Cooper University Health System sent a letter to the Economic Development Authority late last month pushing back on the findings of a report issued by a task force Gov. Phil Murphy convened to investigate abuses of the authority’s tax incentive programs.
The letter claims the task force made intentionally false statements to defame Cooper and other Camden firms.
At its second public hearing, the task force reviewed discrepancies with tax incentive award applications filed by Cooper and three other firms with links to South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, who chairs Cooper’s board of directors.
Specifically, the letter, sent by Cooper Vice President and General Counsel Sean Patrick Murphy to EDA Senior Vice President Bruce Ciallella, contests the task force’s claim that the company needed to demonstrate jobs were at risk of leaving the state to secure its award.
“These facts clearly disprove that Cooper was affirmatively trying to mislead the EDA,” Patrick Murphy wrote. “Indeed, if this is a ‘fraud,’ it is perhaps the most incompetent fraud ever committed.”
The letter does not address claims that Cooper lied to the government over the amount of jobs at risk if the firm did not receive tax incentives.
Cooper’s initial application said none of its jobs were at risk of leaving the state, but a month after that application was submitted, the EDA published a memo saying Cooper certified 353 jobs as at risk of leaving the state.
The task force contends Cooper inflated those numbers to secure a larger award from the EDA. The hospital system got $40 million a month after submitting its application, an unusually quick turnaround for such an application, according to testimony given by an EDA official at the task force’s second public hearing.
In the letter, Patrick Murphy said no jobs needed to be at-risk for a firm to secure awards for a move to Camden because of carveouts for Garden State Growth Zones, like Camden, in the 2013 Economic Opportunity Act.
He said the task force applied a 2017 statute to Cooper’s November 2014 application.
The letter also claims that Cooper sought out a location in Philadelphia at the EDA’s behest instead of in an attempt to defraud the authority.
The firm initially filed its application without any prospective locations in other states.
Then on Dec. 5, 2014, four days before the application was approved by the EDA board, Cooper submitted forms showing an interest in a Philadelphia property.
The month before, Cooper executive Andrew Bush said he was asked to provide a comp for an out of state location by the EDA.
A spokesperson for Cooper said the hospital has accepted an invitation to meet with EDA representatives.
It’s not clear when that meeting is to take place.
The task force will hold its third public hearing tomorrow, July 9.Response to EDA Inquiry (002) rd (1)