Ethics complaint is filed against Turnpike official

Probe focused on the awarding of contracts

Friday, December 01, 2006
Associated Press

The State Ethics Commission has issued a complaint against the head of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority following an investigation into his relationship with one of the authority's biggest contractors, the commission said yesterday.

The complaint was issued on Wednesday, but the charges in it won't be made public until Turnpike Chairman Joseph Simunovich is served with a copy, the commission said.

For more than a year, the commission has been investigating Simunovich's relationship with Joseph Sanzari, who is involved in a joint venture that has been awarded $52 million in Turnpike contracts since 2004.

Specifically, Simunovich acknowledged taking three flights to and from Florida on a private jet owned by Sanzari. Simunovich has denied that Sanzari's company received special treatment in exchange for the flights.

In July, the commission found "indications" that Simunovich violated ethics laws in his state government role.

Simunovich was finance chairman for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez's election campaign, but stepped down from that position in August, Menendez spokesman Matt Miller said.

Messages left at Simunovich's home and with his attorney, Joseph Hayden, were not returned yesterday. Turnpike spokesman Joe Orlando referred all calls to Hayden.

The ethics commission can fine violators, order restitution or even remove officials from office.