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Jersey City Sewer Permit Supervisor Guilty of Attempted Extortion August 9, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
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Angela Bellizzi, the supervisor of permits and connection fees for the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority pleaded guilty this week to attempted extortion.  On the surface, this seems like a pretty good deal considering the public’s attitude towards these crimes as well as the US Attorney’s Office win streak.  However, I do hope that an entrapment defense was seriously considered here.  

When a case like this comes in the door, one of the first things I want to know is how many people does this involve?  Is my client accused of taking payments from many people or just one person?  Is that one person a cooperating witness (CW)?  If it is just the CW, then an entrapment defense really needs to be examined.  There is a lot to explain here so that’ll require a separate blog post.

NEWARK—The supervisor of permits and connection fees for the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority pleaded guilty today to extorting corrupt cash payments from contractors, Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. announced.

Angela Bellizzi, 53, of South River, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to a one-count criminal Information charging attempted extortion. Bellizzi is free on $75,000 bond pending her sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 12.

At her plea hearing, Bellizzi admitted accepting cash payments in exchange for her agreement to falsify and/or approve fraudulent sewer permit applications submitted by a government cooperating witness. The fraudulent permit applications for various properties made it appear that sewer connections would be for two-bedroom residences, as opposed to three-bedroom residences, which resulted in lower permit application fees.

Bellizzi admitted that she extorted corrupt payments in two ways: She agreed to falsify permit applications in return for payments, or instructed the contractor on how to falsify permit applications that would be approved by her in return for payments.

Bellizzi admitted that she told a cooperating witness who owned and/or renovated residential properties that, by fraudulently indicating on sewer connection application that it was for a two-bedroom versus three-bedroom residence, the cooperating witness was saving between $1,300 and $1,500.

Bellizzi admitted that on several occasions she took corrupt cash payments of between $200 and $500 from the cooperating witness for fraudulent applications. She also admitted that she told the cooperating witness that she normally charged other contractors $300 for similar fraudulently prepared applications.

According to a stipulation in Bellizzi’s plea agreement, the value of the benefit received by the cooperating witness and others who acted similarly with Belizzi exceeded $70,000 but was less than $120,000. She agreed that the corrupt contact occurred between at least January 2005 and June 2008. The investigation is continuing.

“This is just more of the same of what we’ve seen too often in Jersey City and elsewhere in New Jersey – public officials and employees in a position of authority abusing that authority to line their pockets,” Marra said. “It’s a disgrace and subverts even routine functions of government.”

“Today’s guilty plea was not connected to or influenced by the recent corruption takedown of July 23rd,” noted Weysan Dun, FBI Special Agent in Charge in Newark.

“This was a separate investigation conducted and prosecuted on its own merits. However, we take this opportunity to drive home the message that bribery and corruption should not be tolerated and we call on the citizens of New Jersey to take a stand as they have done recently. We thank the Special Investigative Unit of the Jersey City Police Department for their assistance in this investigation.”

The charge to which Bellizzi pleaded guilty carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, in determining an actual sentence, Judge Wigenton will consult the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges that take into account the severity and characteristics of the offense, the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and other factors, including acceptance of responsibility.

Under the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, Bellizzi faces a probable sentencing range of between 37 and 46 months in federal prison. The judge, however, has discretion and is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence, which could fall within or outside of that range.

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