Former A.G.’s testimony in Menendez trial reveals more New Jersey grossness

Former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal testified Thursday in Sen. Bob Menendez's corruption trial that a now-ex state senator and a former Murphy administration official tried to discuss pending criminal matters with him. (Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)

The corruption allegations facing Sen. Bob Menendez are so expansive, the senator’s trial was bound to reveal some unrelated unsavory allegations involving other New Jersey officials.

And sure enough, Thursday’s testimony by former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal included two juicy tidbits about former state Sen. Dick Codey and a Murphy administration official who went unnamed but who appears to be former chief of staff George Helmy.

Grewal was on the witness stand to relay that Menendez tried to talk to him multiple times about a pending criminal case Grewal’s office was prosecuting, with Grewal testifying that he believed the message from Menendez was to handle the case differently. Under cross-examination by Menendez attorney Avi Weitzman, Grewal conceded that Codey and the chief of staff both did the same.

Weitzman appeared to cite Codey and the chief of staff conversations as a “hey, it’s Jersey, everyone does it” defense, but Grewal made clear that public officials should know not to speak to the state’s chief law enforcement officer about cases his office is prosecuting.

“I think the prohibitions on elected officials and members of the governor’s staff reaching out about pending criminal matters, these are just norms that people should be aware of,” Grewal said.

People should be aware of them, yes. But as we’ve learned, sometimes our leaders don’t think the norms apply to them.

George Helmy, center, was the governor’s chief of staff in 2020 when the attorney general issued a directive barring the governor’s staff from speaking to prosecutors about criminal cases. (Edwin J. Torres/ NJ Governor’s Office)


Few details about the episode involving the chief of staff were discussed in court.

Weitzman mentioned it first, asking Grewal about the governor’s chief of staff reaching out “to discuss a particular case pending in your office.”

“I said I can’t speak to you about pending matters,” Grewal said. “And then I reached out to the governor’s counsel, Matt Platkin at the time, to remind folks in his office what the lines were and what they could and could not raise.”

The conversation so alarmed Grewal, he testified that it prompted him to issue a memo “informing the governor’s office about what they can and can’t raise with the AG’s office.” The memo is dated Oct. 8, 2020when Helmy, now a hospital executive, was Gov. Phil Murphy’s chief of staff.

A source familiar with the matter told me the case Helmy inquired about involved Walter Somick, a North Bergen recreation worker charged by the Attorney General’s Office under a Grewal predecessor with official misconduct, a serious charge that comes with a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction. Authorities alleged Somick falsified time sheets to collect pay for work he didn’t perform, your classic Hudson County no-show job. The source told me Helmy tried to speak about the case with Grewal multiple times.

Somick is not just anyone: His mother is married to North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco, who in 2020 was a powerful state senator and someone Helmy needed to help guide Murphy’s agenda through the Legislature. And at about the time of Grewal’s memo, Sacco was trying to get the Legislature to pass a bill that would have ended the mandatory jail time minimum for official misconduct convictions. The bill ended up on Murphy’s desk and he came close to signing it (he issued a conditional veto instead).

Helmy did not respond to a request seeking comment. A Murphy spokeswoman declined to comment.

Somick’s case finally ended for him in October 2022, with him pleading guilty to fourth-degree records tampering and winning an 18-month term of probation and a yearlong suspended jail term, according to the Jersey Journal.

Dick Codey was a state senator when former Attorney General said he tried to discuss a pending criminal matter with him. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)


The episode with Codey, Grewal said, happened early in Grewal’s tenure as attorney general (he assumed that role in January 2018).

It was at the tail end of a meeting when Codey said this, per Grewal: “I’m concerned about how the prior administration weaponized this office politically, and I’m particularly concerned about a pending matter.”

“I said to him, I’m not having a conversation with you about a pending matter,” Grewal testified Thursday.

Weitzman said the matter involved Kevin Bannon, a former Mercer County parks official and onetime loyalist of Democrat Brian Hughes, the former Mercer County executive. Grewal’s predecessor charged Bannon with diverting thousands of dollars of public money to a nonprofit he controlled.

Why would Codey — an Essex County Democrat and former acting governor — be so interested in this case that he’d try to lean on the attorney general over it? Codey, like Helmy, did not return my call. So I asked Bannon’s lawyer, Jack Furlong, who told me he believes Codey — who he said called him once to get background on the case — is friendly with the Bannon family.

“Governor Codey, as he likes to be called, is a hail fellow well met, and I think he’s one of those fellows that if he thinks he can be helpful he will be,” Furlong said. “Non-lawyers or people outside of the criminal justice system don’t seem to understand — we are not lobbyists. We don’t pick up the phone and call somebody and say, hey can you dismiss this indictment? That’s just not how this thing works.”

I’ve written before about Menendez’s own defense of these claims. His lawyers say it’s no big whoop that he had conversations with prosecutors about cases involving his friends and allies, that he just wanted to make sure the prosecutors were doing the right thing.

Absolute nonsense. When you’re in a position of power and you pull someone aside to say, “My friend’s in a jam and you can help him,” you’re sending a message that they need to listen to you or else. This is bad behavior even if you haven’t been accused of accepting gold bars in exchange for it. Whether you’re a U.S. senator, a state senator, or a Murphy administration official, it is — to quote Grewal’s colleague on their conversation with Menendez — gross.

Furlong is correct that asking prosecutors to help out your buddies is not how the criminal justice system is supposed to work. Alas, in New Jersey, too many of our leaders think it is.


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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.” You can reach him at [email protected].

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