Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) is asking the New Jersey attorney general to investigate a possible "illegal tax kickback" scheme involving West Deptford and Sunoco, the owner of a shuttered oil refinery there.

Sweeney's request is connected to a bitter political feud in his hometown, where Republicans took control of the township committee this year after Democratic control for more than two decades. An incumbent Democrat is up for reelection next month, and the Sunoco issue has become a focus of the campaign.

The attorney general already is investigating an alleged quid pro quo scheme involving West Deptford's water department in which hundreds of people, including employees, are accused of getting free water and sewer service, according to Republican Mayor Raymond Chintall. That investigation was prompted by an audit that the Republicans commissioned after they took over.

The Attorney General's Office, as per policy, does not comment on ongoing investigations.

The genesis of Sweeney's letter is a long-standing battle involving Sunoco's appeal of local property taxes on its Eagle Point facility. The township committee settled with Sunoco last summer by deciding to write a check for $13.1 million in overpaid taxes.

About the same time, Sweeney sponsored legislation aimed at decommissioned refineries undergoing remediation, such as Eagle Point. It mandated that any property tax refunds be given to the Department of Environmental Protection to be used for cleanup, rather than to the company. Once the cleanup is complete, remaining funds would be sent to the company.

Sweeney alleges that the township officials may have settled the tax issue in order to get $750,000 needed to buy two fire trucks. Sunoco made a donation to the fire companies in that amount in September.

Sweeney contends in the letter to Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa that the $13.1 million payment was either "an illegal tax kickback in order to secure fire trucks" or "an effort by Sunoco to give West Deptford an illegal bribe in order to secure $13.1 million in public funds."

News reports and campaign literature indicate that both West Deptford Democrats and Republicans have claimed credit for securing the money for the fire-truck deal during discussions over the settlement.

As for the allegation that the tax settlement was illegal, Chintall said Sweeney's new law didn't apply to the West Deptford situation. The township committee unanimously approved the Sunoco settlement with bipartisan support July 5, four days before Gov. Christie signed Sweeney's bill into law. The money was formally paid in September.

"The whole implication of what they're doing is purely political," Chintall said. "If there was such an issue, you would think they would address that in July or August. Now, all of a sudden, two weeks before the election . . . Sweeney is jumping on this."

Sweeney sent the letter to Chiesa on Wednesday and followed up with a news release about it Thursday.

"Town officials were well aware that, if they followed the law and escrowed the $13.1 million with [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] as required by the above-referenced legislation, Sunoco was prepared to rescind" the fire-truck offer, Sweeney wrote.

Sunoco, in a statement from spokesman Thomas Golembeski, denied that: "The township's decision to convey the settlement to Sunoco and not to the State of New Jersey is not related, nor was it contingent upon receiving a donation for fire trucks."

The negotiations on the tax dispute "were conducted in a professional and fully legal matter," Golembeski said.

Sweeney's law wouldn't have applied to the Eagle Point facility anyway, he said, because it is not "underutilized," as specified. Hundreds of workers are there every day.

In 2009, the company announced that it was ending its refining operation, laying off hundreds. But it is now being cleaned up and converted into a fuel terminal.