maurice Hill and Councilmen Joshua Kopp, Kevin Geoghegan and Matthew Lotano.
Under New Jersey law, 2009 New Jersey Code TITLE 19 – ELECTIONS 19:44A 19:44A-20.11, referenced by the Toms River codebook, a business entity which is determined by the Election Law Enforcement Commission to have willfully and intentionally made a contribution or failed to reveal a contribution in violation of this act may be liable to a penalty of up to the value of its contract with the public entity and may be debarred by the State Treasurer from contracting with any public entity for up to five years.
When asked by Rodrick on May 12, 2020, Township Attorney Ken Fitzsimmons confirmed the contract awarded to McGuckin was a no-bid contract.
“Did this contract go out to bid?” Toms River resident Art Anderson asked Fitzsimmons during a public zoom meeting of the town council, attended by members of the public.
“No,” Fitzsimmons responded.
“Why didn’t it go out to bid?” Anderson asked.
“It’s a professional services contract,” Fitzsimmons replied. “It doesn’t have to be bid.”
Rodrick interrupted the exchange, “Isn’t that a violation of our pay to play ordinance?”
“I, myself did not research it,” Fitzsimmons responded.
Rodrick contends the contract awarded to McGuckin did not follow the law of the Township and was not awarded through a “fair and open” process as dictated by township code.