George Norcross Pleads Not Guilty as Lawyers Attack Extortion Case Against Powerful New Jersey Broker

TRENTON — Fearless George E. Norcross III pleaded not guilty Tuesday to corruption charges as his lawyers hurled accusations at prosecutors, sparred with the media and portrayed the influential New Jersey Democratic politician as a victim of legal “jihad.”

“Wake up!” Kevin Marino, a lawyer for Norcross’ brother and co-defendant Philip, said as he admonished a crowd of reporters outside the Mercer County Criminal Courthouse after a brief preliminary hearing. “People have dedicated their entire careers to prosecuting George Norcross. … Ask yourself what’s really going on here: ‘Am I being ripped off?’”

After admonishing a reporter to “listen up, woman,” Michael Critchley, a lawyer for George Norcross, slammed New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin as a politically ambitious prosecutor who is trying to utilize a case his office filed last month as a prelude to running for higher elective office.

“He brought this jihad … with a predetermined ending,” Critchley said. “He wants to do something that is not fair and unjust.”

Amid the militant demonstration, Norcross — a Camden County insurance executive, chairman of the board of Cooper University Health Care and head of the powerful South Jersey Democratic machine for more than a quarter-century — stood silently watching from the courthouse steps, a broad smile on his tanned face.

He refused to answer reporters’ questions and left the courthouse without saying a word.

” READ MORE: Who Is George Norcross? A Look at the Accused South Jersey Power Broker

Tuesday’s hearing — and the aggressive response from attorneys — came three weeks after Platkin filed a sweeping, 13-count extortion indictment against Norcross, 68, and five of his allies, accusing them of conspiring to corruptly seize millions in real estate while excluding rivals from a Camden waterfront redevelopment.

Prosecutors say the group used Norcross’s influence with local government to manipulate a 2013 New Jersey tax credit program designed to encourage development in poorer communities, then used it to line its own pockets.

Marino on Tuesday called the accusation “a figment of prosecutors’ imagination.”

And during a largely procedural morning hearing, Critchley told presiding judge Peter Warshaw: “My client emphatically states his innocence.”

Critchley later ridiculed the indictment, saying it was riddled with baseless accusations and provocative quotes (including a scene from 2016 in which Norcross allegedly threatened Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff) but lacked detailed accounts of actual wrongdoing.

Defense counsel said the harsh words attributed to Norcross in the indictment were nothing more than routine, hard-nosed negotiations that take place every day in boardrooms.

“The indictment contains many words, many pages, many charges,” Critchley said. “But it lacks the elements of a crime.”

” READ MORE: George Norcross’s Power: Real or Imagined? Prosecutors Point to His Reputation as a Tough Player

Platkin’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment after Tuesday’s hearing.

But in court, Judge Warshaw described the case as “significant” and seemed keen to get it to trial as soon as possible.

As he negotiated with lawyers over an evidence-release schedule, Norcross sat quietly at the defense table, turning occasionally to smile at the bank of television cameras positioned in the jury box on the other side of the courtroom.

Four of Norcross’s co-defendants pleaded not guilty Tuesday: Philip Norcross, an attorney with the New Jersey law firm of Parker McCay; attorney William Tambussi, developer John J. O’Donnell; and former Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd.

A fifth co-defendant — haulage company director Sidney Brown — failed to appear in court and will instead make his first appearance before a judge next month.

” READ MORE: “Are You Threatening Me?” Surprise Tapes Form the Basis of Prosecutors’ Case Against George Norcross

Henry Klingeman, Redd’s attorney, described the charges against his client as “unfair and unfounded.” Although prosecutors say she allowed Norcross’ allies to exert undue influence over Camden city government, Klingeman insisted Tuesday that all Redd had done was faithfully serve the citizens as mayor.

“She looks forward to facing these false accusations head on,” he said in a statement, “so she can restore her good name.”

Marino, for his part, maintained that attorneys Philip Norcross and Tambussi did nothing more than aggressively represent their clients’ interests.

In the indictment, prosecutors portrayed both men as enforcers for George Norcross who used threats of legal action, access to government officials and legal support to help him achieve his goals.

“What Philip Norcross has been accused of is acting like a lawyer,” Marino said. “And every lawyer in this state should be concerned about that. [he] and William Tambussi were indicted for doing what lawyers do every day — zealously representing their clients within the bounds of the law.”

” READ MORE: ‘New Jersey politics is a blood sport’ and other key takeaways from prosecutors’ case against influential South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross

Norcross and all five co-defendants are due back in court for the next hearing in the case on September 10.

Critchley, as he left the courthouse on Tuesday, vowed that they would all ultimately be acquitted.

“Today we took the first step,” he said, “on our journey to get to where we know we will get to — and that is justice.”

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