Multiple sources say that Democratic Assemblyman Neil Cohen is under investigation by state authorities over allegations that he had child pornography on his legislative office computer.
According to the sources, Cohen has reportedly checked into a nearby psychiatric facility and has not yet been arrested.
Contacted on her cell phone, Cohen chief-of-staff Gleisha Givens said “no comment.”
On Friday morning, Lee Moore, spokesman for Attorney General Anne Milgram, told PolitickerNJ.com, "Our standard policy is we don't confirm or deny investigations."
Meanwhile, the Star-Ledger reports that authorities were tipped off by fellow Union County legislators Ray Lesniak and Joseph Cryan.
Cryan and Lesniak issued a statement on the matter, writing “As the facts became apparent in our office, we notified the appropriate agency and will continue to assist in any way possible. While it was our proactive steps that led the investigation to this point, we are appalled at what has transpired."
The Bergen Record also has a version of the story that points out that Cohen sponsored a bill in 2001 that created a computer hotline to report child pornography and other cyber crimes.
A lawyer who graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and came to politics through the American Civil Rights movement and the example of Bobby Kennedy, Cohen has held office in the Assembly since 1994.
"It's a good office we have," he once said of the 20th Legislative District headquarters where he worked with Lesniak and Cryan. "We complement one another. Ray has the inside game, Joe does the state politics and I'm the policy guy."
He currently serves as deputy speaker, and chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee. Earlier this year, he authored a stem cell research bill which received national attention.
Today's news shocked Cohen's colleagues from both sides of the aisle. Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, a Republican form the neighboring 21st district, hoped the news wasn't true.
"Obviously everybody’s innocent until proven guilty. I’m in absolute shock because he’s such a passionate legislator and so committed to the underdog. It’s hard for me to believe it’s true," said Bramnick. "All I want to say is that I just really like the guy, and I hope that it’s not true.”
"He's a good legislator, who took on a lot of tough, intricate legislation," said Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Essex).
Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex), serves as vice chair of the Banking and Insurance Committee.
"This is a major blow to the legislature," she said. "There are not that many brilliant legislators in Trenton. This is a man who conceives of ideas and puts them to paper. He’s original. Most legislators rely on the Office of Legislative Services to draft things for them. In this case, OLS relies on him to draft."
Spencer described Cohen as a gifted and compassionate plaintiff’s attorney, who would regularly pick up clients even if they didn't have money to pay.
"If he saw something wrong he was going to stand up against it," Spencer said of Cohen "I can't believe some of the rates people would pay - very low. He’s a people’s kind of lawyer."
Cohen was the first assemblyperson to publicly endorse U.S. Sen. Barack Obama for president, and worked as a grassroots organizer for the campaign in New Jersey and in Philadelphia, where he delivered a busload of GOTV volunteers this past April.
"I think about all of the things - all of the people - he’s affected in positive ways," Spencer added. "Everything will be tainted a certain color. If it's true, it's not excusable."
Staff Writer Max Pizarro contributed to this report
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