By Donald Scarinci | January 29th, 2014 - 10:20am
| More

For people like Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, can it be a crime to fail to report a crime?

Many say that Dawn Zimmer acted courageously when she came forward to report her side of a conversation with the Lieutenant Governor threatening to withhold public funds if a developer did not get a project approved. Many, that is, other than friends of the Governor and Lt. Governor.  They call Dawn Zimmer a liar. 

Some question why it took so long for the Mayor to come forward.  Dawn Zimmer said that if she had come forward earlier, no one would have believed her.  She is probably right.  Until the Bridgegate scandal broke, no one would have believed her and she would have gone the way of Lou Manzo and Joe Ferriero.

Lou Manzo, remember, was one of those indicted in the Dweck sting memorialized by the Margolin/Sherman book, “The Jersey Sting“.  Manzo’s allegations that Chris Christie engaged in targeted political prosecutions to further his political career were branded as “crazy.” It was the same for Joe Ferriero, former Bergen County Democratic Chairman, who was indicted and ultimately acquitted for a “crime” that not even his most bitter enemies quite understood.

However, is reporting a crime eight months after it occurred sufficient to avoid prosecution for failure to report a crime?

Mayor Zimmer said that in addition to no one believing her, she did not report the crime because she was hoping to get Hurricane Sandy money for Hoboken.  If a vender said they did not report a kickback request because they were hoping to get their public contract renewed and then came forward to report the crime after they were reappointed but before they paid the kickback would it be any different?

While New Jersey does not have a mandatory reporting law with regard to public corruption, a little known federal law could provide support for an indictment, should prosecutors be so motivated. Misprision of a felony (18 U.S.C. § 4) involves the concealment of a felony, even in the absence of giving any degree of support to the felony.  

On the surface, the statute, which dates back to English common law, would seem to fit in this case. Under New Jersey’s public corruption laws, it is a felony for a public official to directly or indirectly offer, confer or agree to confer or solicit, accept or agree to accept a benefit as consideration for official action. Therefore, Zimmer’s allegations, if proven, would seem to suggest a felony has been committed.

However, the crux of any potential case is whether Zimmer actively concealed the bribery attempt. Under modern interpretations of the misprision of a felony statute, the mere failure to report a known felony would not violate 18 U.S.C. § 4. Rather, Zimmer must have taken “affirmative action to conceal the crime” to sustain a conviction of misprision of a felony (see United States v. Johnson, 546 F.2d 1225, 1227 (5th Cir. 1977)).

Interestingly, Zimmer could face greater legal troubles if the incident occurred in another state. While New Jersey does not have a specific law on the books that requires public officials to report bribery, other states do, including Alaska, Illinois, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. For instance, in Illinois, any public officer, public employee, or juror who fails to report bribery to the local state's attorney, or in the case of a state employee to the Department of State Police, commits a class a misdemeanor.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed legislation last year that would make it a misdemeanor for any public official or employee to fail to report bribery. The proposal is still under consideration.

 

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

The Back Room

Bonnie and the Lonny Factor

Rolled out this week as the finance chair of Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman's (D-15) 12th District Congressional Campaign, Trenton attorney Lionel "Lonnie" Kaplan arrives with an unusual asterisk alongside his public endorsement record for someone burnished as a Democratic Primary weapon.

Read More >

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: April 18, 2014

Fulop endorses Smith in Bayonne mayoral raceBAYONNE - Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop parachuted into the Bayonne mayoral race on Thursday night by endorsing incumbent Mayor Mark Smith."It is a pleasure to be with you here, Mark," said Fulop to a crowd of more than 125 supporters at a...

Op-Ed

Paterson can flourish with a second chance

By ASLON GOOW, SR. I have spent the past three decades raising a family, building a business, and working to improve our Paterson communities.  I am proud of those accomplishments.  In 2002, I spoke at an expungement... Read More >

Contributors

(4-16-14) New Jersey Vote By Mail Law - The voter turnout for New Jersey’s November gubernatorial election was the lowest since the days of prohibition, coming... more »
When it comes to profiling Christie, facts are for wussies (4/10/14) - As the national media stories on our Guv pile up, expect more blunders about the Garden State.... more »
This week I begin a series called Dispatches from Somewhere Else. Based on my on-going experiences as an everyman in New Jersey politics, these Dispatches review the hollowness of... more »
Watching Governor Chris Christie's shocking BridgeGate implosion, it's easy to forget the time when he truly seemed unstoppable.  Blessed with incredible political gifts and a Jersey bluster to match,... more »

Quote of the Day

Quote of the day

"This is my first Mark Smith event. There have been a lot of changes in Hudson County over the last year and a half, and the most important change that has happened is that there really is unity. For the first time, we really are working together. Despite political differences. Mark and I have worked very hard to repair that. I'm really happy to be here in support of him, because I recognize that when you work together, politics becomes secondary and you really have time to focus on government, which is the most important thing." - Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop

- PolitickerNJ.com

Poll

Which is the most competitive of these May 13th elections?:

Resources

Visit the PolitickerNJ.com/resources page for links to the best collection of information on New Jersey state government.

 

  • Polls
  • The best blogs
  • Columnists
  • State election results
  • Assembly election results
  • Local party websites
  • And more.

PolitickerNJ.com/resources