When Ocean County Republican Chair George Gilmore was convicted on three federal tax charges in 2019, it didn’t just cost him his powerful political leadership post. His work with public entities also dried up.
Gilmore's now-defunct law firm, Gilmore & Monahan, had made between $2 million and $3 million in public contracts annually between 2012 and 2018, according to documents filed with the state. He resigned from another job at the Trenton lobbying firm 1868 Public Affairs. And he was left with millions in debt to the Internal Revenue Service and other creditors as he faced one year in prison.
But several months after Gilmore’s conviction, a political ally, Frank Sadeghi of Morgan Engineering, founded Morgan Municipal Services, a new division that's intended to expand the firm’s work in the public sector. It counted Gilmore’s wife, Joanne, as one of its three founding partners.
The job arrangement shows that even during Gilmore's darkest time, a key ally found a way for him to continue earning money — if indirectly — through public contracts.
In January 2020, former President Donald Trump pardoned Gilmore before he served any prison time. Gilmore immediately returned to the political scene and, in a shocking victory in July, won back the chairmanship of the Ocean County GOP — the most powerful county Republican organization in the state.
Joanne Gilmore does not have any engineering experience and the only work experience listed on her LinkedIn page is as a legal assistant for Gilmore & Monahan. Sadeghi said Joanne Gilmore’s role does not require knowledge of engineering and noted the other partner in Morgan Municipal Services, Lauren Plump, is also not an engineer.
Joanne Gilmore is also the partner in an LLC that plans to build a 79-unit residential building in Seaside Heights. Other partners in the LLC, according to published reports, include Doug Steinhardt, the Warren County GOP chair and former Republican state chair who’s in line to be a state senator, and Hunterdon County Commissioner Zachary Rich.
“You can draw any conclusions you want. I can care less in regard to what you want to try to portray in the story,” Gilmore said in a phone interview, blaming political rivals for circulating the information about his wife's position with Morgan Municipal Services. “All I can tell you is it was done properly and it was done right.”
POLITICO reached out to Joanne Gilmore for comment through George Gilmore and Sadeghi. George Gilmore said his wife does not talk politics.
Sadeghi — who ran to succeed Gilmore as Ocean County GOP chair in 2019 but narrowly lost to Frank Holman III, whom Gilmore feuded with — said establishing the firm with Joanne Gilmore was his own idea. He said Morgan Engineering has stuck mostly to the private sector, but he wanted to diversify to include more clients in the public sector.
“I’ve known George for a long time — 25 years, probably. And I knew that he had built a lot of relationships, had a long list of contacts throughout the state. So we wanted to capitalize on that, and decided to ask if he was interested,” Sadeghi said in a phone interview. “But also because of his tax situation, and uncertainty as to whether he would be around or not, we decided to do the next best thing and ask Joanne if she was interested in becoming a partner. … And Joanne’s relationships. She’s been out there with him, side-by-side.”
Sadeghi said that although Morgan Municipal Services was founded in 2019, it has only recently begun soliciting public work. A report filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission shows it earned just shy of $100,000 from public contracts in four Ocean County towns in 2021: Berkeley, Jackson, Lakewood and Toms River. But there are indications its business is growing. In April, for instance, Bridgewater, in Somerset County, approved a $118,000 contract with the company.
“There are a couple of websites that we monitor and [Joanne Gilmore] monitors [to see] which municipalities and governmental agencies are looking for engineering and surveying services,” Sadeghi said. “She brings those to our attention and she decides whether we have the expertise to participate.”
Sadeghi said Joanne Gilmore also helps put together the company’s bidding packets for town jobs.
Because the company is still new, Joanne Gilmore has not yet been paid for her work, Sadeghi said.
“We’re just kind of beginning and scratching the surface with this, but at some point when the company is actually bringing money in we’re going to sit down and figure out how much we’ve spent, how much we’re going to be spending and whatever profit is left is going to be divided among the three partners, depending upon how much time they’ve put in in advancing the cause of the company,” he said.
Although she’s one of three partners, Joanne Gilmore is not listed on the company’s website.
“She really should be mentioned," Sadeghi said. "We’re sort of just starting this whole venture,and we’ve been super busy with Morgan Engineering. That’s not intentional, let’s put it that way.”