The Newsroom At 55 Park Place
By Don Storch
Books By Don Storch
The Newsroom At 55 Park Place
Snakes in the Swamp
If a Passive-Progressive Leads from behind he is a Double Oxymoron
This book is dedicated to my Mom and Dad, mentors of an only child, with daily memories of loving gratefulness, Viola Pauline (Helmstatt) Storch (1910 – 1969) and George John Storch (1903-1969)
Norman B. Tomlinson Jr
A Potpourri of News Stories
The Internal Revenue Office in Morristown asked the desk for a reporter to go along with them on a raid to record a tax evasion charge . . . I happened to be in the newsroom.
I met four agents outside of the post office, where their offices were located which was next door to the newsroom.
They asked me to get in the back seat between two of the agents . . . they were packing . . . I could feel the heat pressing against my ribs.
“So,” I said “we’re going on a raid, what kind of a raid?”
They said tax evasion. ” What’s the business?,” they said,”prostitution.” “Where?” I asked. “Mt. Lakes,” they said.
Mt. Lakes was kind of a resort community, obviously, with a few lakes.
We pulled onto the property and a circular driveway in front of a Victorian house with a porch.
One agent told me to stay in the car until I was signaled to come in.
Two of the agents headed for the back of the house, the other two went up the front porch, all with guns drawn.
It wasn’t long before they signaled me in the front door.
The agents were all sitting at a round table having coffee and Danish, there was one elderly woman at the table. I thought she must be the madam. I declined coffee and . . . I had mine that morning.
The ladies of the night descended the staircase from upstairs that afternoon, I guess thinking they had a midday trick.
I had taken my notebook out at this point and the madam asked the agent who I was. I identified myself as a Daily Record reporter and it was then that she blurted out, “This is going to be in the newspaper?”
I thought to myself, ‘well almost, this looked to me like a keystone cops raid where the agents went out for a cup of coffee while nailing a madam for income tax evasion.”
We gave it a few graphs in the back of the paper the next day to satisfy the agents, if not the madam.
# # #
I once did an investigative piece on the Mayor of Hanover Township who had a large part of his family on the township payroll. The piece appeared on the front page of the newspaper on the same evening the township committee was having their monthly meeting, which I covered.
I entered the township hall and there on the top steps of the hallway leading to the meeting room stood the mayor, looking down like John Wayne after taking-out a Japanese out-post during World War II.
Will call him Frank, he was a brick layer during the day and the Mayor at night.
I said “Hi, Frank.” And he greeted me with, “Don, before I became a Marine I use to hit first and ask questions later.”
We both knew what he was talking about.
I said, “take your best shot Frank, and I’ll have the lead story in the Daily Record tomorrow while you are looking to bail yourself out of jail.”
Nothing more came of the incident, although it was the first and only threat I ever encountered. However, it did signal the power one can have on the level of local government with nepotism and how corruption can escalate as one moves to greater heights through the political system, as the next story will demonstrate
# # #
I first met Harry L. Sears while covering the Hanover Park Township Committee.
He was counsel to the committee, an attractive, imposing 6 foot 5, balding young counselor and a nicer person you couldn’t meet.
And, as he moved on in GOP politics in New Jersey becoming the majority leader in the NJ Senate, the Associated Press said that his name “would undoubtedly be included on almost everybody’s list of the 10 most decent men in New Jersey politics,” according to the New York Times, a rather hard complement to beat coming from the media.
I would vouch for that in my time covering Hanover Park and my dealings with Harry. If I needed background information on a story or clarification from a legal perspective he was the go to person and was always helpful.
He resigned from the Senate in 1971, somewhat blocked in NJ politics, because he had no chance of becoming governor.
Gov. William Cahill, also a Republican, sought re-election and Sears lost to him in a primary in 1969. There was no where for him to go.
Then the shock hit New Jersey politics about Harry Sears. He was now serving as the campaign manager in NJ for President Richard Nixon and delivered a briefcase holding $200,000 in $50 and $100 bills from the financier Robert Vesco to Nixon’s re-election campaign.
Two years later, Sears was indicted on charges of being part of a scheme to help Vesco – a law client of Sears – buy his way out of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Vesco was indicted along with two former cabinet officers, John N. Mitchell, attorney general, and Maurice Stans, secretary of commerce.
Mitchel and Stans were acquitted, Vesco fled to a number of different countries, and convicted of fraud by a Cuban court in 1996 and sentenced to 13 years in jail.
Cuba, however, refused to extradite him to face American charges.
Sears was granted full immunity in return for testifying for the prosecution but did not help the prosecutors as much as they had hoped for, according to the New York Times.
Sears was suspended from practicing law for three years, and then resumed private practice, specializing in land use and real estate law, until his retirement in 1992.
All of this evolved from grass roots politics on the local level. I always believed from covering local government that it was difficult, if not impossible for any local politician to move through the labyrinth of county, state and federal politics without committing a wrong along the way.
Some politicians get caught, pay the price, while others get away with their crimes.
Harry got off easy with his, perhaps because he was a ‘decent’ guy. He died in 2002 at the age of 82.
Even the New York Times gave him a pass in his obituary, despite his Republican Party affiliation.
The headline read: “Harry L. Sears, 82, Politician and Courier for Vesco Cash”
# # #
I Talked to a Killer but Didn’t Know It
I was in the newsroom when a bulletin came over the A wire of the AP machine.
Herb ripped the brief off the wire and handed it to me, the headline read “Florham Park Police capture man wanted for murder of woman in Connecticut.”
Florham was part of my beat.
I drove down Columbia Road toward Florham Park, got to the center of town, turned left at the Esso station which was owned by the town’s Chief of police and where all the police cars filled up their gas tanks – an obvious conflict – and pulled into the parking lot of the municipal building which also housed the police station.
I ran into the Chief immediately and handed him the AP bulletin, his response: “Oh your paper has wire services.” “We sure do, “I said. He asked me what I wanted and my response even shocked me. I said, “Can I talk to him?”
The Chief’s response doubled my surprise when he said, “sure.”
Even in those days it was verboten to allow a reporter to talk to a suspected killer.
The surprises didn’t stop coming when the Chief walked me back to the alleged perpetrator’s jail cell, opened it and allowed me to sit opposite him and interview him.
I heard the jail cell shut and lock behind me, thinking to myself that I hadn’t thought this through. Who would have thought the police, least of all the Chief allow the media to talk to a suspected killer?
There was a pregnant pause of silence while I thought of my first question. I then asked, “Did you do it?”
Now I thought how stupid that was. Well at least I got to the bottom line first. Then the questions flowed and of course he denied just about every question I asked, while frequently looking at the jail cell door to make sure a cop was there with a key to let me out.
I finished up my interview, was let out of the jail cell, talked to the Chief again and thanking him for letting me talk to the suspect
I drove back to the newsroom, still somewhat shaken over the experience and not believing what happened.
When I walked into the newsroom Herb handed me another bulletin which said that the alleged killer admitted to the crime and was being extradited to Connecticut.
When I told the editors and the reporters in the room what happened to me they roared in disbelief.
Norman told me to write it up and it would appear on page one tomorrow with my byline, “I Talked to a Killer but didn’t Know It.”
Great I thought, this goes down in my journalism career with the church rising from its own ashes that hadn’t been built yet.
To Be Continued . . .