Jersey City’s Greasy Palms: Inside the 2009 Federal Corruption Probe
On July 23, 2009, federal officials announced corruption charges against scores of politicians and officials in Jersey City and elsewhere as part of a two-track federal investigation of public corruption and international money laundering.
The acting U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Ralph J. Marra, Jr., handed down criminal complaints for the following Jersey City officials, politicians and residents (click on a name for biographical information and more on the charges against them):
- City Council president Mariano Vega
- Deputy mayor Leona Beldini (Pleaded not guilty on Sept. 1)
- Former mayoral candidates Lou Manzo and L. Harvey Smith
- Former City Council candidates Guy Catrillo (Pleaded guilty on Sept. 9), Jimmy King (Pleaded guilty on Sept. 24), Michael Manzo, Lori Serrano (Pleaded not guilty on Dec. 22) and LaVern Webb-Washington (Pleaded guilty on Oct. 8 )
- City employees Joseph Castagna, John Guarini and Maher Khalil (Pleaded guilty on Sept. 9)
- Political consultants Joe Cardwell, Ron Manzo (Lou’s brother) and Jack Shaw (Found dead on July 28)
- Smith aide Richard Greene
- Former Board of Education vice president Edward Cheatam (Pleaded guilty on Sept. 18)
Other notable complaints were filed against Hoboken mayor Peter Cammarano and Secaucus mayor Dennis Elwell. (You can see the full list of those charged with political corruption here.)
The majority of the complaints against Jersey City officials tell a similar story. A cooperating witness (CW) offered to give sums of cash — between $5,000 and $30,000 — to current or aspiring politicians in order for favorable policy decisions, while others, including Beldini, Guarini, Khalil and Shaw, acted as go-betweens, setting up meetings and turning cash into discreet campaign contributions. The CW has been identified as real estate developer Solomon Dwek, who was charged in 2006 with defrauding PNC Bank out of $50 million.
Not arrested in July but later charged was Ward B councilman Phil Kenny. He subsequently resigned his post.
Monday, October 26
- The Ledger has an interesting and lengthy story on federal informant Solomon Dwek’s “whirlwind N.J. corruption tour,” revealing the “maddening pace” at which Dwek met with the targets of the FBI investigation he was aiding.
- Meanwhile, the law firm hired to audit Jersey City’s development process in the wake of widespread corruption arrests has been removed from a major case involving the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey due to ethics violations. However, a city spokesperson says the firm will stay on the job, adding that the city is “confident that they will produce a professional, thorough and independent audit of our development process.”
Wednesday, October 21
- Solomon Dwek, the government informant who helped snare scores of local politicians and officials in a federal corruption probe, pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to a $50 million bank fraud under a deal by which prosecutors have agreed not to pursue any other charges. The plea deal involved Dwek’s cooperation in the corruption sting, and lawyers for some of those arrested in July say Dwek has duped federal authorities into framing “innocent people” to avoid a long jail term for himself.
Friday, October 16
- Former state assemblyman and five-time mayoral candidate Lou Manzo and his brother and political advisor, Ron, pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges yesterday. John Lynch, the attorney for Lou Manzo, said he was not impressed after viewing videos made by the FBI involving the meetings with informant Solomon Dwek. Prosecutor and lawyers will now meet to go over the evidence, and the case will likely go to trial in the spring.
Monday, October 12
- Mayor Jerramiah Healy is reportedly supporting his special aide David Donnelly for the Ward B City Council seat vacated last week by Phil Kenny, who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. Donnelly is the son of Mary Donnelly, who served as Ward B councilwoman until 2005. The Insider says that Healy has pressured the council to vote Donnelly in on Wednesday, and says the appointment shows Healy has “a problem with the word ‘diversity.’” Meanwhile, like JCI, the Journal continues to call for At-Large councilman Mariano Vega* to resign in another scathing editorial. This one calls the City Council (save for Ward E councilman Steven Fulop and “sometimes” Ward F councilwoman Viola Richardson) “a city joke” and says the Healy administration “should be considered the worst administration in the city’s history.”
Friday, October 9
- As we noted yesterday, the big news was the seventh guilty plea in the federal corruption probe. Housing activist and former Ward F City Council candidate LaVern Webb-Washington pleaded guilty to accepting $15,000 in bribes from a purported developer in exchange for potential political favors. As a result, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency is seeking to sever all ties with Webb-Washington and her son related to a project on Martin Luther King Drive.
- Prosecutors don’t expect a trial date on federal corruption charges until spring for former Assemblyman and longtime mayoral hopeful Lou Manzo and his brother and political advisor Ron.
Thursday, October 8
- Ward B councilman Phil Kenny officially tendered his resignation yesterday, one day after pleading guilty in federal court to accepting bribes. Meanwhile, Kenny’s campaign treasurer says the dirty money in question has been donated to charity.
Wednesday, October 7
- Fulop: Vega* and Lopez Should Not Vote on Ward B Replacement
- The federal corruption sweep got a little bit wider yesterday as Ward B councilman Phil Kenny became the first sitting council member to plead guilty to taking bribes in return for potential political favors. Kenny, who was not among the 44 arrested in July, will be sentenced in January. Meanwhile, Council President Mariano Vega* stepped down as the leader of that body, but will remain an At-Large member of the council. For more details, check out our story from yesterday. The Journal has reactions from Kenny’s council colleagues and his political mentor, freeholder Bill O’Dea; Politicker hears from from At-Large councilman Peter Brennan, who will now run meetings as Council President Pro Tem; and David Cruz talks to an unnamed City Hall employee, who says city workers suspected something bigger was afoot yesterday. Meanwhile, this news organization has renewed its call for Vega* to resign from the council completely.
- In other corruption news, former state Assemblyman and perennial mayoral candidate Lou Manzo and his brother Ron were indicted yesterday on charges they accepted $27,500 in bribes from an FBI informant while promising to fast-track approvals for a development once Manzo was elected mayor. They are also charged with promising to promote a city employee (Maher Khalil) at the purported developer’s request.
Tuesday, October 6
Tuesday, September 29
- The Insider notes that the weekly corruption plea deals coming out of Jersey City can’t be good news for the re-election campaign of Gov. Corzine, and wonders who might be next to cop a deal in federal court.
Monday, September 28
- Democratic activist and local realtor Phil Rivo has organized a meeting of “reform-minded Democrats” with independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett, set to take place next week in Downtown Jersey City. Rivo tells Politicker that he and others are upset with the way Gov. Corzine has handled the corruption probe in Jersey City, pointing out that he was quick to sign an executive order reviewing development projects in Ridgefield but has remained mostly silent on Jersey City’s corruption.
- LaVern Webb-Washington has stepped down as president of her nonprofit community organization and no longer has a hand redeveloping an affordable housing project being overseen by the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA). Webb-Washington, who was arrested for allegedly taking bribes in July’s federal corruption probe, says her son has taken over as president of Webb-Washington Community Corp. But the JCRA wants the nonprofit off Fred W. Martin Houses project on MLK Drive altogether and is asking the developer to find a new nonprofit partner for the 39-unit project.
- The Journal continues to editorialize that the administration needs to clean house to deal with the federal corruption probe, saying it “will continue to beat the drum,” despite the silence of Mayor Healy and “the support of his apologists.”
Friday, September 25
- Former Parking Authority head and 2009 candidate for the Ward C seat on the City Council Jimmy King pleaded guilty yesterday to accepting up to $10,000 in bribes from a purported developer in exchange for potential political favors. King is the fifth person thus far to plead guilty in the federal corruption probe; he faces 10-16 months in prison and will be sentenced Jan. 5.
- Carl Czaplicki has been reappointed executive director of the Department of Housing, Economic Development and Commerce. Czaplicki has acknowledged he is “JC Official 3″ named in the federal corruption complaint against political operative Joseph Cardwell, but he has not been charged with a crime and maintains his innocence.
Monday, September 21
- Friday saw two more guilty pleas in the federal corruption probe. Former Housing Authority commissioner Edward Cheatam says he took $70,000 and funneled $15,000 to the re-election campaign of Mayor Jerramiah Healy. Former Hudson County elections investigator Dennis Jaslow says he took $15,500 in his role as a go-between for Solomon Dwek and a number of officials and candidates, including Joseph Castagna and then-Ward B candidate Michael Manzo. Both are scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 22. Cheatam faces a prison term of up to nine years, while Jaslow faces one of up to two and a half years. Healy continued to not comment on the “ongoing investigation,” which prompted the Journal to editorialize: “‘No Comment’ is Healy’s middle name.”
Wednesday, September 16
Monday, September 14
- Gov. Corzine has no intention of asking Healy to withdraw from a Sept. 23 fundraiser despite Healy’s entanglement in the federal corruption probe that swirls around his administration. Meanwhile, the Journal editorial board asks Healy, in the light of the problems of Ward C councilwoman Nidia Rivera Lopez’s residency and the corruption scandal that has plagued his administration: “Where is the outrage?”
Friday, September 11
- Mayor Jerramiah Healy has confirmed that FBI agents visited his Bradley Beach home in August and City Hall yesterday as they continue their probe into political corruption here. Sources tell the Journal that six to eight federal agents visited the offices of the business administrator, tax assessor, tax collector and city clerk yesterday.
- The city has fired employees Guy Catrillo and Khalil Maher, who both pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges this week.
- A federal judge in Newark has granted prosecutors 30 additional days to prepare for the corruption trial against Leona Beldini and Edward Cheatam.
- Meanwhile, the Ledger Live video guys have a pretty cool Historical Corruption Tour of Jersey City. Check it out and learn a little history.
Thursday, September 10
- The big news of yesterday was that planning aide Guy Catrillo and Health and Human Services deputy director Maher Khalil pleaded guilty to the federal corruption charges against them. In his plea, Khalil said he was passing the alleged $30,000 in bribes he took from a purported developer along to council president Mariano Vega* and former Housing Authority commissioner Edward Cheatam. Cheatam’s attorney maintains his client’s innocence; Vega* and Mayor Jerramiah Healy have thus far refused to comment. A few interesting notes on Catrillo’s plea: He say he handed over $10,000 the feds found when they arrested him back in July, and he admits to arranging a meeting between the purported developer and planning director Bob Cotter. It’s not clear that this meeting ever took place, but it is the first time Cotter’s name has entered the milieu. Khalil faces a maximum sentence of seven years and three months in prison, while Catrillo faces up to two years. Both will be sentenced in December. Meanwhile, Ward E councilman Steve Fulop says Khalil’s plea is a reminder that Vega* needs to resign.
Wednesday, September 9
Monday, September 7
- Turns out the FBI dropped in on Mayor Jerramiah Healy one day before they arrested scores of public officials in the corruption probe. That’s about all of the detail that is being confirmed at this point, so if you want to daydream about what might have been discussed at said meeting, let your imagination run wild.
- Meanwhile, multiple unnamed sources tell the Reporter that political consultant Jack Shaw was picked up by federal agents one day before July’s corruption arrests; they were allegedly trying to convince him to turn and become a cooperating witness, a proposition he apparently had no interest in. Shaw died in his apartment in the days following the arrests, in what some have speculated was a suicide.
- Council president Mariano Vega*, who was arrested on federal corruption charges in July, says he plans on presiding over the City Council at its caucus on Tuesday and the council meeting on Wednesday.
Wednesday, September 2
- Jersey City health department official Joseph Castagna has put in a request to retire. He was among those arrested in July’s federal corruption probe, and he is also under investigation by city police for potentially issuing more food vendor licenses than the city allows. If his request is approved, his pension would be more than $60,000 per year and he would receive a one-time payment of $84,414 for unused vacation and for 80 percent of unused sick time, city spokesperson Jennifer Morrill tells JCI. She explains that if Castagna were to be terminated rather than retire — which would likely happen if he was convicted of any charges — not much would change. He would still retain most of the one-time payment; keeping 100 percent of the unused vacation time but none of the sick time. She says the pension to which Castagna is entitled is governed by state law, and it would be their decision to revisit its allocation if he were to be convicted on any charges in the future. The request will be considered at the Sept. 16 meeting of the City of Jersey City Employees Retirement System board.
- Jersey City deputy mayor Leona Beldini and Edward Cheatam have pleaded not guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit extortion in connection to July’s federal corruption probe.
Friday, August 28
- City Council president Mariano Vega* tells Politicker that he has no plans to relinquish leadership of the council. Vega* was among those arrested in the federal corruption probe last month.
- The Record‘s Charles Stile says that the potential for a long-term relationship “emerges as the central, Faustian incentive” in the federal corruption probe. He says the temptation of pols to gain a steady source of cash might have been enough incentive to accept the often meager bribes from informant Solomon Dwek.
Tuesday, August 25
- Jimmy King, who was arrested by the FBI in last month’s corruption probe, is closing down the Jimmy King Civic Association. “This is to inform you that we are retiring. We are looking forward to spending more time with our 5 grandchildren,” a postcard mailed to the association’s members reads. “For the last six years we did more together than any other club. If not for your help we could not accomplish what we did. The club is officially closed as of September 2009.”
Monday, August 24
- When officials charged in the federal corruption probe begin to go to trial, the success or failure of the cases will depend largely on how members of the jury interpret the government’s tapes. Attorneys tell the Associated Press that is dicey proposition for both sides.
- Ward F councilwoman Viola Richardson joins Ward D’s Bill Gaughan on the list of those who were approached by Solomon Dwek in the corruption probe. Richardson tells the Reporter that Dwek approached an unnamed “intermediary” before and after this May’s election to set up a meeting with her, although no name was given other than a “rich Jewish developer.”
Friday, August 21
- Deputy mayor Leona Beldini and former Housing Authority commissioner Edward Cheatam became the first public officials to be indicted in the federal corruption probe yesterday. They are charged with “with conspiring to extort corrupt cash payments, illicit political contributions and other benefits under color of official right, in return for Beldini’s and an elected Jersey City official’s influence in Jersey City government matters.” If convicted, Beldini and Cheatam could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Read the full indictment here. You may remember that the complaint against Beldini was where Mayor Healy made his appearance as Official 4; sure enough, he is also in the indictment, as Official 1. The Journal has some reaction from around City Hall, and wonders why this administration’s deputy mayors run into so much trouble.
Thursday, August 20
- “Multiple City Hall sources” tell Politicker that council president Mariano Vega*, who was arrested in last month’s corruption sting, is considering relinquishing his post as prez before the next council meeting (Sept. 9).
Wednesday, August 19
- The Justice Department is examining whether acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra made inappropriate public comments during the press conference announcing last month’s corruption arrests that boosted Republican Chris Christie’s run for governor against Jon Corzine. When Christie was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Marra was his top deputy.
- A letter signed by every Republican in the state Senate and Assembly was sent to Gov. Corzine yesterday asking him to order a special session of the Legislature to adopt “more stringent legislation to punish corrupt local officials.”
Tuesday, August 18
- U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo approved continuances for most of the 44 defendants arrested in last month’s corruption probe; the orders effectively extend the time under which federal prosecutors must bring a defendant to trial.
- At the corruption hearing held yesterday by a Republican Assembly committee, Morris County political consultant George Dredden offered up a dumb idea: Require lie-detector tests — which have long been shown to be unreliable and also might violate the state constitution — for all candidates for office and all government officials.
Monday, August 17
- Ward D councilman Bill Gaughan confirms to the Reporter that he, like many other Jersey City politicians, was approached by federal informant Solomon Dwek about a purported development on Garfield Avenue. Gaughan says he was suspicious of Dwek, who had no specifics on the development. “It was very obvious, I asked for plans, I asked for site control, [Dwek] had nothing,” Gaughan says. “All he had was a good line.”
- Deputy mayor Leona Beldini has resigned from the board of directors of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation in the wake of her arrest on corruption charges last month.
- Meanwhile, many of those arrested last month have retained top-dog attorneys, but some from Jersey City will rely on public defenders, including Richard Greene, John Guarini, Maher Khalil and LaVern Webb-Washington. The Star-Ledger has a chart that accompanies this story.
Friday, August 14
- Leona Beldini and Joe Cardwell, who were both arrested in last month’s corruption sting, have not yet resigned from their positions on two Jersey City boards. Beldini serves on the board of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, for which she receives no pay or benefits; Cardwell is on the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority board, which does not pay him but does provide health benefits estimated to be worth $10,000 per year.
Thursday, August 13
- Council president Mariano Vega*, who was not at yesterday’s meeting or Monday’s council caucus, says he missed the meeting because he had to meet with his attorney to discuss the federal corruption case against him. He also tells the Journal that he will continue to fight the charges.
- Meanwhile, two Jersey City officials caught up in the corruption probe have officially resigned their unpaid positions on two boards. Edward Cheatam is no longer a Housing Authority commissioner, and Maher Khalil has left the Jersey City Development Corporation’s board of trustees.
Wednesday, August 12
- Mayor Jerramiah Healy says that he’s donating to charity any political contributions he’s received that were tainted by the FBI corruption sting. Right now, the mayor is lowballing the figure at $17,600 but he acknowledges that if money funneled through the Jersey City Democratic Committee that the sting targets said would go the mayor’s campaign ends up looking dirty, he will add it to the charity list.
- Meanwhile, a rarely heard from panel of state legislators called the Assembly Republican Policy Committee says it will hold a number of hearings on public corruption around the state. The first hearing will be in Trenton, and subsequent hearings have not yet been scheduled.
- Michael P. Riccards of the Hall Institute of Public Policy pens an op-ed in the Record on New Jersey’s culture of corruption, and what we can do about it. “Everybody seems up for sale in New Jersey,” he writes. “There is no evidence that the corrupters ran into a wall blocked by honest opposition, so we will have to rethink our strategy for keeping this state honest.”
Tuesday, August 11
- Robert Antonicello of the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority and several local residents say that politicians being approached by federal informant Solomon Dwek about a purported development on Garfield Avenue should have smelled BS from the beginning. They say a project of that density, and with units going for as much as Dwek claimed, could never be built in the area.
- A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that 93 percent of New Jersey voters say government corruption is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem and 65 percent of voters say the recent wave of corruption arrests embarrasses them as New Jersey residents. Voters say 50-15 percent that they associate the Democratic Party with corruption more than the Republican Party. Independent voters blame Democrats 56-9 percent. Even 28 percent of Democrats point the finger at their own party.
Monday, August 10
- Several advocates point to the latest corruption arrests as proof that there are serious problems with the way development happens in New Jersey, while Mayor Healy and others are quick to defend the city’s record on development.
- Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, who last week announced he would not resign his spot in Trenton in the wake of the scandal, says that he “is going to continue to serve whatever needs [his constituents] may have.”
- Meanwhile, the Insider seems to agree with the administration’s assessment that the protests and calls for resignations will die down in the coming weeks, saying: “Sorry folks, you ain’t Hoboken.” But the editorial board on which he sits sounds a different, less cynical, note today, calling again for Council president Mariano Vega*’s resignation and saying that if he doesn’t step down, “the calls for the councilman to remove himself from office will be loud and ugly enough to affect even the November gubernatorial race in this county.”
- Record columnist Charles Stile talks to former mayor Bret Schundler about the corruption scandal. “[Healy] should go out and say, ‘This is what was said to me, this is what I did and didn’t know,’ ” Schundler tells him. “If he actually has a defense, he should share it with us.”
Sunday, August 9
- Healy Will Call for Audit of Development in Jersey City Tomorrow
Friday, August 7
- Despite rumors to the contrary, 31st District Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith has announced he will not resign his post, even though he has been charged with accepting bribes totaling $15,000 as part of last month’s federal corruption bust. Smith’s pay and benefits have been suspended by Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, and Smith’s term ends in December.
Thursday, August 6
- Governor Corzine and his opponent Chris Christie exchanged harsh words yesterday over each other’s reactions to last month’s corruption busts.
Wednesday, August 5
- National Night Out Draws Hundreds Citywide
- In response to rumors that 31st District Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith would resign in the wake of his indictment on corruption charges, Smith’s lawyer announced that he will make a decision by the end of this week.
Tuesday, August 4
- Environmental groups from all over the state are calling for an investigation of the state Department of Environmental Protection in light of last month’s corruption arrests.
Monday, August 3
- State Senator Stephen Sweeney will introduce a bill that would require that locally elected officials indicted on charges that would require their removal from office upon conviction be removed at the time of indictment. Under the conditions of this bill, officials such as Council President Mariano Vega* and 31st District Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, who were charged in the recent corruption bust but have not resigned, would be forced from office.
- Governor Corzine is considering a state takeover of Ridgefield in Bergen County, whose mayor was arrested as part of last month’s massive corruption sting.
Friday, July 31
- Corruption Quote of the Day: ‘People Might Ask Questions’
- Council Report: Villagers at the Gate, a New Council President (Pro Tem) and More
- Political consultant Jack Shaw had reportedly agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in their corruption probe after he himself was arrested last week. He told the feds he could help develop new information on those already charged in the case and to possibly identify new targets. Shaw was found dead in his apartment on Tuesday. Shaw was also reportedly taped discussing possible illegal payments to former state Community Affairs Commissioner Joe Doria. Meanwhile, the Times paints a darker picture of Shaw than what we’ve been reading in our local papers.
- While working on a tight 30 day clock, federal investigators are widening the inquiry and looking to strengthen the case against those who maintain their right to remain silent, hoping to get some of those who have been charged to flip and help with other targets.
- Former Parking Authority director Jimmy King is one of the 19 officials arrested on corruption charges last week that could collect their public pensions and lifetime health benefits, even if convicted. King receives a monthly stipend of $3,350.19.
- When Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith put in a call to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on behalf of purported developer Solomon Dwek, top DEP officials responded promptly to that call, directing subordinates to investigate the status of contaminated Garfield Avenue property that interested Dwek, according to documents obtained this week by the Record. Critics contend that this type of behavior shows how politicized the supposedly independent scientific office has become.
- In our neighbor to the north, mayor Peter Cammarano, who was among those busted in the probe last week, is expected to resign today.
- And the probe was a topic on the campaign trail again yesterday, as Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie said that Gov. Corzine can’t be held responsible for the conduct of the charged public officials. He did note, however, that the arrests happened on the governor’s “watch.”
Thursday, July 30
- Corruption Quote of the Day: ‘Too Many Snakes Around’
- PHOTOS: Scenes from Yesterday’s City Hall Rally
- When asked why he voted on a resolution calling for his own ouster rather than simply abstaining, Council president Mariano Vega says “it seemed like the right thing to do.” As we reported yesterday, the move for a no confidence vote in Vega failed, with Ward E councilman Steven Fulop, the resolution’s sponsor, casting the lone yes vote. Prior to the meeting, between 100 and 200 people gathered outside City Hall to demand Vega’s resignation, as well as Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s and Ward C councilwoman Nidia Rivera Lopez’s. Meanwhile, the Journal editorial board agrees with ours: Vega has got to go. MORE: heidiologies has a nice photo set from yesterday’s council meeting and the protest.
- At a press conference after the council meeting, Healy once again said that he is not resigning and that he has done nothing wrong. Healy has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but is named in the federal criminal complaint against his deputy mayor, Leona Beldini.
- The preliminary autopsy of political consultant Jack Shaw was not able to pinpoint the cause of his death; more tests must be undertaken in the coming weeks. Shaw, who was charged in last week’s corruption probe, was found dead in his Jersey City apartment on Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, the Record takes a look at Shaw’s past and talks to his many friends in Jersey City, who remember him as “mild-mannered, friendly and well-respected.”
- The government’s key witness in the corruption probe, Solomon Dwek, made nearly $200,000 in campaign donations to prominent Democratic and Republicans candidates and committees in New Jersey between 1998 and 2006.
Wednesday, July 29
- The corruption probe took a human and perhaps dark turn yesterday when Jersey City political consultant Jack Shaw was found dead in his Paulus Hook apartment. There is speculation and unconfirmed reports that the death may have been a suicide; we might not know for a few weeks if a toxicology report has to be done. Shaw was charged last week with accepting $10,000 from a purported developer in exchange for exploiting his “very good relationship” with an unnamed Jersey City official later revealed to be Mayor Jerramiah Healy.
- Mayor Healy tells the Associated Press that he’s going to fight the PR war for Jersey City in the wake of last week’s corruption arrests. He says he is “very concerned” about the effect the arrests could have on the city’s image and on future development projects. While worrying about the city’s image to developers is all fine and good, perhaps the mayor should also be worried about the city’s image to many of the concerned citizens who live here. There is very palpable and real concern about the allegations brought to light last week amongst Jersey City’s citizens. If you count yourself among those with such concerns, you can join One Jersey City and others at an “ad hoc” rally prior to this morning’s City Council meeting at City Hall. The rally is slated to begin at 9 am; the meeting at 10 am.
- Meanwhile, in a sit-down interview with NBC, Healy says the diner in the criminal complaint in which he is named is the Medical Center Luncheonette, and that he goes there several times a week. He also says there “was definitely no quid pro quo” between him and Solomon Dwek.
- The city’s Law Department is researching the procedure and grounds on which the mayor and the City Council can remove Joe Cardwell from the Municipal Utilities Authority board; the position has no salary but comes with benefits. Meanwhile, Edward Cheatam agreed on Saturday to resign as a board member of the Jersey City Housing Authority, but JCHA chairman Raj Mukherji says he’s yet to receive the letter. That leaves Council president Mariano Vega as the last person charged in the probe who continues to receive a city salary and perks. The administration cannot suspend him from his post, since it is an elected position, and Vega says he will not resign.
- Matt Friedman looks into the way the political corruption probe may affect the ability of political operatives in Jersey City and other HudCo locales to get out the vote, particularly the vote for Gov. Corzine in this fall’s gubernatorial election.
- On the state level, many observers say large ethics loopholes remain at many levels of government. A number of committees, boards, commissions and agencies all have something to say about ethics, but none have the final word.
- Assembly deputy speaker John Wisniewski of Sayreville says that he is the “DOT official” described in a criminal complaint against Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith.
Tuesday, July 28
- The question that has been on the lips of many recently — Why is New Jersey so corrupt? — gets “Room for Debate” play from the New York Times. Former Jersey Journal writer Helene Stapinski and a host of other journalists and thinkers weigh in.
- Meanwhile, Jersey City law firm Cammarata, Nulty & Garrigan has been retained by Secaucus mayor Dennis Elwell in the wake of his arrest on a bribery charge last week; they plan on making a comment about the arrest today.
- Politicker’s “Wally Edge” has a partial list of attorneys representing some of those charged in the corruption scandal. Of note: Lou Manzo and his brother Ron have hired different attorneys, while LaVern Webb-Washington is the only one on the list to be represented by a public defender.
- In light of the massive corruption bust, the economic stimulus bill signed into law yesterday by Gov. Corzine is facing renewed criticism from progressive groups like New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and the NJ Sierra Club. “The arrests uncovered an unprecedented level of corruption throughout the state and made the need for transparency and accountability in all government transactions even more obvious,” NJPP’s Naomi Mueller Bressler says. “Unfortunately, the bill the governor signed this afternoon expands programs that some say will encourage development with no improvement in transparency or accountability and no real understanding of whether any of these economic development programs work.”
Monday, July 27
- As the City Council prepares to have its caucus meeting today, there are questions about whether or not council president Mariano Vega will keep his job. He no-commented the Journal last week when asked about the push — led by Ward E councilman Steven Fulop — to have him resign his post. Ward A councilman Michael Sottolano says it is “premature” to ask Vega to resign, but that it would “behoove” the council president to step down from the closed-door tax abatement committee, which he chairs.
- The Times asks the question: Why is New Jersey so corrupt? The paper finds a “culture of corruption so ingrained that it has become impossible to resist when the envelope appears.”
- The corruption probe has given Republican state Sen. Marcia Karrow a new reason to criticize the amount of money the state gives ailing cities in municipal aid. Karrow is calling for a freeze in the aid and an audit.
Sunday, July 26
- We all know that Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy is Official 4 in the criminal complaints made public last week. Now we know that his former chief of staff, Carl Czaplicki, who is the director of the city’s Department of Housing, Economic Development & Commerce, is Official 3. Czaplicki, like Healy, has not been charged with anything.
- Federal investigators have subpoenaed information from the city regarding the seven city employees who were charged in the corruption sweep. The records, which are being collected by the city’s law department, include emails, phone records, appointment books, calendars, message pads and telephone logs.
- Outside of federal court in Newark, the attorney for L. Harvey Smith says the Assemblyman “is completely innocent and was just doing conscientiously his job as an elected official for the people of his district.” Meanwhile, Lori Serrano’s attorney says she “is caught up in the web of deceit.”
- The Record looks at the links between powerful development interests and New Jersey policymakers in the wake of the corruption probe. The paper, pointing to recent legislation tilted towards developers, finds the ties have never been stronger.
- Many of the politicians and officials caught up in last week’s sweep are likely to claim entrapment as a legal defense; they’ll say that the CW, Solomon Dwek, set them up just to get himself out of a jam. But legal experts tell the Star-Ledger that this strategy rarely works in court; they also rightly note that few of those accused will opt to face a trial, given the tapes that exist and the recent heavy sentences meted out in corruption cases. Look for a lot of plea deals, and perhaps some flipping on others — a scenario explored in a little more detail by Bob Braun.
- Writing in TIME, New Jersey native Bill Saporito takes a moment to look at the bright side of last week’s bust: “It shows how wonderfully diverse New Jersey has become,” he writes. “Look at the names on yesterday’s arrest list, and it’s a beautiful rainbow of wretchedness.” Also: “None of those charged has been fingered by the Feds as being a member of the Mafia. So many new groups are now involved in corrupting New Jersey that the Mob must have been crowded out of the market. We’re talking progress, people.”
- An attorney in the PNC Bank case against Solomon Dwek notes that his role as an FBI informant was the “worst-kept secret in New Jersey.”
Friday, July 24
- At least one official is questioning the federal agents’ tactics of massive armed roundups in the early morning hours. Jersey City housing inspector John Guarini tells the Journal that if they had simply told him he was being charged, he would have turned himself in.
- The president of St. Peter’s College was among those served with a warrant yesterday morning, but he wasn’t arrested.
- City Council president Mariano Vega, for one, is proclaiming his innocence. He’s charged with taking $30,000 in bribes. “My client is totally innocent and we look forward to our day in court,” his attorney said yesterday. “He believes in his innocence; I believe in his innocence and his family is standing beside him.”
- Legislative leaders are calling on the Assemblymen who have been charged — including Jersey City’s L. Harvey Smith — to resign. If Smith steps down, the final six months of his term would likely be filled by police detective Charles Mainor, according to “Wally Edge.” Smith was not running for re-election.
- The Daily News has a quick history of political corruption in Hudson County, noting that it was no surprise that the epicenter of the latest bust was HudCo.
- Raids in Bayonne and Trenton forced former Bayonne mayor Joe Doria to resign his cabinet post as Department of Community Affairs commissioner.
Thursday, July 23
Our live Twitter coverage of the press conference announcing the charges:
12:40 PM: US Attorney: Probe shows ‘the pervasive nature of public corruption in the state’ #jerseycity