After ‘Bridgegate,’ N.J. investigative panel may tackle Newark payouts

 N.J. Sens. Sam Thompson and Ron Rice urge the legislature's investigation committee to look at spending in Newark. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

N.J. Sens. Sam Thompson and Ron Rice urge the legislature's investigation committee to look at spending in Newark. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

The special legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal is getting numerous requests to look into other New Jersey issues.

Two members of the state Senate are urging the Legislature’s Select Committee on Investigation to check into inappropriate spending in Newark.

Democrat Ron Rice and Republican Sam Thompson are making the bipartisan push after a recent audit by the state comptroller’s office uncovered millions of dollars in inappropriate payouts and no-bid contracts at the Newark Watershed Corporation before it was shut down.

Thompson, R-Middlesex, said he wants to find out who knew about the payouts and whether anyone else associated with Newark government wrote themselves checks out of the public coffers.

“With all the answers and information, we can initiate legislative reforms to end such abuses in Newark or anywhere else,” he said. “And we can initiate a process to recoup stolen or wasted tax dollars.”

Rice, D-Essex, said he’d like an investigation that would also look at other authorities associated with the city’s government.

“I think it’s the right thing to do for the Legislature, both parties, to look at what occurred in ‘Bridgegate,’ but what happened to the ‘Newarkgates’? When do we take a look at that?” he said. “We have a responsibility to look at all of it.”

The investigation committee is empowered with subpoena rights to conduct that probe within the next two years, Thompson said.

The panel’s co-chairman, John Wisniewski, said it has its hands full right now with the bridge scandal. When that work is finished, he said, the panel can look at other issues.

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