The wife of Sen. Harrison Williams (D-N.J.) was appointed to the board of a prospective Atlantic City casino developer for the explicit purpose of using her contacts to try to obtain financial backing for the casino project, says the man who hired her, Charles Stein, chairman of Hardwicke Companies, Inc.
In his first public comment since the ABSCAM scandal broke, Stein said Jeanette Williams, for two years a "conscientious director" and currently a consultant to Hardwicke, introduced up to 50 banks as possible sources of finance for the project to be built by Ritz Associates, a consortium of English and American investors half owned by Hardwicke.
Sen. Williams regularly participated in discussions about the casino, said Stein. When Stein feared an unfavorable action by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission he turned to the senator for advice, and says Williams recommended asking for help from an old associate of his lawyer, Alex Feinberg of Cherry Hill, N.J. According to Stein, Feinberg did approach Kenneth MacDonald, then vice chairman of the commission, and the commission later took action favorable to Hardwicke.
Hardwicke lawyers questioned Feinberg late last week. His answers apparently satisfied them, and Stein says that Feinberg will remain Hardwicke's New Jersey attorney.
MacDonald resigned last week amid charges that he took bribes from FBI agents posing as Arab businessmen seeking a casino license. MacDonald denied the allegation.
Ironically, Feinberg was later to suggest to Hardwicke that he might be able to obtain up to $100 million in financing from wealthy Arab investors. bAt a Hardwicke board meeting Jan 25 it was reported that negotiations with the Arabs were still continuing. Stein now believes that those Arab financiers were undercover FBI agents operating ABSCAM, an elaborate investigation into alleged corruption at state, local and national levels. Newspaper reports have linked Williams to alleged attempts to secure favors for the casino venture and to acceptance of shares in a titanium mine in return for promising to use his senatorial influence to arrange government contracts.
The senator is chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee and No. 2 Democrat on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Stein described how Mrs. Williams had been involved in trying to get the Ritz project financed.
"She had many friends and acquaintances and we were seeking financing. For example, one of the things which she had done was to introduce us to the heads or at least the leading officials of banks who could provide financing. We didn't get any financial support from the people she introduced, but we certainly have been received and listened to. It was part of her assignment to make introductions. On our own and as a result of her introductions we talked to probably 50 banks. I don't remember which banks but I do remember that she was searching her mind as to who she knew who might be helpful to us."
Sources close to the investigation of the senator's casino dealings were unaware of his wife's separate activities as a director of Hardwicke.
Stein says he first met Williams in 1973 when the senator opened one of Hardwicke's first major developments, the $60 million Great Adventure Park in New Jersey. They became close friends, and although Stein lives in Florida he and his family contributed to Williams' 1976 reelection campaign. Also in that year, Stein invited Mrs. Williams, whom the senator had married in 1974, to join the Hardwicke board. In 1978, Mrs. Williams became, as she still is, consultant to the board.
Stein thinks that she probably has been paid $50,000 in all from the company and that her fees were low. Also on the board are three English directors, the Duke of Bedford who became a director after Hardwicke took over an English safari park, and Nicholas Coral and Michael Hoare, two executives of the Coral Leisure Group, which owns four casinos in London and whose company will manage the Atlantic City casino. Coral's expertise is deemed essential to the project, for without such gaming skills few investors would be persuaded to put money into the Ritz project.
Despite the problems waiting when he returns to America Monday, Stein remains bullish about the eventual success of his multimillion-dollar gambling palace by the sea.
"There is nothing that we could have done differently. We have friendship, and there is nothing improper for me to discuss an exciting project with someone interested in our friendship and what we are doing in New Jersey. Nothing wrong in me saying, 'This is what we want to do and if you like it the more support we can get getting this into New Jersey the better.'
"Sen Williams said it's great, Gov. [Brendan] Bryne said it's great. Everyone else we spoke to said it's great. I have no doubt that any investigation into Hardwicke or its people will produce nothing but favorable conclusions. I am convinced that we will get a license, because not to be granted one would be an admission by the authorities that something improper has been done, and it hasn't."