It pays to know your neighbors, which is why reporters around here grow weary of me insisting that they drill down deep into the background of everyone they interview: It’s all part of the fabric that helps create a community. We want to know that about our neighbors, and chances are our neighbors want to know at least that much about us.

And if it pays to know your neighbors, then it must really pay to know your rich neighbors. For that reason I jumped at the chance to access an enterprising piece of reporting by NJ Biz, the statewide business newspaper, listing the 50 wealthiest New Jerseyans.

As the magazine reported, “we recognized that our numbers are estimates, so we backstopped our calculations twice: first, by running them by independent industry insiders. Then, we reached out to the Wealthy 50 (directly, when we could get a phone number or E-mail, or through representatives when we couldn’t), ran the numbers by them, and asked for their thoughts.”

The hard work of freelance correspondent Martin C. Daks paid off for us readers. I was looking for neighbors, of course, and found three of them, including numbers two and three on the Top 50 list. But even among the less well-heeled members of the list, I noted some interesting names. For example, Governor Christie just announced his “New Jersey Finance Leadership Team,” a group of 60 movers and shakers who will spearhead the fundraising for his presidential campaign.

The only one of the bunch I noted on the NJ Biz top 50 list was the co-chair, Finn Wentworth of Normandy Realty in Morristown, No. 48 — with a net worth of about $100 million — on the NJ Biz list.

Like every list of rankings, whether it’s pizza parlors or rich guys, the NJ Biz rankings of the wealthiest raises some controversy. The magazine listed Bruce Springsteen at No. 38 with a net worth of $300 million. OK.

But then it listed Jon Bon Jovi ahead of Springsteen at No. 36, even though they both have the same estimated worth: $300 million. It didn’t seem right. How could anyone in any industry be worth more than the Boss?

Closer to home, at No. 28, NJ Biz lists Jesse Treu, a partner in Domain Associates, the venture capital firm at 1 Palmer Square, with an estimated net worth of $540 million. Treu has been a partner of Domain since its inception in 1985 and has been a director of 37 early-stage healthcare companies, 23 of which have become successful public companies. He earned a degree in physics from RPI and his PhD from Princeton. Sounds like he can talk science and finance.

No. 2 on the NJ Biz list is Donald Newhouse of Hopewell, the 85-year-old president of Advance Publications, which owns the Star-Ledger and Trenton Times newspapers, among others, and Conde Nast, publisher of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines. NJ Biz estimates his wealth at $8.5 billion.

By far the most intriguing of all on the list is another neighbor of ours: Andrew Shechtel, ranked No. 3 with an estimated net worth of $5 billion. The magazine offers this parenthetical note: “An individual with ‘knowledge of Shechtel’s finances’ told NJ BIZ Shechtel has given away nearly $5 billion to charities during a multi-year period. The individual said Shechtel’s resulting net worth is approximately $125 million.”

Wow. I’m challenged to do the arithmetic but it appears the “individual with knowledge” is saying that Shechtel has given away $4.875 billion. That’s a lot of philanthropy for a neighbor most of us have never heard of.

Up until a year ago some of us might have recognized his hedge fund, TGS Management at 33 Witherspoon Street (with an entrance on Spring Street, about two blocks from my house). And a few of us would have recalled that TGS grew out of Princeton Newport Partners, the trading company that was raided in 1987 by federal agents. Five of the principals were indicted on racketeering and tax-fraud charges, with prosecutors trying to make them testify in the famous Michael Milken junk-bond case. The Princeton Newport five maintained their innocence, and all charges were eventually dropped.

But by then the company was dead. The guys who picked up the pieces were C. Frederick Taylor, David Gelbaum, and Shechtel — hence TGS. They launched that business in 1989 and it very quietly pursued its mission.

Over the years Shechtel’s name has appeared in reference to the Jewish Community Youth Foundation, funded in part by the Ricky and Andrew J. Shechtel Philanthropic Fund, in which kids raise money for worthy causes, determined through their own research and due diligence.

But last May, thanks to an enterprising reporter for Bloomberg Business, Zachary R. Mider, we all got a more complete picture of Shechtel’s prodigious philanthropy. Mider had discovered, “in an obscure IRS database the existence of two huge charitable funds . . . established on the same day in 2002. Together these trusts hold about $9.7 billion, one of the largest pools of philanthropic funding in the U.S., bigger than the Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations combined. Only three private foundations — the Gates, Ford, and Getty foundations — are bigger.”

After peeling away many layers of paperwork, the reporter was able to trace all the money to Shechtel. Much of the money has been given in support of research into Huntington’s disease, through the CHDI Foundation, which has offices at Forrestal Village.

Why so much money aimed at one charity, and why the secrecy were unanswered questions in the comprehensive Bloomberg article.

As Scott Fitzgerald noted in a short story: “The very rich are different from you and me.” And as Ernest Hemingway rejoined in another short story: “yes, they have more money.” To which I would only add, in the case of our neighbor, they apparently think it’s worth the effort to keep it secret.

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