TRENTON - A top senator wants the state attorney general to investigate whether the brother-in-law of Gov. Corzine's ex-girlfriend improperly examined tax records when he worked for the state.

In a letter sent yesterday to Attorney General Anne Milgram, Senate Judiciary Chairman John Adler said he has "reason to believe" that Rocco Riccio "may have engaged in misconduct during his tenure with the state."

"Specifically, I believe that he might have examined certain tax records in violation of state law," Adler wrote.

Riccio received $15,000 from Corzine and the governor's personal attorney after he was asked to quit a state job by the administration.

Riccio, who didn't respond to requests for comment yesterday, had been a state employee since 1994, starting at the state Treasury Department before moving to Human Services in 2005.

He said Corzine staff members asked him to resign last fall, saying he had been accused of improperly reviewing tax records of Corzine's political enemies. Riccio said that looking at tax records was part of his job and denied wrongdoing.

Corzine's administration then sent Riccio's resume to the Turnpike Authority, which gave him an accounting manager job that lasted two weeks. He said he was asked to quit amid media inquiries into his qualifications.

Riccio is a brother-in-law of state worker union leader Carla Katz, who dated Corzine from 2002 to 2004 when Corzine was a U.S. senator.

Riccio said he was promised a private-sector job by Corzine's staff that never materialized, but got $10,000 from Corzine and $5,000 from Corzine's personal attorney.

At a Senate Judiciary hearing yesterday, Adler said the matter was "enormously troubling."

"I'm going to ask that the attorney general initiate a thorough criminal review of what happened and determine whether any laws were broken," said Adler (D., Camden).

David Wald, spokesman for Milgram, said the office would review Adler's request, but declined to comment on whether it will investigate. Still, Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said, "We welcome the attorney general's review and look forward to its conclusion."

Adler's comments came as the committee renewed questioning of the governor's comptroller nominee, Matthew Boxer, who attended a meeting with Riccio and the Democratic governor's chief counsel.

The committee last month didn't act on Boxer's nomination as the state's first comptroller after Boxer declined to detail the meeting.

Boxer cited an opinion from the Attorney General's Office advising against publicly commenting on personnel matters, though he said he knew nothing about the money paid to Riccio nor requests to have him quit his job.

Boxer is a former assistant U.S. attorney who has been working in Corzine's office overseeing state authorities.

Adler said Boxer provided senators with notes from his meeting and met privately with individual senators Monday morning. Adler said he was convinced that Boxer couldn't comment publicly on the meeting and was truthful in his testimony.

The committee then approved Boxer's nomination, sending it to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

"When I see a $15,000 payment being made for no apparent reason to someone who could have received that payment just to keep quiet about who asked him to do various acts which caused him to be fired, the word

bribe

comes into my head," said Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Bergen).

Corzine has acknowledged giving the payments, but said he was just helping a friend.