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March 30, 2002
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Incorrect claims about role lands Indian American leader in controversy

'Roger' Chugh is accused of overstating his position in the New Jersey administration

Suleman Din in New York

New York businessman 'Roger' Rajesh Chugh, who recently emerged as a fund-raising force for New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, has become embroiled in controversy regarding claims he made about his duties with the New Jersey State Department.

Chugh stated on his web site, www.rogerchugh.com and to the Indian press that he had been named by McGreevey to the 'constitutionally mandated office' of Assistant Secretary of State, 'making him the third most influential official in the administration.'

Lizette Delgado, who headed a successful program for McGreevey to obtain the Latino vote during his campaign for governor, holds the actual position of Assistant Secretary of State. Chugh was named to the newly-created $84,000-a-year position of Assistant Commissioner.

New Jersey's Star Ledger newspaper reported on March 28 that Chugh claimed on his web site that he was the 'First Assistant Secretary of the State of New Jersey,' a position New Jersey officials said does not exist. Officials also clarified that the Assistant Secretary of the State is not a constitutional office.

On January 17, a press statement topped with the official letterhead of McGreevey's office was faxed to Indian newspapers, stating that Chugh was named Assistant Secretary of the State.

The release quotes McGreevey stating, 'By naming Roger Chugh Assistant Secretary of State, we have ensured that the voices of Asian-Americans across New Jersey will be heard.'

McGreevey is further quoted as saying, 'Roger is the ideal choice because he will bring our state's many different ethnic and religious groups together, promote the state internationally, energize our state's volunteerism efforts, preserve our state's culture and history, and improve its arts programs.'

When contacted by the Star Ledger, NJ State Department spokesman Michael Kinney said Chugh had no official job description, except for following Secretary of State Regena Thomas's orders.

Chugh, 47, told the newspaper then he was supposed to be First Assistant Secretary of the State of New Jersey, but 'because of some technicalities I am assistant commissioner.'

The web site was taken down a day after the Star Ledger report appeared. Chugh said 'there were some spelling mistakes that were made, so we are correcting them.'

'I am Roger Chugh, born in New Delhi, the capital city of India,' his web site began. 'I am 5'10" tall, with an ideal weight of 150 lb, which I maintained for several years. Today I am a little overweight at 165 lb.

'From my appearance, with my light complexion, brown eyes and dark hair it is often thought that that I am of Italian decent [sic]. I love life, enjoy Broadway shows, candle lit dinners, listening to music and going to basketball games.'

Chugh made another claim, that he is the current 'Chairman of National Conference of Asian Americans for Political Awareness.' The description is also included in the January 17 press release.

No one knew of such a group, Indian Americans in New Jersey said, except from what they had heard from Chugh.

Also brought to light were claims made by Chugh about his political influence to Indian newspapers, on a January visit there.

In one such interview on January 25 with Bangalore's Deccan Herald newspaper, Chugh said, 'New Jersey is ready to offer all technology and expertise to any Indian state provided they approach us with concrete proposals. Governor James E McGreevey has given me the responsibility of exploring whether this relationship can be upgraded to be with New Jersey so that more benefits can accrue to them.'

Chugh continued, 'New Jersey can offer lots of technology transfer, pollution control expertise and garbage management methods to Indian states if they approach us. I will make sure all such helps are extended to whoever is interested.'

Kinney told the Star Ledger that Chugh has no such responsibilities. Instead, his position deals primarily with ethnic outreach in New Jersey. Chugh has several divisions under his control, including the Asian and Pacific American Advisory Council.

Chugh told rediff.com that he was "not allowed to give any interviews." However, he said he thought he was the target of a smear campaign by Republicans.

He was referring to reports that unnamed Republicans had first distributed news clippings from Indian newspapers that quoted Chugh's claims, including the Deccan Herald.

Indian American Republicans rejected Chugh's allegations.

"That's outrageous," said 'Peter' Kothari, the Indian American community activist who has run as a Republican candidate for Middlesex County freeholder. "He shouldn't blame Republicans for his mistakes."

Kothari said he had "no idea," who had originally distributed copies of the articles on Chugh. But he said there was nothing wrong in checking out claims made by Chugh.

"If something is incorrect in the news, Chugh has a right to sue the newspapers and defend himself," Kothari said.

Chugh, a former travel agency owner and printer, had served under McGreevey as liaison to the Indian American community, and earned about $120,000 last year, paid by the Democratic State Committee. He also donated $3,000 to the Democrats in June 2000.

He is known in the community as a Democratic fundraiser, Kothari said, but was never involved in the community itself.

Chugh's web site, which now is 'under construction,' included photographs of Chugh with former US President Bill Clinton, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and New York Governor George E Pataki.

About his life as a child, he notes: 'Born of an affluent family in India, I had the privilege of the best that life had to offer. My life in India was a life of opulent comforts. I attended the top schools in India. Generally, I was a very popular and A+ student and always had a deep interest in the issues concerning the general public.'

His gift for hyperbole at times seemed almost prophetic.

In the January 25 interview with Deccan Herald, Chugh said, 'I am very clear about the fact that politics is like an elevator, it will take you [up] as fast as it can bring you down.'

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