Jim Kouri
Feds round up New Jersey Democrat government officials for corruption charges
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By Jim Kouri
July 23, 2009

The mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield, the Jersey City deputy mayor and council president, two state assemblymen, numerous other public officials and political figures and five rabbis from New York and New Jersey were among 44 individuals charged Thursday in a two-track federal investigation of public corruption and a high-volume, international money laundering conspiracy, Michael Drewniak, public affairs officer for the US Attorney's Office in Newark, NJ.

All of those arrested are members of the New Jersey Democrat Party.

Most of the defendants were arrested Thursday morning by a large contingent of federal agents, led by Special Agents of the FBI Newark Division and IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

Court-authorized search warrants were also being executed approximately 20 locations in New Jersey and New York, to recover, among other things, large sums of cash and other evidence of criminal conduct. Additionally, 28 seizure warrants were being executed against bank accounts in the names of the money laundering defendants and entities they control.

One criminal Complaint charges a Brooklyn man, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, with conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant, at a cost of $160,000 to the transplant recipient. According to the Complaint, Rosenbaum said he had been brokering the sale of kidneys for 10 years.

In part, the bribe-taking was connected to fund raising efforts in heavily contested mayoral and city council campaigns in Jersey City and Hoboken, and the bribes were often parceled out to straw donors, who then wrote checks in their names or businesses to the campaigns in amounts that complied with legal limits on individual donations — so-called conduit or conversion donations. Other bribe recipients took cash for direct personal use and benefit; others kept some of the cash and used the rest for political campaigns, according to the criminal complaints.

Governor Jon Corzine announced that he asked his Community Affairs Commissioner, Joseph Doria, saying that Doria "could not be effective with such a serious investigation going on."

Doria is one of 44 political figures in New Jersey who were arrested on corruption charges. Others arrested included three mayors — Hoboken's Peter Cammarano, Secaucus' Dennis Elwell, and Ridgefield's Anthony Saurez — and Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini. Also arrested were State Assemblymen Daniel Van Pelt and L. Harvey Smith.

These and other politicians, along with several rabbis were arrested in what's being termed "a sweeping corruption investigation" that began as a federal investigation into a money laundering and the trafficking of merchandise, counterfeit designer clothing and apparel, and human organs for surgical transplants.

In addition, Ridgefield Mayor Suarez was charged with agreeing to accept an illegal $10,000 cash payment for his legal defense fund as a result of prior charges against him.

"Governor Corzine runs a state that is arguably running neck and neck with Illinois — Obama's home state — in The Most Corrupt State in the Union Contest," said one police official on condition of anonymity.

"Corzine's had his own scandals such as the one involving a half-million dollar loan he gave to his then-girlfriend, Carla Katz, who just happened to be the head of New Jersey's largest state workers unions,' said the police commander.

"Eventually, according to investigators, he forgave the loan giving the impression this was a payoff to gain union support for his election campaign and, if elected, garner her future support in the dealings between state workers and the Governor's office," he said.

"New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation," said Ed Kahrer, who heads the FBI's white collar and public corruption investigation division, during a press conference.

"Corruption is a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state," he said.

While FBI agents conducted a search of the Community Affairs Commissioner's home and office, they did not indicate whether the former Democratic lawmaker from Bayonne would face federal charges.

Meanwhile, Van Pelt was charged with accepting $10,000 from a federal informant using the pretext of a developer seeking building permits for a project in Ocean County, New Jersey. In addition, other Jersey City public officials are accused of accepting bribes to help the federal informant gain permits and other favors.

Jersey City's Deputy Mayor Beldini was charged with conspiracy to commit extortion by taking $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions. And neighboring Hoboken's Mayor Cammarano was charged Thursday with accepting $25,000 in cash bribes from an undercover informant. Secaucus Mayor Elwell is charged in the same case for accepting $10,000.

Introductions with the informant usually took place at diners and restaurants in Jersey City, Bayonne,

Weehawken, Hoboken, Staten Island, Toms River, Atlantic City and elsewhere. Envelopes stuffed with cash were often passed from the cooperating witness to recipients or their intermediaries in parking lots after such meetings, according to the criminal complaints.

The cases are being prosecuted by Brian Howe, Deputy Chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark McCarren, Sandra Moser and Maureen Nakly, all of the Special Prosecutions Division.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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