Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff) has asked the State Commission of Investigation and the State Comptroller to investigate the relationship between the Department of Health and a private company operated by the Cozen O’Connor law firm.
Two top officials directly involved in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – one who was fired last month – had financial ties to Margolis, Healy & Associates, an emergency management firm owned by Cozen O’Connor.
Christopher Neuwirth, who was fired last month as assistant commissioner in charge of emergency preparedness – Gov. Phil Murphy declined to identify the reason – had a side job with Margolis Health but did not include it on his personal financial disclosure filed with the State Ethics Commission.
Margolis Healy also employs Francis Mozgai. His wife, Assistant Commissioner Stefanie Mozgai, is responsible for inspections of hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
On her financial disclosure, Stefanie Mozgai listed Cozen O’Conner, not Margolis Healy, as her husband’s employer. For two consecutive years, she misspelled the firm’s name, making a search more difficult.
“A troubling pattern of ethics breaches has been emerging from the Department of Health, and it calls for a thorough and swift investigation,” DePhillips said. “The people of our state deserve to know if their State Health Department has been abusing ethical and transparency protocols, especially during the ongoing pandemic.”
Stefanie Mozgai runs inspections for the same kinds of facilities that Margolis Healy seeks business from, according to the firm’s marketing materials.
DePhillips is asking for an investigation to include any history of the Department of Health awarding contracts to Margolis Healy, as well as meetings that Neuwirth or Mozgai participated in that resulted in action related to the firm.
The Bergen County legislators also wants to know if any other senior state officials have ties to Margolis Healy.
In a letter to Commissioner of Health Judy Persichilli, DePhillips is demanding specific answers to questions about the activities of two of her deputies.
“How is it that you could employ an Assistant Commissioner with two private business interests on the side, involving activity that the Department of Health itself should be regulating?” DePhillips asked.
He wants to know when Persichilli became aware that Neuwirth held two other emergency management-related jobs while holding a full-time, $127,386-per-years state job.
“On what basis did you and the (Department of Health) ethics officer determine there was no conflict of interest between Mr. Neuwirth’s… employment and his two private business interests?” DePhillips questioned.
The assemblyman asked Persichilli if her department would review contracts to ensure that Neuwirth didn’t approve any deals that would benefit the firms he worked for, and if they will look closely to determine that no Margolis Healy clients benefited from Neuwirth’s actions.
“Merely stating that Mr. Neuwirth is no longer an employee of the Department is insufficient,” DePhillips said. “It is my expectation that a thorough review by your office will be conducted and detailed responses to my above questions will be provided.”