This whole thing to me is … quite frankly I don’t get it

Schoor DePalma co-founder is spared prison on conspiracy

by Brian T. Murray/The Star-Ledger
Monday February 09, 2009, 5:17 PM

The 70-year-old founder of a prominent engineering firm, one of New Jersey’s biggest government contractors, was spared a prison term today for paying what federal authorities called a $15,000 “gratuity” to two corrupt Ocean Township officials.

“There’s just no way this man should be in jail and I’m not going to put him there. He’s 70 years old and has never committed a prior offense,” said Judge Cavanaugh, prompting Schoor’s friends and family to openly applaud.

They took turns hugging Schoor as he left court, ending a case that, when he was initially indicted in 2006, ignited speculation among New Jersey political insiders that a larger public corruption case would follow because of Schoor’s extensive dealings with public officials for 40 years. The firm has worked statewide on projects ranging from the Asbury Park waterfront redevelopment to the Jersey Gardens Mall and the Turnpike’s Interchange 13A in Elizabeth.

But federal authorities absolved the firm of any wrongdoing, Schoor said he acted alone and the $15,000 payment was never linked to any project involving Schoor DePalma or any attempt to influence a public agency.

“Quite frankly, I don’t get it,” Judge Cavanaugh said of the case. “There’s no bribe. … Schoor DePalma didn’t get anything for it.”

Federal prosecutors claimed the payment, made between 2000 and 2001, rewarded two members of the Township of Ocean Sewerage Authority for helping the firm get work in the past. The case stemmed from a larger public corruption probe in Monmouth County that netted a dozen officials, including former Ocean Township Mayor Terrance Weldon.

But Justin Walder, Schoor’s attorney, said his client gave the money only to Kessler and not as a bribe.

“My client and Kessler had become friends, and Kessler ran into a number of problems, including a divorce, and had financial troubles. He asked for money, and my client helped him out. … It was never a bribe,” Walder said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Nobile, arguing that the payment was illegal and merits prison time, said the plea-deal given to Schoor already took into consideration his minor role in the corruption scheme.

Cavanaugh pointed to more than 30 years of charity work by Schoor, saying society is better served having him free on probation. He also ordered Schoor to perform 250 hours of community service.

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