Having himself been stung as part of that infamous 2009 Solomon Dwek-connected dragnet, an arrest he attributes to the base politicization of law enforcement, Ridgefield Anthony Suarez, up for reelection this year nearly a decade after he beat the rap, wrote a book about his experiences.
Published by Mascot, Politically Indicted: The Real Story Behind the Jersey Sting, has an official release date of Feb. 5th, and pre-sales are already going well, Suarez told InsiderNJ. He wrote it in 2010 and into 2011, as part of his catharsis after a jury found him not guilty of taking bribes, a decision that broke a ten-year streak of corruption convictions secured by federal prosecutors in New Jersey, mostly under the auspices of U.S. Attorney (and future Governor) Chris Christie. (Former assemblymen Lou Manzo and L. Harvey Smith, indicted as the same sting as Suarez, would also stare down the charges in court).
Politically Indicted dives into the 15 months after Suarez’s arrest on corruption charges, his resistance to calls for him to resign from then-Governor Job Corzine and his local Democratic Committee, the protests outside his house as he dug in and refused to give up his office, his victory in a local recall election, and finally his acquittal and continuing perseverance.
Suarez contends that Christie – and by extension the people who worked for him who continued to do the work he started – used the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a springboard to land the New Jersey governorship.
“It’s a very scary thing,” said the mayor.
The investigation that resulted in the summer, pre-2009 gubernatorial election arrests of 46 people, including three dozen public officials and five rabbis, started in Hudson, and led to Ridgefield, where the feds finally couldn’t prove that Suarez (assisted in court by attorney Michael Critchley) took cash bribes offered him by Dwek, a real estate swindler cooperating witness for the FBI. Christie underlings at the U.S. Attorney’s Office who worked the case, including Ralph Marra (NJ Sports and Exposition Authority) and Michele Brown (appointments Council and New Jersey Economic Development Authority), later got jobs at the state level when Christie was governor, Suarez noted.
“I didn’t take the money,” he said. “I was in a swing district, I got pulled in the investigation and once I did, they didn’t want to let me go. After I didn’t take money, they continued to try to get me to the table to take money and I wouldn’t do it. They didn’t want to look like they were wrong, so I was part of a big bust right before the gubernatorial election; and again, our district was a swing district at the time.”
Facing Christie in the general election that coming November, Corzine called for Suarez’s resignation and he refused to step down.
“In the 20 years I’ve been involved in politics there was no one like Chris Christie, who obviously used the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a stepping stone to a political career,” the mayor said. “Christie made it a point that he was a corruption buster, but it’s a scary thing when you consider how he was advancing his political agenda. It’s a pretty scary thing when you end up mixing politics and law enforcement. And [President Donald] Trump’s doing the same thing. It’s supposed to be a department of justice, of course, not a president’s department of justice.”
He acknowledged that Governor Phil Murphy has a very different style than did Christie, an intimidator who exacted his agenda as governor by invoking that aura of fear he forged as U.S. Attorney. “I know when Christie was governor, people would not make a move without talking to him, and now with Murphy, sure, it’s a majority of Democrats, but everyone has their personal items they’re trying to advance. But that’s a democracy. That’s a better way than fear and retribution. Murphy is the complete opposite of Christie, and the sense that people are not afraid of him.”
Part of Suarez’s story in the book finally is his conviction, through it all, including those 15 harrowing months under indictment, of faith in public service. “I’m up for reelection as mayor this year [he’s pursuing a fifth term. I have absolutely no political aspirations other than to just be the mayor of Ridgefield.
“I’ll never forget the people in my town, the residents who kept me there,” Suarez said. “I grew up in Ridgefield. I can never leave the job. I’m 52, so I know every person in town, and it’s not a thankless job, it really isn’t. I like trying to help people in a small community. There’s a woman in town who was about to get thrown out of her apartment because she was having trouble with rent payment. I raised the money and we were able to keep her in her home. I don’t know if you can do that in every other position. Federal elected officials have aides to do that sort of thing, but as the mayor, that’s what I do. Plus, we have projects in town, improvement to streets and roads.
“People who were friends of mine told me ‘you can’t win the recall election,” the mayor said. “I campaigned anyway. When you’re in a small town, they know what kind of person you are, and that helped me people. And I won’t forget that.”
He admitted observing with interest U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) trial and acquittal on corruption charges. “The Bergen Record did an editorial urging him to stay in office, the opposite of what they did with me,” said Suarez. “I think their editorial had a little more to do with them wanting someone against Trump. But – and I’m not an egomaniac – but I was the first guy to break that federal streak [of guilty please secured in 200 cases prior to his]. I’m a pretty religious person, and what happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone. I think I set that tone going forward of the feds not being right all the time. Trump, ironically, is shedding light on the pressure that exists on people to turn evidence. I think, in my opinion, in New Jersey, in certain circles, mine was a story of believing that I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t waver, as much as the pressure came down, I fought for what was right, believed in myself, and the grace of God.”
He concedes the cynicism people feel for politics and politicians, their reluctance to see in those who serve in public office anything other than the same smarmy interests endlessly retreaded. But he doesn’t witness so much of that locally, he insisted, even as Suarez takes strength from those anew involving themselves in the political process. “I think that people are motivated because of what’s happening at the national level; I think more people are motivated to make a difference, because they’re afraid and disgusted of what’s going on,” said the mayor. “But more than ever I feel so fortunate to be in Ridgefield. We had our swearing-in yesterday, and I heard so many nice things. I honestly just don’t know how a bigger town would think about their mayor.
“I’m in Ridgefield, and they’re positive,” he said.
To this day, he’s proudest of the new library built in town on his watch.
“That library is the greatest place, where I see those people who were critics of the project in there now, reading and using the study materials. I love that,” Suarez said. “What it comes down to is we all work together. We don’t run a government where we punish people. My thing is, I try to help everyone in town to do what is best for the town, and I work to achive consensus.”