By Michael Symons, Asbury Park Press, N.J.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
March 29--2002: Gov. James McGreevey takes office. His administration directs the Delaware River Port Authority to equitably split commissions paid to insurance brokers, under what was called a "true-up" agreement; at the time, 80 percent went to Pennsylvania brokers.
2002: George Norcross III, who has headed an insurance brokerage since 1979, tells Joseph Plumeri, head of Willis of New Jersey, in an informal conversation that if he comes across insurance business he can't handle, he'll refer it to Willis. Norcross says the marketing agreement was not reached until 2004.
2002: Someone in McGreevey's office contacts George Norcross III, asking if his company, Commerce Insurance Services at that time, wanted to become DRPA's insurance broker in New Jersey. Norcross declines, saying his company lacked the capacity to handle it and that the DRPA post was too "high profile" and would be a "reputational risk." The governor's office asks Norcross to recommend another broker.
Dec. 30, 2002: Norcross emails Plumeri to inform him Willis had been chosen as the DRPA's broker. Norcross had no formal role at the DRPA or authority to appoint its broker. Norcross says he had heard about the appointment. Willis didn't know it was a candidate. DRPA didn't meet with Willis before hiring it.
2003 to 2009: Willis pays $455,000 over seven years for what it considers a referral fee on the DRPA contract, including $410,000 to Norcross' company, now called Conner Strong & Buckelew, and $45,000 to a related insurance broker, Michael Martucci. Norcross said Conner Strong saw the payments as a fee for general marketing and referral efforts, not specifically related to the DRPA.
2004 to 2009: The Graham Co., the DRPA's Pennsylvania broker, pays $514,530 to Willis under terms of the true-up.
2004: An internal company email, one Willis executive tells another the chief operating officer of Conner Strong "called this morning quite anxious over getting payed on DRPA."
2006: Graham Co. owner William Graham learns Willis is sharing its true-up commission with another broker who "definitely" wants to remain anonymous. He suspects it is Conner Strong and objects to DRPA. Willis denies the payments were made, inaccurately. DRPA officials don't pursue the matter. Chief executive officer John Matheussen said he didn't believe Graham's assertions.
2010: Under pressure from Govs. Chris Christie and Edward Rendell and the general public, DRPA changes its practices for hiring insurance brokers. The policies are further strengthened in late 2010 and 2011. Such fee-sharing is no longer permitted.
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