Federal authorities couldn't have picked a more fertile target than New Jersey's Manhattan-facing waterfront towns for a fake cash-for-development undercover sting, longtime observers say.
The majority of those arrested in a sweeping FBI bust that netted 44 people on corruption and money laundering charges had ties, real or feigned, to development along the Hudson River.
The criminal complaints paint a picture of building and zoning departments where influence, connections and payoffs determine who gets a prompt hearing and a smooth approval process on their applications and who is left at the mercy of a process so seemingly dysfunctional that developers sometimes budget for bribes.
Jersey City, where more than a dozen of those arrested in the corruption probe either lived, worked or had connections, has been at the epicenter of a development boom that has transformed former polluted industrial rail yards and warehouses into gleaming waterfront high-rises with unparalleled views of the Manhattan skyline.
Certain developers have made fortunes off the city and received tax abatements that continue today, even though there's little open space left along the waterfront, where luxury housing and office buildings housing large Manhattan firms have earned it the nickname "Wall Street West."
"Everybody knows developers run New Jersey," said Joe Morris of the Interfaith Community Organization, which has been pushing for environmental remediation of contaminated land in Jersey City. "The developers run local government in every place in the state."
Jersey City councilman Steven Fulop said developers raise a lot of money for politicians in New Jersey, something he said should change.
"When you have that kind of toxic mix of money and political influence, there's the potential for what could be perceived as deal making that's not in the best interest of the community," Fulop said.