Weight of indictments is dragging Merla down


Greg Bean

For those of you who are interested, the federal indictment against Keyport Mayor John Merla is now up to 18 pages.

Merla, as most people in Monmouth County know by now, was indicted again last week by U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie — this time on a new corruption charge for allegedly shaking down a garbage-hauling firm for cash payments and pick-ups of trash at businesses and residences owned by people either politically connected to Merla, related to him, or described by him as “good voters.”

The latest count would bring a maximum penalty of $250,000 and 20 years in federal prison if he is convicted.

For those keeping score it means that Merla — currently free on $50,000 bail from the earlier seven-count indictment — is looking at a maximum of $2 million in fines and 120 years in prison upon conviction.

The feds could impose that penalty, or they could just drop a hard copy of the indictment on his head from a height of six or eight stories, and the gravity-propelled weight of the falling paper would squash him flat as a bug. Sort of like those Acme pianos that dropped out of the sky in old Road Runner cartoons and turned Wile E. Coyote into a grease spot on the highway.

Personally, I’d vote for the latter punishment, since it would be an appropriate end to the farce Merla has perpetrated on the people of Keyport.

When we called Merla Monday afternoon, he hadn’t heard about the indictment yet and had no comment. But Tuesday night, he told the Borough Council he’s going to sit tight.

No surprise there.

Last October, I made fun of Merla’s obstinacy in the face of the first round of indictments, and said he was beginning to remind me of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman with his “What, me worry?” attitude and refusal to go away. I expressed glee at his ludicrous attempt to blame the whole thing on the media, and the fact that instead of apologizing for turning Keyport into a laughingstock, he apologized for all the negative press coverage.

He still reminds me a lot of Alfred E. Neuman, but I’m starting to think he reminds me even more of the Ghost of Christmas Past. If I lean back and close my eyes, I can easily imagine Merla walking into the Borough Council chambers for the next meeting, but instead of dragging around a half-ton of chains as a symbolic reminder of his shenanigans, he’s lugging 150 copies of the federal indictment.

“OOOOOH! The horror! The horror!” he would moan.

And moments later, by unanimous vote, the council would approve the $5,000 or so it would cost to hire a competent ghost buster, and get rid of this hideous apparition once and for all.

File this one under The More You Know

I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with newspaper publishers getting involved in politics, as long as they make their affiliations known to their readers, so that those readers can put the content of the various publications into some sort of perspective. But since newspaper publishers are usually loath to make their private business public, the job is left to guys like me.

There’s a Web site called newsmeat.com that lists political contributions of over $200 made by individuals to federal and state campaigns since 1977 (not counting contributions made in 2005), and in the interest of disclosure, I typed in the names of the major newspaper publishers in our circulation area. According to searches of the Web site, here’s what I found:

• Kevin Wittman, the publisher of Greater Media Newspapers, has made no contributions.

• Robert T. Collins, the publisher of the Asbury Park Press, has made no contributions.

• Ketan Gandhi, publisher of the Home News Tribune, has made no contributions.

• George Arwady, publisher of The Star-Ledger, has made no contributions.

• James Manser, the publisher of the Coast Star, has made no contributions.

• James Kilgore, the publisher of the Princeton Packet group, made a couple of $250 donations to Republican Dick Zimmer in 1994 and 1995.

• Jim Purcell, publisher of the Courier (and former Democratic chairman in Union Beach), made a $300 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2003. The owner of the publication, former Assemblyman Joe Azzolina, made $17,750 in contributions to various Republican candidates and political action committees in the same time period, the largest a $2,000 gift to George W. Bush’s campaign in 2003.

• Diane Gooch, the relatively new publisher of the Two River Times, made $82,000 in contributions, most of them to Republican candidates, but including one whopping $75,000 contribution in 1999 to the Republican National and State Elections Committee. Her most recent listed contribution was made in 2003. Michael Gooch, her husband and co-owner of the paper, also made a number of contributions, both in New Jersey and New York. In total, he’s given $51,000, almost exclusively to Republican candidates or organizations ($25,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2004), except for one donation of $5,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2000.

I don’t know exactly what all this means, if it means anything. It’s just something to keep in mind.

Wall Watch Week Five

It’s now been over five weeks since Holmdel Committeeman Terence Wall turned on his running mate, Mayor Serena DiMaso, and accused her of making anti-Semitic comments. It’s been over five weeks since DiMaso called on Wall either to prove the accusations he made against her, or resign. It’s been over five weeks since I made the same call in this column.

There’s now been over five weeks of continued silence from Terence Wall, who has neither produced the evidence, nor resigned.

And that silence is speaking volumes.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers