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Roger Rajesh Chugh quits New Jersey state department

George Joseph in New York | June 08, 2003 19:31 IST

Roger Rajesh Chugh, the controversial assistant commissioner in the New Jersey State Department, resigned saying he wants to pursue other opportunities.

He was the Asian-outreach coordinator for Governor James E McGreevey's campaign.

"When I accepted this position, I made a commitment to serve for 12 months," Chugh, the third ranking official in the department wrote in his letter to Secretary of State Regena Thomas.

"With the desire to fulfill my responsibilities to the people and the state, I have extended my time of service. However, I believe the time is now right for me to pursue other opportunities."

"Recognizing the politics of public service, I would never do anything to cast a negative perception upon myself, the department for which I proudly serve, nor this administration," the statement said.

Chugh was not available for comment.

The Bergen Record newspaper had on Friday come out with a very damaging report against him.

The Record report says, "Chugh's decision to step down comes four days after a reporter from the Record confronted the McGreevey administration with federal court documents describing how Chugh was booted from the travel industry in the mid-1990s for writing $50,000 in bad checks and sticking Air-India and other carriers with $319,000 in losses."

Micah Rasmussen, an administration spokesman, acknowledged that Chugh had on Wednesday offered to resign after administration officials discussed the issues with him, according to the Record.

From the beginning, Chugh created controversy.

His web site was ridiculed by many and he later withdrew it from the web.

He did not renew the address of the web But his Republican adversaries registered the name and they republished the contents from his old site causing even more embarrassment.

Above all, several Indians publicly came out against him further damaging his image.

The Record quotes several Indians.

Pradip 'Peter' Kothari, president of the Indian Business Association in Middlesex County, told the paper, "Why he remains in office is a mystery to us all?"

Kothari had spoken at length with McGreevey in 2001 about Chugh, complaining that many local Indian-Americans were troubled by Chugh's growing influence.

"I think McGreevey understood the reservations many of us have with Roger, especially the way he controls access to officials and the government," Kothari said.

The Record says that "other leading Indian-Americans in New Jersey and New York have said they were shocked by Chugh's rapid rise in political circles. They said his prominence in the McGreevey administration was an embarrassment to their community."

It quotes P Singh Sabharwal, a New York City developer who has built shopping malls in Queens and elsewhere, as saying that he helped introduce Chugh to McGreevey in the mid-1990s and was instrumental in getting Chugh a paid position with the mayor's political action committee. Now he regards Chugh as 'a sad, sad story'.

"Roger is very good - very, very good - at winning the sympathies and support of people he then takes advantage of," Sabharwal said adding, "There are a lot of people who feel betrayed."

The Record says that an "examination of Chugh's financial background reveals a troubled history as a businessman. In addition to the debts incurred by the collapse of his travel agency, Chugh has left a trail of unpaid bills and angry creditors, including banks, casinos, hotels, credit card companies, and print suppliers."

Court documents reviewed by the Record show Chugh and his various companies generated almost $361,000 in court judgments, tax liens, and other legal claims over the last decade.

New York City marshals posted notices in The New York Times to sell off Chugh's office furnishings to satisfy debts he owed to Federal Express, it said.

Chugh's fledgling printing business in Middlesex County collapsed when creditors seized his presses. A company that leased him printing equipment won a $43,000 judgment against him in 2001, and just three months ago, a businessman filed court papers claiming Chugh never repaid $125,000 he borrowed to start the printing business.

A few days ago, Dr Chand Kewalramani of Edison filed new motions in a lawsuit against Chugh saying that he did not pay $124,000, a loan from 1998.

The administration's reaction came from Secretary of State Regena Thomas, who said "Roger's tired. He does not want to put the governor's office nor the office of the secretary of state through this," she said adding that Chugh has faced 'very unfair' negative publicity.

Chugh's exit shows that the influence of Indian Americans in Governor Jim McGreevey's cabinet is gradually declining.

The governor appointed Seema Singh as public advocate designate, a cabinet post, but the administration had to postpone the plans to reinstate the department of public advocate due to financial problems.

However, Singh continues as the Ratepayer advocate of New Jersey.

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