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New Jersey’s Attorney General has launched an investigation into public health brokerage contracts and potential pay-to-play violations in Bergen County, NorthJersey.com has learned.
The investigation has resulted in at least one subpoena to Bergen County seeking contracts and related documents to be reviewed by a state grand jury. The July 31 subpoena, a copy of which was obtained by The Record and NorthJersey.com, demands the county hand over a host of records going back to 2015 related to its employee health insurance broker.
Since 2016, the county’s health broker has been Acrisure, a firm based in Michigan but with a number of New Jersey subsidiaries, including Doyle Alliance Group, which handles the Bergen contract.
The subpoena seeks records on “health benefit brokerage service contracts, or other commercial or professional arrangements, including, but not limited to requests for proposals, requests for quotes, requests for bids, business entity disclosure forms, proposals, quotes, bids, contracts, professional services contracts, “Fair and Open” contracts, resolutions or ordinances, pay to play resolutions, pay to play ordinances, pay to play policies, and/or any political contribution disclosure statements or representations made or submitted in connection with the awarding of such contracts.”
The subpoena does not indicate the targets of the investigation. It does not mention Acrisure, Doyle or any insurance brokerage by name.
“The county of Bergen fully cooperates with any law enforcement investigations but cannot discuss subpoenas relative to criminal matters as they involve active investigations,” Bergen County spokesman Derek Sands said.
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Elliott Bundy, a spokesman for Acrisure, said the firm has “not been contacted regarding this inquiry.”
“Acrisure takes compliance obligations seriously in all jurisdictions in which we operate,” Bundy said.
Bergen County first hired Acrisure as an insurance consultant for $350,000, replacing Connor Strong, the firm of South Jersey power broker George Norcross. As a broker, its job was to find the best deal for the county among various insurance providers. The contract was last reauthorized by Bergen County’s all-Democratic freeholder board in January for the same amount.
Acrisure formed in Michigan in 2008 and last year said it was the fourth-largest insurance broker in the United States. It says it has acquired about 100 new companies annually since 2017.
Near the end of 2013, it scooped up Reliance Insurance Group, a Woodbridge firm run by Middlesex County power broker Gary Taffet. About four years later, Acrisure acquired Hasbrouck Heights-based Scirocco Group, which employs ex-Hackensack Mayor Jack Zisa, the current Bergen County Republican chair.
In August, when Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced new arrests in a widening investigation into an alleged straw donor scheme tied to a Morristown law firm, he issued a statement saying his office is “determined to hold individuals accountable if they seek to distort the political process and public contracting.”
The language of the subpoena delivered to Bergen County in July indicates Grewal’s office may be probing new violation of pay-to-play laws, which restrict the amount public vendors and their employees can contribute to public officials and require vendors seeking certain public contracts to list the political donations they’ve given to the officials tasked with awarding contracts.
In Bergen County, contributions to all county-level elected officials and both political parties must be disclosed. The county’s pay-to-play law also restricts donations from a vendor’s subsidiaries.
The insurance industry is a lucrative one, attracting power brokers who build close relationships with elected officials and reward them with a steady stream of donations.
Councilman Matthew Kazmierczak (Photo: J. William Van Dyke)
A review of state campaign filings show numerous donations from Acrisure employees to Bergen County Democrats before and after the county first awarded the firm a contract in 2016. All but one came from Matthew Kazmierczak, a Paramus insurance broker who gave a combined $6,250 to Bergen County Executive James Tedesco, Freeholders Steve Tanelli and Tom Sullivan and the county’s powerful Democratic Party starting in 2014.
Some of the filings list Kazmierczak’s employer as Taffet’s Reliance Insurance Group.
Taffet has a long history in New Jersey politics. He stepped down as ex-Gov. James McGreevey’s chief of staff in 2003 amid accusations that he used his position to improperly inflate the value of his billboard business. In 2005, he agreed to pay $725,000 in restitution, fines and interest to end a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation that accused him of passing along insider information.
A voicemail seeking comment from Taffet was not returned.
Kazmierczak is a former Oakland councilman at the center of a sordid story from a past Bergen County administration. In 2013 he threatened to sue the county, alleging it switched health brokers as a form of retaliation for Kazmierczak’s wife breaking off an affair with a county political operative, Alan Marcus.
Kazmierczak did not respond to a request for comment.
Terrence T. McDonald is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @terrencemcd
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