CEO of Privatized Military Housing Company Indicted on Racketeering Charges Unrelated to Defense Department

Housing development at U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey
Members of the Michaels Organization are among those raising the vertical wall of a housing development at U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey, Sept. 8, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Winifred Brown)

The chief executive officer of a major privatized military housing company has been indicted in a south New Jersey racketeering scheme unrelated to the corporation's Defense Department activities.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin filed criminal charges Monday against six defendants, including John O'Donnell, CEO of the Michaels Organization, for their roles in developing the waterfront of Camden, New Jersey, directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

The indictment alleges that the defendants, led by businessman and Democratic power broker George Norcross III, used their power and influence to obtain property and property rights for themselves and others through "coercion, extortion and other criminal acts," while collecting millions of dollars in government-issued tax credits and influencing government officials.

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According to a release from Platkin's office, O'Donnell, of Newtown, Pennsylvania, is not only CEO of the Michaels Organization, he is a partner in groups that own buildings in Camden at the center of the racketeering allegations.

The Michaels Organization is a vast real estate development corporation and apartment management company with thousands of properties in more than 30 states. It has maintained a portfolio of military housing communities since 2004, managing roughly 18,000 houses at 11 installations such as Fort Huachuca and Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Fort Moore, Georgia; and Fort Irwin and the Presidio of Monterey in California.

    The company is headquartered in Camden, where it built a market-rate apartment community that is part of the investigation and also manages an office tower.

    A spokeswoman for the company said the organization is not under indictment, and the charges do not involve any military communities.

    In a statement released Tuesday, Michaels Organization officials said O'Donnell has taken a leave of absence "to focus on vigorously defending himself" against the allegations.

    "John O'Donnell has been a trusted colleague and industry leader for more than 30 years, and has our organization's full support during this difficult time," Mark Morgan, the company's former chief operating officer who is now serving as CEO, said in the statement.

    O'Donnell did not respond to a request for comment from by publication. His leave of absence was first reported by Military Times.

    Norcross is a former member of the Democratic National Committee and former chairman of the Camden County Democratic Committee. Dana Redd, also named in the indictment, is the former mayor of Camden.

    Also charged were Norcross' brother, Philip Norcross; attorney William Tambussi; and Sidney Brown, the CEO of a trucking and logistics company.

    According to the New Jersey attorney general's office, the charges consist of violations in both the first and second degree, the former carrying a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, fines up to $200,000, and no early releases from prison.

    If convicted on second-degree charges, the defendants may face five to 10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.

    Stressing that defendants are innocent until proven guilty, Platkin said the indictment alleges that Norcross conducted business in Camden for the past 12 years and the charges show "how a group of unelected, private businessmen used their power and influence to get [the] government to aid their criminal enterprise."

    "We must never accept politics and government -- that is funded with tax dollars -- to be weaponized against the people it serves. Today, we reaffirm that no one in our state is above the law -- period," Platkin said in a statement.

    Morgan pledged that business will continue as usual at the Michaels Organization, including development, property management, construction and investment.

    "Our organization's focus remains, as always, on our mission of crafting housing solutions that jump-start education, civic engagement and neighborhood prosperity, and on creating communities that lift lives," he said in a statement.

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