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Ronald Chen, head of the New Jersey Tax Incentive Task Force, swears in a witness at a hearing on March 28, 2019.

Tax incentive task force makes first criminal referral

Identity of referral not made public

By David Wildstein, April 12 2019 11:45 am

The New Jersey Tax Incentive Task Force investigating tax incentives approved by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority has made its first referral to law enforcement in what could lead to a criminal probe.

The task force has not identified the target of their referral or if more than one individual or company is involved.

“As we have said, we are going to follow the facts in a search for the truth,” said Ronald Chen, the task force chairman.  “Whether that means recertifying companies, seeking voluntary payments and terminations, or making referrals, we plan to be thorough, objective and efficient.”

Gov. Phil Murphy created the task force to investigate billions of dollars in EDA tax incentives over the past twenty years.

The investigation has “uncovered evidence of unregistered lobbying on behalf of special interests,” according to a statement released by the task force special counsel.  The evidence of potential criminal violations was sent to law enforcement on Thursday, the statement says.

“We are grateful to the many companies who promised cooperation from day one, and we encourage more to come forward,” said special counsel James Walden.  “But we will also be diligent in ferreting out wrong-doing where we must, including by making referrals to other civil or criminal investigators when we find sufficient evidence.”

The next task force meeting will be on May 2.

After a whistleblower testified last month that a consulting firm Jackson Hewitt hired to seek millions in tax incentives from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority was aware that the application included false statements.

The New Jersey Globe has learned that Timothy R. Comerford, a senior vice president at Princeton-based Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Company, was the consultant responsible for the application.  Comerford declined comment.

A former vice president for Jackson Hewitt told the task force the company lied on an application for tax incentives provided through the Economic Development Authority’s Grow NJ program.

Gulsen Kama, formerly vice president of financial planning and analysis for the Jersey City-based tax preparation firm, said Jackson Hewitt falsely told the EDA it was considering moving its headquarters from New Jersey to New York and Florida in the course of seeking an award under Grow NJ.

No such move out of state was ever considered, Kama said, adding that she had been told by Jackson Hewitt’s CEO and other high-ranking officials that the firm was only exploring moving from its Parsippany headquarters to another location in the state.

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