JACKSON-A federal appointee of the Trump administration to be the new state executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency is now the target of investigations by the Department of Justice and New Jersey Office of the Attorney General into possible civil rights violations, according to the township attorney here.
According to a story in USA Today, “The township has been involved in a fair amount of litigation, there’s investigations by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s office all pertaining to these land issues in town,” township attorney Jean Cipriani said.
Barry Calogero, a Republican councilman from Jackson Township has been appointed by the Trump Administration to head the USDA’s farm services agency in Hamilton Township. Calogero will oversee an office of 48. Calogero has no professional experience in the farm services industry, but according to a press release issued by the USDA, Calogero brings with him 30 years of financial experience working for firms like CovergEx, HSBC Securities and GAF Credit Union.
Earlier this year, Calogero unsuccessfully tried to lobby for a public job within the local Ocean County government, an action uncovered by political watchdog reporter Gavin Rozzi.
Rozzi speculated that Calogero was next in line for a highly coveted patronage job within the county, but that effort was thwarted after Rozzi found emails from Jackson Township Attorney George Gilmore to Ocean County Clerk Carl Block’s office pushing Calogero’s resume to the head of the county’s administrative staff.
Later, Block told the Shore News Network that Calogero would not be getting a county job. Block confirmed he was in receipt of Calogero’s email from the county chairman, but said he did not make any recommendations or pushes for Calogero to get hired.
“I know, the resume came from the county chairman, but all I did was forward it to the employee relations department,” Block said at the time. “He did not get a job.”
Block also said he did not know who Calogero was or that he was a member of Jackson’s governing body at the time of the exchange, saying he learned about Calogero through the Rozzi article after the OPRA request was published.
At the December 13th township council meeting Cipriani acknowledged that the Township of Jackson, where Calogero serves as a councilman is now under both state and federal scrutiny over the township’s actions against the local Orthodox Jewish Community.
Calogero has been instrumental, along with New Jersey State PBA lobbyist Robert Nixon in drafting multiple township ordinances directed at the growing Orthodox Jewish population in the town. This past summer, Calogero was adamant in his resolve to curb behavior in the township perceived as being orchestrated and organized by the Jewish community.
Calogero voted against the Orthodox community on many occasions, including ordinances curbing real estate soliciting, bans on eruvs and a religious school dormitory ban. Documents uncovered through OPRA requests also indicated the township was considering laws to prohibit religious assembly in homes owned by Orthodox Jews.
The actions caught the attention of New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Porrino filed charges against the town of Mahwah this fall and issued a stern warning that Jackson could be next. Porrino compared the actions of Mahwah and Jackson to “1950s-era white flight suburbanites who sought to keep African-Americans from moving into their neighborhoods.”
“Our message to local officials in other towns who may be plotting to engage in similar attempts to illegally exclude, is the same: We will hold you accountable as well,” Porrino said. Leland Moore, a spokesperson for the Attorney General said the warning applied to Jackson and other communities that have engaged in drafting ordinances targeting religious Jews unfairly.
Calogero is also personally cited in a lawsuit brought against the township by Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish rights organization. Agudath Israel’s suit claims township officials violated the rights of Orthodox Jews here by enacting legislation that sought to prevent them from building religious facilities. According to the lawsuit, “Barry Calogero admitted that a majority of the complaints brought by residents involved the Orthodox Jewish community.”
Those complaints were discovered through OPRA requests made by members of the Orthodox Jewish community and posted to a website they created called Jackson Leaks.
In light of state and federal investigations, on Wednesday, December 13th the township announced it will reverse its ban on eruvs and begin discussions to remedy a previous zoning board decision to prevent the construction of an all-girls Jewish high school in the township. Township officials also said discussions will be held to scale back the anti-dormitory law passed by Calogero and the township.
Calogero has declined all comment on this matter in the past and did not respond to a request for comment on the state and federal investigations today.
Matthew Reilly, a media spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice said he could not provide any details of the investigation into Calogero and Jackson Township.
“It is our policy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation,” Reilly said.
“As a general rule, we don’t comment with respect to who, or what, we might be investigating, or with regard to pending or possible litigation,” said Leland Moore of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. “I would simply point you to the AG’s comments as quoted in the Mahwah press release from [AG Porrino], particularly the one near the end, that addresses this concern in a broader-than-Mahwah sense.”
Moore so far has not been able to be reached for comment on the latest revelation by township attorney Cipriani.
A request for comment made to the U.S.D.A. was also not responded to.