In 2010 David Goodell, while serving a four-year prison term for an assault conviction, escaped custody of a Newark halfway house run by Community Education Center (CEC). Hours later he murdered Viviana Tullli. On Thursday in court he pleaded guilty to the brutal murder. He said “I grabbed her by the neck and strangled her.” This killing, among other grave problems, formed a part of Sam Dolnick’s N. Y. Times June 2012 riveting investigative report Unlocked.
One year after the report and after two legislative hearings that promised action, Stella Tulli, sister of the deceased, had to relive the memory Thursday of Viviana’s murder with no consolation that our government was taking action to reform halfway houses and prevent such atrocities in the future. She said on Friday, “The guilty plea did awaken a lot of pain today. I feel like the day after I was told of her death. After a while people get tired of hearing about it, but I still continue.”
Stella Tulli testified with heart-felt emotion before both the Senate and Assembly hearings in July. As Sam Dolnick reports yesterday, “After the hearings, lawmakers introduced a package of more than a dozen bills that would reshape the halfway house system, increasing regulation and overhauling the contracts with the private companies. None of those bills have been approved.” Instead legislators created a task force. During the past year Stella Tulli says she e-mailed legislators who were on the hearings, and some responded but others did not.
Prior to the release of the N. Y. Times’ scathing series Governor Christie said at a CEC facility this is “someplace where the work is purely good.” “Places like this are to be celebrated.” After release of the report Christie said his administration “takes its responsibility to properly administer this program very seriously.” Nonetheless, he line-item vetoed two important provisions which Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) wrote into the Budget bill. His approach has been to sweep halfway house problems under the rug, use line item vetoes, and only grudgingly make minimal changes.
Christie’s numerous connections to CEC, CEC’s significant donations to his campaign, and Christie’s overriding belief in privatization all serve to create conflicts of interest. As the NY Times series documents, Governor Christie’s championing of CEC started in 2001 when he and law partner William Palatucci became registered lobbyists for CEC. Palatucci went on to become a vice President of CEC and close confidante of the governor. Two years ago Christie attended the wedding of the daughter of John Clancy, Founder and Chief Executive of CEC. Christie hired the groom, Samuel Vivattine, to work as an assistant in his office. Paul Krugman in a N. Y. Times piece concludes, “What we are witnessing is a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.”