Cronyism, political donations surround detention center in Newark, says report by immigrant advocates

Cronyism, political donations surround detention center in Newark, says report by immigrant advocates

By Eunice Lee/The Star-Ledger
NEWARK — Immigrant advocates released a report Tuesday detailing what they describe as campaign contributions and hidden political ties behind the nonprofit group that subcontracts services for Delaney Hall, a private detention facility in Newark.

The 19-page report comes almost a week after the Essex County freeholders awarded a lucrative immigrant-detention contract to the group, Education and Health Centers of America. Immigration advocates include in the report what they describe as “crony connections and a system of elected and un-elected political bosses in Essex County which limit transparency and oversight” surrounding the detention center.

The report says Education and Health Centers and the for-profit Community Education Centers have been “skirting” pay-to-play laws and campaign-disclosure requirements through a “shell game.” Education and Health Centers subcontracts private correctional services to Community Education Centers.

Officials, however, criticized the report.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo issued a statement calling the county’s immigrant-detention contract a “creative revenue generator with the potential to create $250 million over five years.” He added the report was an attempt to “discredit” the county’s contract with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Education and Health Centers spokesman Eric Shuffler said the report was “put out by groups with their own political agenda and it’s filled with mistakes, contradictions and unsubstantiated innuendo.” He declined to go into detail about specific inaccuracies.

The report lists more than $150,000 in campaign contributions to Essex County politicians by Community Education Centers and its CEO, John Clancy, a former county youth-services official who has donated to both state and county politicians. Clancy also heads Education and Health Centers but the two groups are legally separate entities, according to officials of both groups.

Two groups authored the report — the New Jersey Advocates For Immigrant Detainees, and Enlace, a West Coast agency composed of community groups and unions that oppose for-profit correctional facilities. The former group is a broad-based coalition of 20 community, faith-based and advocacy agencies.

According to the report, DiVincenzo received donations from Community Education Centers for years, beginning in 1999 with an $1,800 donation from Community Corrections Corp., the group’s former name.

Since then, Community Education Centers and Clancy have donated to DiVincenzo, the Essex County Democratic Committee and at least three freeholders, among other elected officials, the report said.

On Dec. 14, county freeholders gave Education and Health Centers a multimillion-dollar contract to house up to 450 immigrant detainees in Delaney Hall, a correctional facility on Doremus Avenue in Newark that is run by Community Education Centers.

Immigrant advocate Karina Wilkinson said the contract “violates the spirit of pay-to-play.”

At the county level, the laws regulating pay-to-play only apply to no-bid contracts. Last week’s contract was open to bids, but only Education and Health Centers was the sole bidder.

Tuesday’s report cited similar concerns the state comptroller’s office raised about Education and Health Centers in June. The comptroller recommended the state Attorney General’s Office review the arrangement. The Attorney General’s Office did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Since 1994, Education and Health Centers and Community Education Centers have had an arrangement with the state that allows the nonprofit entity to subcontract nearly all its work to the for-profit one. Under state law, only nonprofit groups can be awarded contracts for private correctional services.

The two companies’ arrangement with the state was in place years before the 2004 pay-to-play laws were enacted, said William Palatucci, senior vice president and general counsel for public affairs at Community Education Centers. Palatucci is also a close friend of Gov. Chris Christie’s.

“Nobody could anticipate trying to skirt anything,” Palatucci said.

The report was also timed to be released on the one-year anniversary of the announcement by ICE that it selected Essex County to house immigrant detainees in a facility that the federal officials say will be a “new model” for immigrant detention in the U.S.

Aside from immigrant detention, Delaney Hall has provided drug and alcohol rehabilitation to county inmates for over 10 years.

Immigrant advocate Kathy O’Leary said she will continue to call for a citizens oversight committee to monitor the county’s immigrant-detention program.


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