By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
As sole trustee of the state's colossal pension fund, Alan Hevesi was a popular figure, and one of those eager to be around him was Robert Torricelli, the dashing ex-senator from New Jersey who was always up for a good party. After quitting the Senate in 2002 amid a scandal involving an overly generous contributor with ties to North Korea, Torricelli—a/k/a "the Torch"—plunged into private business as eagerly as he had once chased campaign donors and attractive socialites.
He became a lobbyist, a real estate developer, and an investor, taking and passing an exam to become a securities broker. He initially signed up with a Chicago-based firm seeking investment deals with big pension funds like the one Alan Hevesi presided over.
The former senator later switched to a tiny Connecticut outfit called Searle & Company, where Hevesi's ace political adviser, Hank Morris, had also become affiliated as he quietly churned numerous deals with the state pension fund. Torricelli's attorney wouldn't say how the two men ended up at the same small firm, but he stated that the ex-senator had no business dealings with Morris and quit the company when he learned what was going on. But that's just one of several instances in which the Torch and his friends pop up amid the sprawling pension fund scandal.
In June 2005, for instance, Torricelli hosted an exclusive fundraising party for Hevesi at the Harvard Club, attended by financial high-rollers. Some $200,000 was collected through the affair, the money going into the comptroller's re-election kitty, which was handled exclusively by Morris.
Helping to turn out big donors for the event was Torricelli's ex-wife, Susan Holloway Torricelli, a prominent fundraiser for national Democratic candidates. "We are looking for bodies as well as money," she said in an e-mail to one invitee. To another, she inquired if they could ante up $100,000 for the event.
The former Mrs. Torricelli sometimes goes by her maiden name, and that was how she had been listed a couple of months earlier in an April 2005 letter filed to the comptroller's office by an investment firm called VCFA Group that was selected to handle $40 million in pension funds. According to those familiar with the deal, the firm disclosed that it was paying an $800,000 fee to consultants who had helped arrange it. One of them was Susan Holloway, who was slated to receive an unspecified amount for unspecified work for CQ Consulting, a Manhattan firm.
Actually, according to several sources, it was Robert Torricelli who had spent time trying to line up pension fund business with Hevesi's office. Despite their divorce back in 1989, the two have maintained a marvelously close and loyal relationship. In fact, when Torricelli was convicted in 2004 of a hit-and-run fender-bender in the parking lot of a New Jersey supermarket, he and his former spouse insisted that she was the one at the wheel at the time, despite witnesses and a judge's finding to the contrary.
Reached last week at her Manhattan home, Susan Torricelli downplayed her role with Hevesi. "I really did no fundraising for him," she said. "I just introduced him to major donors because he didn't know anybody." She added: "As a fundraiser, I don't talk to the press. But what are your questions?"
One of them was about her work with the pension fund. Had she done any? "Mmm-mm," she responded in what sounded like a negative. What about the listing of her as a consultant with CQ Consulting in 2005? "CQ is just a friend of mine," she said. "And I'm not talking to you about this stuff. Goodbye."
It was in November 2005, a few months after the fundraiser, that Robert Torricelli signed up with Searle, the small Greenwich firm where Morris also became a registered broker a few months after he guided Hevesi's election as state comptroller in 2002. Searle has just 15 employees and caters mostly to local families with high net worth. An attorney for the company said he wasn't sure how Torricelli became affiliated. In the sweeping investigation brought by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the Securities Exchange Commission, Morris has been charged with using his Searle affiliation to extort millions of dollars in fees from investment firms seeking business with the pension fund.
In one instance, Morris allegedly told an investment executive that Searle was the state's "official" placement agent. Morris then collected 90 percent of Searle's fees. Other firms hired Morris as a broker after allegedly being pressured to do so by Morris and David Loglisci, Hevesi's chief investment officer who is also charged in the case.
All told, Morris and others hauled in some $35 million this way. Among those allegedly in on the scheme was former Liberal Party boss Ray Harding, who was arrested last week. Harding has pled not guilty, as have Morris and Loglisci, whose attorneys point out that the fund grew substantially during the Hevesi years. "He conducted himself in a legal and proper manner," said veteran attorney Irving Seidman, who represents Loglisci.
Robert Torricelli, who now pens a blog on the PolitickerNJ.com website, didn't want to discuss the matter, but his lawyer said everything was on the up-and-up: "When the details of this investigation became clear about a year or two ago, the senator just became uncomfortable about what perceptions could be. So he changed firms and left Searle immediately," said attorney Jason Pickholz.