A jailed Newark official whose former agency once oversaw the city’s water management reportedly alleged to federal investigations in 2015 that she was pressured to solicit campaign contributions for-then Mayor Cory Booker.
The official, Linda Watkins-Brashear, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for pleading guilty in 2017 to accepting around $1 million in bribes and kickbacks from vendors of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. According to Watkins-Brashear, who once worked as a campaign staffer for Booker, contractors routinely purchased $500 fundraising tickets.
She told the FBI that Elnardo Webster, a Booker ally who served as the watershed’s corporate counsel, demanded that she hire consultants he sought donations from with an average fundraiser goal of $35,000. Webster, who also served as finance chairman of Booker’s mayoral campaigns, has publically denied the allegations and questioned Watkins-Brashear’s credibility.
“We’re the ones who now are going to have our integrity impugned by an admitted felon? How does anything she says have any credibility?” Webster said. “There is no correlation established between the value of the contribution and the work ascribed.”
“It’s unfortunate that one person, or a small group of people, have impugned the integrity of people like myself and the other corporations and companies and entities that have provided quality services to the people of New Jersey, collectively, for hundreds of years without blemish,” he added.
Booker dissolved the NWCDC in 2013 amid charges of agency-wide corruption uncovered by The Star-Ledger.
In an email to Politico, a spokesperson for Booker’s presidential campaign denied the candidate was aware of any wrongdoing. “For years as mayor, Cory waged a public battle to reform Newark’s water system, but those efforts were repeatedly blocked by opponents,” said Sabrina Singh. “When serious evidence of wrongdoing at the watershed emerged, then-Mayor Booker took immediate action to dissolve it and bring its operations under direct control of the city.”
However, the Booker spokesperson did acknowledge that “a small group of employees and contractors conspired to conceal their criminal enterprise so effectively that accountants and even independent auditors didn’t discover the fraud.”