Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Woodbury and the Iran-Contra Affair

What does this 1880 Woodbury, New Jersey landmark:

and the Iran-Contra affair have in common?

... well, it appears that long after G.G. Green went the way of the wind, and with him the remnants of his one-time multi-million dollar producing patent medicine company, August Flower's third and final factory located on Green Avenue hosted some nefarious business enterprise. Forway Industries purchased the old Victorian factory in 1968 and proceeded to produce some very interesting items, which they sold to very interesting customers! I'll let this archived Philadelphia Inquirer article tell the story. Special thanks to Woodbury's own historic preservationist woodworker extraordinaire and custom mandolin builder, Nevin Fahs for tipping me off to this great story.

Factory Is Closed, But Ties To A Scandal Remain The Former Woodbury Business Was Linked To The Iran-contra Affair. Some Remnants Have Been Found.


Posted: August 16, 1997

WOODBURY — When the city foreclosed on the old Forway Industries building in December, local officials figured the deal only brought them a crumbling structure filled with holes in the ceiling, smashed-out windows and roosting pigeons.

But when environmental investigators were called in this spring, they found more than rubble.
Scattered throughout the factory were blueprints and metal molds that were used to make materials that tied the company to the arms-for-hostages Iran-contra scandal.

The environmental consultants called in an investigator from the Department of Defense who recommended that the city contact local military bases to dispose of the material properly. Steps are being taken to start that process. In the meantime, the blueprints and molds remain in the boarded-up factory.

City clerk and administrator Thomas Bowe summed up the foreclosure and cleanup of the Forway plant this way:
``It was a mess legally. It was a mess practically. It remains so.''

* Forway Industries bought the property at 122 Green Ave. near East Barber Avenue in 1968, according to Gloucester County records. The four-story building was by then somewhat of a city landmark - built in 1879 by George G. Green, Woodbury's first millionaire and a Civil War veteran who made his fortune in patent medicines.

The factory sits along the railroad tracks next to St. Patrick's School. Today, the windows on the red-brick building are boarded shut. Waist-high weeds grow in the driveway, and ivy partially covers the black letters bearing the Forway name.

In 1988, Jacobo Farber, the former president of Forway Industries, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $25,000 for sending weapons, including blast deflectors for NikeHercules missiles, to Japan and England without the required U.S. State Department permits.
That same year, Forway and several of its top executives were indicted in San Diego on charges of conspiring to illegally export arms, including Doppler Velocity Sensors for military helicopters, to Iran. A plea bargain brought $50,000 fines and probation periods of six months.

Bowe said the company's principal shareholder during the scandal, Willard I. Zucker, attempted to hold onto the property before the city foreclosed on it. Zucker, a lawyer and accountant who was a prominent figure in Lt. Col. Oliver L. North's federal trial, lives in Switzerland.

Zucker's Woodbury-based attorney, Russell E. Paul, said earlier this week that he had no comment on Zucker's interest in the building, citing attorney-client privilege.

Forway Industries filed for bankruptcy in 1994. The building was vacated in 1992, city officials said.
Because the company owed the city more than $600,000 in unpaid property taxes, the city foreclosed on the property last December, Bowe said. The city plans to sell the four-story building and the 4.39 acres it sits on. The site is valued at $1.34 million.

The city contracted with Stuart Environmental Associates in Medford earlier this year to do a state-mandated environmental assessment of the building.

That's when the investigators found the documents and materials.

Doug Stuart of Stuart Environmental said he informed Woodbury officials and called the Pentagon because he did not know whether the material was sensitive.

``You really don't know how unique or classified a document is until you have the Department of Defense come in,'' he said.

Larry Molnar, a Department of Defense investigator, inspected the site last month and told city officials to dispose of the blueprints and molds for weapons at a nearby military base. There, the materials could be distributed to other federal agencies or turned in to scrap.

The city, which has increased security around the plant, plans to do just that. Stuart said he has drafted letters to Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force base, asking if he can drop the materials off there.
Sharon Gavin, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department's Defense Logistics Agency, said the Forway inspection was something new for the agency, and for Molnar.

``It was the first time he'd ever run into a situation like this.''

The factory as is appeared under Forway Industries stewardship.
Note the Forway name over the doorway. Photo: Dave Homer Collection.
Thankfully this particular chapter in the building's history is now past. G.G. Green's former million-dollar-producing factory, despite its shady past, was lovingly restored in 2001 by International Senior Development LLC, and is now home to the Woodbury Mews Senior Living center, yet another successful case for adaptive reuse in the City of Woodbury.

Read more about the involvement of Forway Industries and the Iran Contra Affair in the full text transcription in the Report of the congressional committees investigating the Iran- Contra Affair : with supplemental, minority, and additional views.