NJ Corruption Bust & Democratic Panic

NJ is a great state where the rich get richer… 12 people, all public officials or past public officals, Senators, a mayor, school board members, busted in an insurance scam, to divert buisiness the insurance companies in exchange for money. Good use of the peoples tax dollars…

Passaic Councilman Marcellus Jackson was, according to federal prosecutors, more than happy to receive $6,000 to try steer city business to an insurance company.

“I appreciate it, baby,” he said, according to the criminal complaint. “Good things is gonna happen.”

His fellow councilman, Jonathan Soto, thought the “sky was the limit,” making sure those doling out money knew, “I have friends in other municipalities, and I’m all for getting my feet wet as well, man, you know what I’m saying?”

The criminal complaints against the 12 people arrested Thursday in New Jersey on federal corruption charges detailed what prosecutors describe as brazen greed even for a state infamous for corruption.

The 12, including 11 public officials, were released Thursday after initial court appearances.

They will enter pleas at a later date, though attorneys for two state lawmakers who were arrested said they would plead not guilty and Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera said, “I’ll have my day in court.” Others either declined to comment or didn’t return calls seeking comment.

The complaints feature quotes from secretly recorded conversations that depict public officials negotiating for as much cash as they could get and bragging about their influence. Bribes were accepted in parked cars, highway rest stops and parking garages, according to the court documents.

“It’s been six years doing this job, and I thought I could no longer be surprised by a combination of brazenness, arrogance and stupidity,” U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said. “But the people elected in this state continue to defy description.”

The probe into bribe-taking in the awarding of public contracts resulted in the arrests of two state lawmakers, two mayors, three city councilmen and several members of the school board in Pleasantville.

One state lawmaker, Assemblyman Mims Hackett Jr., told The Star-Ledger of Newark late Friday that he was resigning, something state Democratic Party leaders had called for. Alfred Steele, the other Democratic assemblyman in the case, hasn’t disclosed what he will do.

The investigation began last year, focusing first on the Pleasantville schools. The FBI established a fake insurance brokerage purporting to employ the government’s two informants along with undercover agents. The probe widened when Pleasantville board members referred the informants to public officials in northern New Jersey.

Those who were arrested took bribes of up to $17,500, according to an investigation that featured hundreds of hours of audio and videotaped encounters. It was, Christie said, another example of “those who put their own self-interest in front of the public interest.”

Money was their ultimate goal, according to the criminal complaints.

During a meeting with the undercover informants, Pleasantville school member Maurice “Pete” Callaway, who was running for city council, was asked, “What do you guys need from us?”

“It’s always the money issue,” he is quoted as saying. “At least ten grand would get us over the hump.”

Eight days later the $10,000 was ready. But how did he want it _ cash or check?

“Well, you know cash is always better than a check,” the complaint quotes Callaway, who was charged with accepting $13,000 total.

Hackett is accused of agreeing to take $5,000 to help the company obtain contracts and $25,000 when one was approved. When asked if that sounded good, he said, “Oh yeah,” according to the complaint.

Three months later, near City Hall in Orange, where Hackett is mayor, he got $5,000 in cash tucked inside an insurance company brochure, according to a complaint.

Steele, accused of taking $14,000, told company officials he would use his “personal touch” to get them meetings with Paterson government officials, a complaint said.

Democratic leaders have called for the two lawmakers to resign in order to save face and get a new candidate up for the next round of elections. Assemblyman Steel is following Democratic orders and he has announced his intention to resign and Assemblyman Hackett is expected to resign also. Unfortunately I fear that the public will vote in more scoundrels as is the history of NJ voters.

Assemblyman Alfred E. Steele, D-Paterson, one of two state lawmakers facing corruption charges as a result of an FBI bribery sting, is heeding Governor Corzine’s call to step down, a party spokeswoman said Saturday.

Steele, a Paterson minister, will announce his resignation Monday, said Julie Roginsky, spokeswoman for the Passaic County Democratic Party.

Assemblyman Mims Hackett Jr., D-Essex, the other legislator caught in the probe, also is expected to resign from his seat Monday.

The announcement about Steele’s future came after he talked Saturday morning with John Currie, the Passaic County Democratic chairman, Roginsky said.

“The intention is for Assemblyman Steele to resign on Monday,” she said.

Steele, who had previously given up his job as Passaic County’s undersheriff, could not be reached for comment. The pastor at Seminary Baptist Church has served in the Assembly since 1996.

Hackett also could not be reached for comment Saturday, but numerous party officials said they were aware of his decision to step down. He has served in the Assembly since 2002.

It was unclear whether he would resign from his position as mayor of Orange.

Steele, Hackett and nine other public officials, including Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera, were charged in a widespread FBI bribery sting announced last week by U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie.

Investigators accuse the men of pocketing more than $100,000 in bribes for allegedly working to fix no-bid contracts. They are each free on $200,000 bail and have yet to enter pleas.

Rivera said Friday he is planning to fight the charges. Steele and Hackett have not made any public comments since their arrests.

Corzine, Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts and Senate President Richard J. Codey said Friday that Steele and Hackett should resign their legislative seats by today.

Steele already had given up his role as the Assembly’s deputy speaker, and Hackett had also dropped his committee posts.

The resignations give Democratic leaders in Passaic and Essex counties less than two weeks to pick ballot replacements.

State law gives county political parties until 48 days prior to the general election to replace candidates who drop out after the primary election. That deadline is Sept. 19.

Passaic Mayor Rivera refuses to resign and is attempting to keep Passaic running as usual.

He’s still in control. He’s not going anywhere and it’s business as usual at City Hall — well, except for maybe a few more angry telephone calls from residents who are not complaining about plumbing or potholes. They’re demanding that the mayor resign.

A day after FBI agents arrested Mayor Samuel Rivera and 11 others on charges of extortion and bribery, he sat behind his desk on Friday in the mayor’s office, dressed in a beige suit and beige tie, his hair neatly combed. His gold ring sparkled.

“I am going to stay as long as I can,” he said as he conducted his mayoral duties — taking telephone calls, signing papers, reading a complaint from a resident about a neighbor’s purportedly illegal basement.

Rivera, 60, is accused of taking $5,000 in bribes from undercover agents posing as insurance brokers. If he’s convicted, he could spend 20 years in a federal prison. He is determined to fight the charge.

“I’m definitely going to fight it,” he said.

One state lawmaker was not quite so resilient. Assemblyman Mims Hackett Jr. of Orange told The Star-Ledger of Newark late Friday that he was resigning, something state Democratic Party leaders had called for.

Rivera said one resident called and told him he should resign and informed him that a group of people would be picketing City Hall on Monday.

“I can take care of the city’s business,” he said, but added, “It’s not easy when people have you convicted.”

Rivera said he was hurt that Council President Gary Schaer called Business Administrator Greg Hill Friday morning, telling him to strike all appointments on the City Council agenda that are from the mayor’s office.

“He already has me convicted,” Rivera said.

Rivera said tape transcripts that U.S. attorneys presented in federal court Thursday, in which the mayor allegedly boasted in expletive-laden language about his ability to win four votes on the council to award a contract, were part of a plot to frame him.

“I want to see those tapes,” he said. “They cut the tapes.”

He recalled his surprise when FBI agents, whom he called “liars,” arrived at his house at 6 a.m. Thursday.

“I was on my way to work,” he said, adding that he couldn’t disclose more details because of the pending case.

The day before, he said, agents called him about Councilman Marcellus Jackson and former Councilman Jonathan Soto — both arrested on Thursday and charged with bribery. The agents said nothing about his own involvement in the alleged scam, Rivera said. They questioned him about his land deals in the Dominican Republic. Why was he giving away the city’s old fire trucks to small towns on the island? Does he own property there?

“No,” he laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t own nothing in the Dominican, not even a flower pot,” he said.

Rivera said he takes trips there and spends time with friends. He reached beneath a pile of scattered papers on his desk and found a letter from a woman, an elected official he met while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. She asked for help after her house burned down. He said he sent her a check.

“I get letters from people all the time,” he said. “Mexicans, Dominicans, Peruvians. It’s charity. It doesn’t cost the city one cent.”

Rivera is one of the highest paid mayors in the state, making nearly $118,000 a year. When asked if he took $5,000 in bribes from a fake insurance company, as the federal prosecutor’s complaint alleges, he scoffed.

“I have no money,” he said. “I live on my paycheck.”

He denied ever having talked about putting money into a bank account in Switzerland or the Dominican Republic.

Rivera said the one time he recalls meeting with undercover agents purporting to be insurance agents was in his office at City Hall with Business Administrator Hill and Jose Agosto, the city’s finance director.

He said a fight ensued between Hill and the agents.

“Greg didn’t believe the deal they were offering,” he said. “The agents were saying the insurance was much lower than any competitor. Greg said, ‘I don’t believe you.'”

Rivera said at that point, he told the two men that they should work out an agreement that would pass muster with Hill and Agosto.

Hill was not available for comment Friday.

Rivera said that as he sat in his jail cell Thursday afternoon next to Mims Hackett Jr., the mayor of Orange, who was also arrested, he thought to himself, “I don’t know who this guy is.” And that town in South Jersey, Pleasantville, where federal agents contend the scandal began?

“I don’t know anyone in Pleasantville. I don’t even know where Pleasantville is,” he said.

Rivera said he was encouraged by the many people who called him to express support.

“I have very strong support from the Hispanic community. I have a lot of support from friends,” he said. “I’m going to keep on working.”

He said he worried about those close to him.

“This incident is definitely hurting my family. It hasn’t been easy,” he said.

The criminal complaint against Rivera alleges that the mayor met contacts in a restaurant and in a parked car. He said the only place he met with the purported insurance brokers was in his office with Hill and Agosto.

During the arraignment Thursday, the judge ordered that the defendants’ passports be confiscated. But on Friday morning, Rivera’s passport sat on his desk. Rivera was released on $200,000 bail, to be paid if he misses his next court date.

“I have to turn this in on a condition of my bail,” he said, pointing to the passport.

Outside his office, familiar faces and characters roamed the corridors.

Vincent Capuana, the city’s housing inspector, a close friend of Jackson and Rivera, avoided commenting on the controversy, walking quickly in the other direction.

Deputy Mayor Robert Hare, walking toward the elevator, said he was standing by the mayor during this difficult time.

“You want to understand, he’s my friend first,” Hare said.

“I don’t believe in kicking people when they have a problem.”

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