The tangled web(site) that Roger Chugh wove

By Suleman Din

Originally appeared in India Abroad on April 4, 2002

One of the few questions that now remain unanswered about New York businessman Roger Chugh is if he ever knew how much of a joke his personal web site was.

On March 28, the Star Ledger newspaper ran a story about Chugh's web site, www.rogerchugh.com

'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, candlelit dinners, listening to music and going to basketball games." The reporter quoted verbatim from Chugh's web site, which along with his boasts included photographs of him with former President Bill Clinton and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

It was Chugh, 47, who recently emerged as a fund-raising force for New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, in his own words. It was material ripe for lampooning. Political observes in New Jersey had a good laugh at Chugh's expense. A humbled Chugh took the site down, explaining that, "There were some spelling mistakes that were made, so we are correcting them.'

But the story had some troubling elements.

Specifically, on Chugh's web site, he claimed he had been named by McGreevey to the 'constitutionally mandated office' of First Assistant Secretary of State, 'making him the third most influential official in the administration.'

The Star Ledger did some digging. Officials clarified that there was no such office, and that the office of the Assistant Secretary of State was not constitutionally mandated.

No one could tell reporters then what his responsibilities were with the administration.

The Star Ledger called India Abroad to find out if there was such a thing as the National Conference of Asian Americans for Political Awareness, which Chugh claimed on his web site he was the chairman of. No evidence could be found of it, except what Chugh had said about if himself.

Chugh's official office, it was confirmed, was the newly created 84,000-a-year position of Assistant Commissioner. Lizette Delgado, who headed a successful program for McGreevey to obtain the Latino vote during his campaign for governor, had already filled the office of Assistant Secretary of State.

Which made Indian news organizations in the NY Tristate area do a double-take, because most had received a press release from the governor's office, dated January 17, that stated Chugh had been named to the office of Assistant Secretary of State.

A number of articles could also be found in the Indian media, written during a trip to India soon after his appointment to the McGreevey administration.

In different interviews, he stated his position as being Assistant Secretary of State, and mentioned to the Deccan Herald his ability to facilitate 'technology transfer, pollution control expertise and garbage management methods to Indian states if they approach us.'

Some New Jersey Republicans began handing out the articles to all those who were interested. Rediff.com, which owns India Abroad, reported on Chugh's conflicting claims and the press release.

Then, other newspapers called India Abroad for a copy of the release. They had not received it, they explained, and wondered why.

Then the New Jersey's Governor's office called. They would not comment, because they first wanted to see what India Abroad had.

Almost a week after the original story on Chugh's web site ran, the governor's office clarified that it sent a press release to Indian publications on January 17, mistakenly stating Chugh's office.

Governor's office spokesman, Paul Aronsohn, took responsibility for the release.

"It was a minor mistake," said Aronsohn, whose name was on the original press release as the contact for media inquiries.

Aronsohn said soon after the release was sent out, the governor's office realized the mistake about Chugh's title, though he couldn't remember when.

Asked as to why there was no follow-up press release to clarify Chugh's position with the administration, Aronsohn was dismissive. "It wasn't a big deal," he said.

"If he had not been appointed to a job, that's one thing," Aronsohn said. "Or if he wasn't appointed to that division of the state government, that's another big deal. This is not a big deal the mix-up of positions. It is a semantical difference."

Critics of the McGreevey administration asked why the January 17 release was only sent to a few Indian American news organizations in New York and New Jersey, and not to mainstream publications.

"We would have to question why he didn't send this press release to members of the New Jersey press corps,' said Assembly Republican Leader Paul DiGaetano in a statement.

Aronsohn admitted the oversight on the part of his office.

"We're sorry we didn't send it the release out more widely, we will be more careful in the future," he said.

Aronsohn resented any suggestion that someone else could have doctored the January 17 press release to misguide the media.

"Questioning the validity of something that goes out under my governor's name, and the Great Seal of the State of New Jersey, that I have a problem with," he said.

However, the questions remained about claims made by Chugh about his position with the administration to the Indian media and on his own web site.

Aronsohn explained Chugh's position deals primarily with ethnic outreach in New Jersey. Among his roles will be overseeing the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, the Commission on American Indian Affairs, the Asian-Pacific American Advisory council, and the Diversity Commission.

Chugh said he did not want to discuss the matter.

Earlier, he told India Abroad that he was the target of a Republican smear campaign, but did not elaborate on his accusations.

"I have no opinion," he said. "Whatever they the governor's office told you, that's where I stand."

He repeated this answer when asked if the Indian press had misquoted him about his role and duties with the administration.

"I am not giving you any comments," he 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.

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