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July 09, 2024

George Norcross arraigned on racketeering charges related to Camden developments, pleads not guilty

Four of the five other co-defendants in the case, including former Camden Mayor Dana Redd and Philip Norcross, also made appearances at the Mercer County Courthouse on Tuesday.

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Norcross arraigned racketeering Amy Newman/ via Imagn Content Services

George Norcross III and his co-defendants were arraigned on charges related to the racketeering case being prosecuted by the New jersey Attorney General's Office. Norcross, shown above in a file photo from 2019, entered a not guilty plea.

George E. Norcross III, the insurance executive and longtime powerbroker in New Jersey politics, was arraigned Tuesday morning on charges alleging that he and five co-defendants exploited government programs and strong-armed business rivals to reap tax benefits for redeveloping the Camden waterfront.

Norcross pleaded not guilty to all charges. His appearance at the Mercer County Courthouse in Trenton was his first time since the New Jersey Attorney General's Office announced sweeping indictment last month. The yearslong investigation delved into how Norcross allegedly conspired to acquire property and gain millions of dollars in tax breaks for various projects, including a new headquarters for his firm, Conner Strong & Buckelew.

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Since being indicted, Norcross, 68, has taken a leave of absence as executive chairman of Connor Strong & Buckelew to "focus on vigorously defending himself."

The five other defendants in the racketeering case include Norcross's brother Philip Norcross, an attorney; Dana Redd, the former mayor of Camden; Bill Tambussi, Norcross' longtime personal attorney; John O'Donnell, an executive at a residential development company; and Sidney Brown, a Cooper Health board member.

Philip Norcross, Redd, Tambussi and O'Donnell also were arraigned on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty. Brown is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 7. 

Norcross is the father of PhillyVoice founder and chairwoman Lexie Norcross. Philip Norcross is the uncle of Lexie Norcross.

When Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin detailed the "criminal enterprise" at a news conference last month, Norcross sat in the front row and afterward vowed to go to trial. At Tuesday's arraignment, Norcross's attorney, Michael Critchley, told Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw that his client was "emphatically" pleading not guilty to the charges.

"Anyone reviewing the indictment will see these are charges in search of a crime," Critchley said in a statement.

In the 13-count indictment, prosecutors spelled out how Norcross and his allies, including Redd, allegedly orchestrated legislation intended to revitalize Camden by stimulating economic development. Norcross allegedly used intimidation to sabotage and pressure another developer into relinquishing rights along the waterfront. That enabled him to construct the Triad1828 building — Camden's tallest — at a significant discount, prosecutors said.

In phone calls recorded by investigators, Norcross allegedly told the rival developer he would "f*** you up like you've never been f***ed up before" and admitted he was threatening the developer to get his way on the waterfront.

Norcross also is accused of intervening in the sale of a complex he had hoped to use as the offices of Cooper Health, where he and Philip Norcross are board members.

The crimes carry a potential punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

Norcross became a force in New Jersey politics through Democratic fundraising efforts in the 1990s but has never been elected to public office. His brother, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, represents New Jersey's 1st Congressional District. He is not accused of any wrongdoing.