Councilman and Mayoral candidate Mike DeFusco is calling for a full public disclosure of Councilman and fellow candidate Ravi Bhalla's business dealings with Suez Water, the city's water provider, with whom the Zimmer Administration has negotiated a new contract proposal that will have a major impact on residents for decades to come. Bhalla is a partner at the law firm of Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader, which has received payments of at least $130,000 in lobbying fees from Suez as recently as 2015 according to publicly available records (Source: NJ Law Journal). Despite this publicly documented information, Bhalla denied at an August 2nd, 2017 City Council meeting that the firm has continued business dealings with Suez, and further claimed that the firm only negotiated the original agreement between the City and Suez in the 1990s.
Suez is listed as a client on the FPSF website as of the time of this release. This raises serious questions as to whether Bhalla is attempting to conceal his law firm's dealings with Suez at a time when the City of Hoboken is actively negotiating with the company.
Mike DeFusco is calling on Ravi Bhalla to disclose the full nature of his law firm's relationship with Suez, including how much the company paid Bhalla's firm in legal fees and lobbying fees since he has been a partner. Additionally, DeFusco is calling for Bhalla to recuse himself from all negotiations and any votes related to Suez as long as this conflict exists, and for an investigation into whether Bhalla was present or involved in the city's previous negotiations with Suez.
"Councilman Bhalla's failure to disclose that Suez Water was a client of his law firm while the City was negotiating with them on a decades-long agreement worth tens of millions of taxpayer dollars is the antithesis of transparent government. Ravi was asked directly at the 8/2/17 Council meeting whether his firm still represents Suez and he said "no", but the truth is, his firm received $130,000 in lobbying fees from the water provider as recently as 2015. Negotiations between Hoboken and Suez started in 2014, so we need to know the full extent of Ravi's business relationship with Suez and determine whether or not he was involved in the city's negotiations given this apparent conflict of interest. It's about time he decides if he wants to represent the taxpayers or his own private business interests."
Bhalla's law firm is one of the most prolific public contractors in the state, with $3.8 million in government contracts in 2016. Bhalla has faced numerous ethics complaints during his time on the Hoboken City Council, including failing to disclose mandatory public information on government contracts, and a case under active review by the Local Finance Board regarding his vote for a city contract for an attorney with whom he personally held shared business interests.