jump to navigation

Wide Spread Corruption and Fraud Epidemic May 3, 2012

Posted by jefhenninger in News.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Regulators in the US, Asia and Europe are uncovering a unpresidented amount of fraud schemes from: money laundering, mortgage fraud, Ponzi schemes, insider trading, hedge fund fraud, bribery and boiler room scams.  In a boom economy, many of these crimes remain hidden until the economy has a down turn and then these crimes start to surface.

Read More Here

Sussex County Criminal Defense

 

Advertisements

Businessman Accused of Taking Bribe in Afghanistan and Promising to Steer U.S.-Funded Contracts October 19, 2010

Posted by jefhenninger in News.
Tags:
add a comment

A senior construction manager for an intergovernmental organization working in Afghanistan has been detained on a bribery charge contained in an indictment that was unsealed today in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.  Neil P. Campbell, was indicted Aug. 19, 2010, by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., on the charge of receiving a bribe as an agent of an organization receiving federal funds. The indictment was unsealed following his detention today in India.  

According to the indictment, Campbell worked for the International Organization on Migration (IOM), which has received more than $260 million since 2002 from USAID. IOM has worked closely with both the United States and Afghanistan governments to construct hospitals, schools and other facilities.  The indictment alleges that from around May 25, 2010, until on or about Aug. 5, 2010, in Afghanistan, Campbell corruptly solicited a bribe for awarding sub-contracts funded by USAID.  Campbell allegedly solicited a one-time cash payment of $190,000 to allow a sub-contractor in Afghanistan to continue working on projects to build a hospital and provincial teaching college.

The NPFTF, created in October 2006 by the Department of Justice, was designed to promote the early detection, identification, prevention, and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with the increase in government contracting activity for national security and other government programs.

Morris County Criminal Defense Lawyers

Former Construction Company Dispatcher Charged with Accepting Kickbacks June 14, 2010

Posted by jefhenninger in News.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

HULON EUGENE PARSONS, a/k/a GENE PARSONS, JR., a resident of Hammond, Louisiana, was charged today in a one count bill of information with illegally accepting kickbacks from a subcontractor in connection with a federal contract.

According to court documents, the defendant was employed by a construction company headquartered in New Orleans which had agreed to perform asphalt work on the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Belle Chasse, located in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. That company held a subcontract under a prime contract awarded by Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast, an agency of the Department of the Navy. As a trucking dispatcher for his employer, PARSONS’ job duties included deciding which trucking companies would be awarded trucking business in connection with various public works projects, specifically asphalt road projects, of his employer. A cooperating individual reported to law enforcement that he owned a trucking business and he had made cash payments to PARSONS over at least 10 years to ensure that he would continue to be awarded trucking business. When the individual ceased making such payments, the frequency and amount of trucking work awarded to that individual greatly decreased.

Court documents reflect that the individual, using money furnished to him by law enforcement for that purpose, then offered cash payments to PARSONS to obtain and reward favorable treatment in connection with trucking work awarded to him on the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Belle Chasse subcontract. The bill of information charges that PARSONS accepted a total of $900 in cash payments on three occasions from September through November, 2009.

Louisiana Man Charged with Conspiracy to Solicit and Give Bribes Involving a Public Official January 31, 2010

Posted by jefhenninger in News.
Tags:
add a comment

RAY ANTHONY DAVEZAC, of Destrehan, Louisiana, was charged today in a one-count Bill of Information with Conspiracy to Solicit and Give Bribes Involving a Public Official.  DAVEZAC owned and operated Davezac Consulting Engineers, LLC. The Government alleges that the President of St. John the Baptist Parish, William Hubbard, solicited a bribe from DAVEZAC. DAVEZAC paid a $5,000 bribe made payable to a local automobile dealership for the benefit of Hubbard. DAVEZAC received a contract from St. John Parish at a date after the bribe payment was solicited and paid. 

There is no information about whether Hubbard has been charged yet or what the Government’s evidence is.

11 week bribery trial ends in 5 hours July 30, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

My heart goes out to Robin Lord.  She’s a great attorney.  After 11 long weeks of trial, her client, John Fiore was convicted  after just 5 hours of deliberations.  In my opinion, that tells me that it wasn’t even close which just has to kill you as an attorney.  There is no way that a jury can give serious consideration to 11 weeks of testimony in just 5 hours.  While I did not follow the trial, those two numbers alone tell me that most of the jury probably convicted him a few weeks ago.  Thus, this may have been a situation where, for whatever reason, there is little an attorney can do and no one could have done better. 

Press release:

TRENTON – Attorney General Anne Milgram and Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni announced that John Fiore, former executive vice president of the East Windsor Police Athletic League, was convicted at trial today of official misconduct and bribery for steering a PAL construction contract to a contractor who built a deck at his home free of charge.

According to Director Gramiccioni, Fiore, 63, of Allentown, was convicted by a Mercer County jury of conspiracy, bribery and official misconduct, all second-degree offenses. The verdict followed an 11-week trial before Superior Court Judge Mitchell Ostrer. The jury deliberated for five hours over a two-day period. Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a $150,000 fine. Judge Ostrer scheduled Fiore’s sentencing for Oct. 13.

Assistant Attorney General Lewis Korngut conducted the trial for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The charges stem from an investigation by the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor within the Division of Criminal Justice.

“This defendant selfishly and corruptly used his public position within the PAL for his personal gain,” Attorney General Milgram said. “Today’s verdict sends a loud message that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”

The jury found that Fiore, a retired East Windsor police officer, used his position as an officer on the Board of Directors of the East Windsor PAL to steer a contract to Jeffrey Nemes to build the PAL a combined concession stand and administration building on Airport Road in East Windsor. The jury found that, in return for Fiore influencing the Board of Directors to hire Nemes’ company, Nemes built a $12,000 deck, free of charge, at Fiore’s former home in Washington Township, Mercer County.

The state’s investigation revealed a conspiracy among Fiore, Nemes and a third man, Marc Rossi, to arrange for Nemes Construction Company to get the contract and overcharge the East Windsor PAL for the project. The PAL paid Nemes a total of $274,046, which was at least $90,000 more than what the building should have cost. Rossi received $5,000 for his role in arranging the deal between Fiore, the East Windsor PAL, and Nemes Construction Company.

The investigation was conducted and coordinated by Lt. Robert Stemmer, Civil Investigator Joseph Salvatore, Analyst Paula Carter, Deputy Attorney General Asha Vaghela and Assistant Attorney General Lewis Korngut. Stemmer and Salvatore were formerly assigned to the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor but now are assigned to the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.

“This verdict is a tribute to the superb hard work and dedication of the Division of Criminal Justice’s investigative and trial teams,” Director Gramiccioni said. “Today’s conviction marks the conclusion of a 10-year investigation in which 12 people were convicted, resulting in seven people being sent to New Jersey State Prison.”

In March, Nemes, 43, of Hamilton, pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he built the $8,000 deck for Fiore in return for the PAL contract. The judge ordered Nemes to pay $8,000 in restitution to the East Windsor PAL and imposed a five-year state prison sentence, concurrent to an eight-year sentence he was already serving on a 2007 bribery conviction obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice.

Rossi pleaded guilty to theft in 2003 in connection with the $5,000 payment involving the PAL. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Nemes, a former Hamilton Township police officer, was convicted at trial in 2007 of offering two Hamilton Township fire chiefs up to $500 and other rewards if they would delay fire suppression and increase damage at fire scenes so as to increase potential profits for Nemes’ company and an insurance adjustment firm owned by Rossi. That conviction led to his prior eight-year state prison sentence. Assistant Attorney General Korngut also represented the state in that trial.

In addition, Nemes pleaded guilty in March to theft for stealing insurance money from four fire victims who hired him for repairs that he never completed. For that charge, Nemes received a concurrent jail sentence and was ordered to pay $74,472 in restitution.

Rossi pleaded guilty in 2003 to bribery and operating an “arson-for-profit” insurance fraud scheme. Rossi admitted to intentionally setting at least six fires in the Trenton area in 1999 so his public insurance adjustment business would be hired to adjust the insurance claims. Rossi was sentenced to eight years in prison and was ordered to pay $542,853 in restitution and a $50,000 insurance fraud fine.

White collar crime sentencing gets tougher in New Jersey July 27, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

As a defense attorney in New Jersey, I’ve enjoyed great success in getting charges dropped a degree for sentencing purposes.  The case of State v. Lake, released today, just made this more difficult to achieve, even for white collar crime defendants as Lake is an official misconduct and bribery case. 

All you really need to know about Lake is that the Appellate Divison said “An analysis of the offense circumstances at once makes clear that this is not one of those rare cases that satisfies the interest of justice standard for a downgrade”.  Yup, rare cases.

While this does not make my job any easier, I don’t think it will impact my practice to a great extent as I have been able to pull off some amazing miracles at sentencing.  However, I’ll have to work extra hard to make sure the judges sees that my case is the rare case.  And, I can’t just say that its a non-violent offense. 
(NOTE: The status of this decision is Published.)

 

 

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE

 

APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

 

 

 

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY

 

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

DOCKET NO. A-3988-07T43988-07T4

 

 

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY,

 

 

 

0x08 graphic
Plaintiff-Appellant/

 

Cross-Respondent,

 

 

 

v.

 

 

 

JOHN LAKE,

 

 

 

Defendant-Respondent/

 

Cross-Appellant.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

0x08 graphic

 

Submitted May 18, 2009 – Decided

 

 

 

Before Judges Lisa, Sapp-Peterson and Alvarez.

 

 

 

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County, Indictment No. 06-11-00515-S.

 

 

 

Anne Milgram, Attorney General, attorney for appellant/cross-respondent (Jeanne Screen, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).

 

 

 

Law Offices of Edward J. Crisonino and Zucker Steinberg Sonstein & Wixted, P.A., attorneys for respondent/cross-appellant (Edward J. Crisonino, on the brief; Jeffrey C. Zucker, on the letter relying on the brief).

 

 

 

The opinion of the court was delivered by

 

 

 

LISA, P.J.A.D.

 

 

 

After a bench trial, defendant was convicted of one count of second-degree official misconduct, N.J.S.A.and two counts of second-degree bribery, N.J.S.A.After merging one bribery count with the other, the judge sentenced defendant, pursuant to N.J.S.A.to terms appropriate to a crime one degree lower than those of which he was convicted. The judge imposed concurrent three-year terms of imprisonment for official misconduct and the merged bribery counts. He also entered an order directing that defendant forfeit his public office and be forever disqualified from holding any such office. See N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2. 2C:44-1f(2), 2C:27-2a. 2C:30-2a,

 

Within ten days of the imposition sentence, the State filed an appeal pursuant to N.J.S.A.contending that the court erred in imposing a sentence appropriate for a crime one degree lower. Defendant’s sentence has been stayed pending appeal. See State v. Sanders, 107 N.J. 609, 617 n.7 (1987). 2C:44-1f(2),

 

Defendant filed a cross-appeal. His sole argument is that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction of second-degree offenses, and he should have been convicted only of third-degree official misconduct and bribery.

 

We agree with the State and reverse on its appeal. We reject defendant’s argument and affirm on his cross-appeal.

 

 

 

I

 

We set forth in some detail the factual background because it is necessary to our analysis of the issues raised on both the appeal and cross-appeal.

 

Defendant was the mayor of the Township of Carneys Point. That municipality operates under a form of government in which the voters elect five township committee members who exercise legislative authority and appoint a mayor from amongst themselves. The mayor’s appointment authority is subject to approval of the Township Committee.

 

Defendant’s term of office was scheduled to end in 2006. He was running as a Republican candidate for reelection in the November 2006 general election. Defendant was also a member of the Township’s Sewerage Authority and served as the emergency management coordinator for Salem County. Defendant had a long history in local politics at both the municipal and county levels.

 

In 2006, the makeup of the Township Committee was three Republicans and two Democrats. Because defendant was up for reelection, if his seat was won by a Democrat, control of the local governing body would change parties. Anthony Rullo was the Democratic candidate opposing defendant. Rullo had previously served a term on the Township Committee as a Republican. After losing his seat in the prior election, he switched his party affiliation. Rullo was also a member of the Township Sewerage Authority.

 

Prior to July 4, 2006, defendant approached Rullo and proposed that if Rullo would withdraw as a candidate, he would be guaranteed reappointment to the Sewerage Authority when his term expired. On July 4, 2006, defendant went to Rullo’s home and again discussed Rullo’s Sewerage Authority reappointment. Defendant also proposed that he could arrange for Rullo to obtain part-time mechanical work for the Authority, which would enable him to earn some extra money. This was the type of work Rullo had done when employed by DuPont, before his retirement. Expanding upon the proposal, defendant told Rullo he wanted him to wait until less than sixty days before the election to drop out so the ballots would already be printed and his party could not offer a replacement candidate. Thus, defendant would be able to run unopposed and would likely be assured reelection.

 

Rullo and his wife were raising three grandchildren due to personal difficulties of their daughter (the children’s mother). Rullo informed his campaign manager about defendant’s overtures, and his campaign manager reported the information to the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office.

 

On July 25, 2006, defendant again went to Rullo’s home. Defendant told Rullo he could not have the part-time job at the Sewerage Authority because to be eligible he would have to cease being a member of the Authority for at least one year. Defendant offered an alternative proposal. He said he could arrange for Rullo to be hired as the Township’s zoning and housing inspector. The person presently holding that position was out on extended medical leave. The Township was in the process of advertising to fill the position until the end of the year. Defendant again conditioned his offer on Rullo dropping out of the election race.

 

On August 1, 2006, Detective Sergeant Gary Sandes, then with the Official Corruption Unit of the New Jersey State Police, was assigned to investigate the allegations concerning defendant. He contacted Rullo, who described the conditional offers made by defendant. Rullo agreed to cooperate by tape recording his future conversations with defendant. Rullo made clear that he had no intention of dropping out of the election, and he agreed to report all contacts with defendant to the police.

 

As instructed by the police, Rullo filed an application for the zoning and housing inspector job. On August 9, 2006, Rullo recorded a conversation he had with defendant at Rullo’s home. Defendant explained that Rullo would be coached on how to conduct himself in the interview for the zoning and building inspector job and would be provided in advance with five prepared questions that would be asked at the interview. Rullo feigned concern that he had not served as a housing inspector for thirty years and had lost his familiarity with the applicable codes. Defendant assured him that he would have no problem, and, although another application had been submitted by a better qualified candidate, he assured Rullo that the other Township Committee members would go along with appointing him. Defendant also assured Rullo that he would be appointed to a full term as the zoning and housing inspector the following year as long as he performed the job reasonably for the remainder of the year.

 

In exchange for these assurances, defendant again asked Rullo to withdraw from the election less than sixty days before election day. In these discussions, defendant commented that his party would then continue in power for the next three years. Defendant also told Rullo that if he dropped out more than sixty days prior to the election and the Democrats were able to place a replacement candidate on the ballot, the deal would be off.

 

On August 30, 2006, Rullo recorded another conversation with defendant at Rullo’s home. Defendant again offered Rullo the zoning and housing inspector job for the remainder of 2006, and reappointment for the 2007 term, in exchange for his dropping out of the upcoming election sometime in mid-September. Defendant offered advice to Rullo about how he should present the withdrawal of his candidacy to other members of his party who supported him and expended party funds for his campaign. Defendant suggested, for example, that Rullo explain that he was in financial difficulty, being retired and unexpectedly raising his grandchildren, as a result of which he needed to accept employment with the Township to earn some money. Defendant also suggested that Rullo tell his party members he felt bad running against defendant. Defendant reiterated that Rullo would be coached through the interview process for the zoning and housing inspector job, and he again assured him he would be reappointed for the 2007 term as long as he did a decent job for the remainder of 2006.

 

Rullo told defendant that on his application, when asked what salary he expected, he simply “wrote down there whatever the, the base salary is now.” Defendant responded, “[Y]ou ain’t gonna get rich, but it’s not bad for part-time work.” He continued: “And let’s say in January I would, ah, my preference is I would, I would look to [be]cause John [the current office holder out on medical leave] won’t be there is to move you into his job title and work offa that salary.”

 

After the August 30, 2006 meeting, defendant and Rullo saw each other only once, at a Sewerage Authority meeting. They did not discuss anything related to defendant’s proposal. Rullo, who had never intended to drop out of the election, withdrew his application for the zoning and housing inspector job. He stayed in the election race and defeated defendant.

 

At trial, Rullo and Sandes were the only witnesses for the State. The recordings and corresponding transcripts of the August 9 and 30, 2006 meetings were admitted in evidence. The transcripts are part of the appellate record. Defendant did not testify and did not present any fact witnesses. He presented ten character witnesses, who attested to his upstanding character, excellent reputation in the community, and years of service in local politics.

 

II

 

We first address defendant’s argument that, because the State produced no evidence that the value of the benefits sought to be conferred on Rullo exceeded $200, he should have been convicted of only third-degree offenses.

 

The official misconduct statute provides, in relevant part:

 

A public servant is guilty of official misconduct when, with purpose to obtain a benefit for himself or another . . . :

 

 

 

a. He commits an act relating to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official functions, knowing that such act is unauthorized or he is committing such act in an unauthorized manner; . . .

 

 

 

. . . .

 

 

 

Official misconduct is a crime of the second degree. If the benefit obtained or sought to be obtained . . . is of a value of $200.00 or less, the offense of official misconduct is a crime of the third degree.

 

 

 

[N.J.S.A.(emphasis added).] 2C:30-2

 

 

 

The bribery statute provides, in relevant part:

 

A person is guilty of bribery if he directly or indirectly offers, confers or agrees to confer upon another, or solicits, accepts or agrees to accept from another:

 

 

 

a. Any benefit as consideration for a decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or exercise of discretion of a public servant, party official or voter on any public issue or in any public election; or

 

 

 

. . . .

 

 

 

c. Any benefit as consideration for a violation of an official duty of a public servant or party official; or

 

 

 

d. Any benefit as consideration for the performance of official duties.

 

 

 

For the purposes of this section “benefit as consideration” shall be deemed to mean any benefit not authorized by law.

 

. . . .

 

 

 

Any offense proscribed by this section is a crime of the second degree. If the benefit offered, conferred, agreed to be conferred, solicited, accepted or agreed to be accepted is of the value of $200.00 or less, any offense proscribed by this section is a crime of the third degree.

 

 

 

[N.J.S.A.(emphasis added).] 2C:27-2

 

 

 

Under the official misconduct statute, the benefit may be either that which defendant sought to obtain for himself or that which he sought to obtain for another. N.J.S.A.Likewise, under the bribery statute, the benefit may be either that which defendant “solicits, accepts or agrees to accept” from another or that which he “offers, confers or agrees to confer” upon another. N.J.S.A.In this case, the “benefits” for each of the crimes are both the value of the positions defendant offered to secure for Rullo and the benefit defendant sought to secure for himself in winning the election unopposed. 2C:27-2a. 2C:30-2a.

 

The definitional section applicable to both statutes defines “benefit” to mean “gain or advantage, or anything regarded by the beneficiary as gain or advantage, including a pecuniary benefit . . . .” N.J.S.A.A “pecuniary benefit” means a “benefit in the form of money, property, commercial interests or anything else the primary significance of which is economic gain.” N.J.S.A.The benefit need not be pecuniary. State v. Phelps, 187 N.J. Super. 364, 375 (App. Div. 1983), aff’d, 96 N.J. 500 (1984). 2C:27-1f. 2C:27-1a.

 

In Phelps, we held that official misconduct is a crime of the second degree and that, rather than forming a substantive element of the offense, the above-emphasized language from N.J.S.A.“carves out an exception” where the benefit obtained or sought to be obtained is of a value of $200 or less. Id. at 373-74. We concluded that the Legislature intended for courts construing the official misconduct statute to “start from the premise that the offense is of the second degree.” Id. at 375. We held that the carved out exception “is clearly pecuniary in nature” and did not apply to “a benefit not subject to pecuniary measurement.” Ibid. The reasoning in Phelps, which dealt with the official misconduct statute, leads to the same conclusion with respect to the bribery statute. Applying this reasoning, we recently affirmed a conviction for second-degree official misconduct of a volunteer firefighter who repeatedly called in false fire alarms in order to experience the joy of responding to them and possibly to give the volunteer fire department enough work to justify its existence, holding that “[b]ecause there was no pecuniary benefit, the misconduct was second degree.” State v. Quezada, 402 N.J. Super. 277, 286 (App. Div. 2008). 2C:30-2

 

Relying on Phelps, the trial judge found that the State’s failure to produce “direct proofs[] as to the value of any benefit that was involved in this case” did not defeat the second degree gradation of the offenses because of the distinction between benefits that are pecuniary in nature and those that are not. With respect to the latter, the presumed second-degree grade applies. Alternatively, the judge found that, if it was necessary to place a pecuniary value on the benefits intended to be conferred on Rullo, he would find as a matter of fact that the value exceeded $200 and that “no reasonable mind to the contrary could maintain a credible . . . argument.”

 

We agree with the judge’s analysis. Both pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits are involved in this case. Defendant sought to obtain for himself the benefit of winning an unopposed election. Because that benefit is not subject to pecuniary measurement, the State was not required to provide evidence as to any pecuniary value with respect to it. Defendant also offered Rullo municipal jobs, both of which had the “primary significance of . . . economic gain” for Rullo. See N.J.S.A.The benefits resulting from those jobs constituted pecuniary benefit to Rullo. The trial judge recognized that, although the State offered no direct evidence to prove their monetary worth, the jobs would obviously bring Rullo a benefit of more than $200 in wages. The record contains sufficient credible evidence to support this inferential finding. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964). The finding is similar to the observation we made in Phelps that, because of the scope of the gambling operation involved, even if the State had the burden of proving that the benefit was of a value of over $200, the jury “could hardly have found the value to be $200 or less . . . [because] the gambling operation was quite large . . . [and] [t]he value of the benefit that defendant conferred on the operations by his inaction in permitting the operation to continue surely exceeded $200.” Phelps, supra, 187 N.J. Super. at 376 n.5. 2C:27-1f.

 

Therefore, under either alternative, the judge correctly found defendant guilty of second-degree official misconduct and bribery.

 

III

 

We now address the sentencing issue raised by the State. The State argues that the trial court erred in imposing a sentence appropriate for a crime one degree lower than that of the second-degree crimes of which defendant was convicted. We agree with the State.

 

We first note the aspects of the sentence that are not in dispute. Second-degree crimes carry a presumption of imprisonment. N.J.S.A.The judge found that the presumption was not overcome, as a result of which the sentence must be one of imprisonment. Defendant does not dispute this. Although the State argued in the trial court against merger of the two bribery convictions, it does not raise that issue before us, and thus acquiesces in the merger. The State acknowledged in the trial court that concurrent sentencing on all of defendant’s convictions would be appropriate, and it does not now argue otherwise. Therefore, the only issue before us is whether the judge erred by imposing a three-year sentence, within the third-degree range of three to five years, see N.J.S.A.rather than within the five to ten year range provided for second-degree crimes, see N.J.S.A.To justify the three-year sentence, the judge invoked the authority of N.J.S.A.which provides: 2C:44-1f(2), 2C:43-6a(2). 2C:43-6a(3), 2C:44-1d.

 

In cases of convictions for crimes of the first or second degree where the court is clearly convinced that the mitigating factors substantially outweigh the aggravating factors and where the interest of justice demands, the court may sentence the defendant to a term appropriate to a crime of one degree lower than that of the crime for which he was convicted.

 

 

 

The judge recognized the two-step process required by the statute. The first required an analysis of aggravating and mitigating factors. He found two aggravating factors: (4) a lesser sentence will deprecate the seriousness of the offense because it involved a breach of the public trust under chapters 27 and 30; and (9) the need for deterrence. See N.J.S.A.and (9). The judge found the presence of the following mitigating factors: (1) defendant’s conduct neither caused nor threatened serious harm; (5) the victim (Rullo) of defendant’s conduct induced or facilitated its commission; (7) defendant has no prior criminal history; (8) defendant’s conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur; and (9) the character and attitude of defendant indicate he is unlikely to commit another offense. See N.J.S.A.(5), (7), (8) and (9). The judge acknowledged that mitigating factor (5) was of dubious application because the true victim here is the public. The judge found that, even without mitigating factor (5), he was clearly convinced that, upon qualitative analysis, the mitigating factors substantially preponderated over the aggravating factors. Therefore, the first component of the two-step test prescribed by N.J.S.A.was satisfied. 2C:44-1f(2) 2C:44-1b(1), 2C:44-1a(4)

 

Based upon our review of the record, we are satisfied that the judge’s findings as to the presence of aggravating and mitigating factors and the weight to be attributed to each of them (except as to mitigating factor (5)), are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record. Likewise, the judge’s finding of a substantial preponderance of the mitigating over the aggravating factors is amply supported by the record. As to the second component of the two-part test, that “the interest of justice demands” sentencing one degree lower, the judge found:

 

He’s obviously led an exemplary public life, excluding, of course, these salient events. He’s given the public — it’s so obvious, he’s given the public far more than he took. . . . [H]is private life has been equally one of charity and warmth towards his family. But not only his family . . . but also to others who perhaps, as I’ve read, are persons who he didn’t even know or didn’t know well. He served in public office with — again, excluding these events — with distinction.

 

 

 

The whole person concept, which is one that we’re invited to look at, does cry out for a third degree range.

 

 

 

The evils that were afoot in this matter did not occur. And that’s something that — I know I stated that before, but citing it as a reason now to sentence in a one degree lower needs repeating. Mr. Rullo did not get a job. He did not withdraw. The forfeiture of office is a significant penalty in and of itself, which has deterrent effect as well. Seven years, as the State suggests, is simply over the top. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s just over the top for a first offender with these facts.

 

 

 

. . . It’s more than necessary. It’s more than the public demands. It’s permitted for the Court to make that adjustment. There is — there is a case, [State v. Evers, 175 N.J. 355 (2003)], which suggests — perhaps holds, but certainly suggests that the whole person concept, the things that I’ve mentioned and the exemplary life that he has led throughout his public and private are factors which the Court can consider, not in overcoming the presumption of incarceration but in sentencing one degree lower.

 

 

 

No citizen of Salem County is going to be shocked or have a shocked conscience. I’m not going to read this tomorrow morning in one of our newspapers and say, look at this, what happened, three years, is that all? . . . .

 

 

 

There will be an abundance of deterrence that goes forward. Discretion in sentencing, when allowed by our law, ought to be exercised where appropriate, and this is one of those cases where I feel it is appropriate.

 

 

 

Accordingly, I would sentence Mr. Lake to three years New Jersey State Prison on the official misconduct; three years concurrent on the merged bribery charges.

 

 

 

In the seminal case interpreting the term “interest of justice” in N.J.S.A.our Supreme Court cautioned that a downgrade decision under this provision should be limited to cases in which a defendant can provide “compelling reasons” for the downgrade. State v. Megargel, 143 N.J. 484, 501-02 (1996). The reasons supporting the interest of justice prong must be “in addition to, and separate from” the mitigating factors which substantially outweigh the aggravating factors and thus satisfy the first prong. Id. at 502. 2C:44-1f(2),

 

Although the surrounding circumstances and the need for deterrence may be taken into account, the severity of the crime remains the single most important factor in considering whether the interest of justice demands a downgrade. Id. at 500 (citing State v. Hodge, 95 N.J. 369, 379 (1984)). Recognizing that the principles underlying the Criminal Code favor deterrence and protection of the public over rehabilitation and are designed to foster uniformity in sentencing, the Court emphasized that “[t]he focus on the offense rather than the offender is inexorable in formulating a sentence.” Ibid.

 

The Court held that, in evaluating the severity of the crime, trial courts must consider the nature of the circumstances pertaining to the offense. Ibid. If the surrounding circumstances of an offense make it very similar to a lower degree offense, a downgraded sentence may be appropriate. Ibid. The Court cited the following illustrative examples:

 

For example, a defendant who simulates having a gun by placing his hand in his pocket can be convicted of first-degree robbery. Such a crime, however, is very similar to second-degree robbery.

 

 

 

Although the degree of the crime is the focus of the sentence, facts personal to the defendant may be considered in the sentencing process. Courts should consider a defendant’s role in the incident to determine the need to deter him from further crimes and the corresponding need to protect the public from him. Was the defendant the mastermind, a loyal follower, an accomplice whose shared intent is problematic, or an individual who is mentally incapable of forming the necessary criminal intent?

 

 

 

[Id. at 500-01 (citations omitted).]

 

 

 

Thus, the Court made it clear that, because the focus remains on the offense and not the offender, the surrounding circumstances used as compelling reasons for a downgrade should arise from within the context of the offense itself. Ibid. The Court instructed trial courts to “state why sentencing the defendant to the lowest range of sentencing for the particular offense for which he was convicted, is not a more appropriate sentence than a downgraded sentence under section 44-1f(2).” Id. at 502.

 

The Court also held that the “interest of justice” standard of N.J.S.A.is not the same as the “serious injustice” standard for overcoming the presumption of imprisonment applicable to first and second-degree convictions under N.J.S.A.Id. at 499. The statutory presumption of imprisonment provides: 2C:44-1d. 2C:44-1f(2)

 

The court shall deal with a person who has been convicted of a crime of the first or second degree . . . by imposing a sentence of imprisonment unless, having regard to the character and condition of the defendant, it is of the opinion that his imprisonment would be a serious injustice which overrides the need to deter such conduct by others.

 

 

 

[N.J.S.A.(emphasis added).] 2C:44-1d

 

 

 

In Megargel, the Court recognized that the two statutes address “qualitatively different situations,” with N.J.S.A.being geared toward the initial determination of whether a defendant will be “in or out” of prison rather than the length of term scenario confronted by the downgrade provision of N.J.S.A.Supra, 143 N.J. at 499. Thus, the Court held that the compelling reasons required to satisfy the interest of justice for a downgrade under N.J.S.A.present a “somewhat lower standard” than the “truly extraordinary and unanticipated circumstances” required before a “serious injustice” may be found under N.J.S.A.Id. at 501-02. 2C:44-1d. 2C:44-1f(2) 2C:44-1f(2). 2C:44-1d

 

In Evers, the Court stated that “[i]n permitting consideration of ‘the character and condition of the defendant’ in determining whether imprisonment would be a ‘serious injustice,’ [N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1d] left ‘a residuum of power in the sentencing court not to imprison in those few cases where it would be entirely inappropriate to do so.'” Evers, supra, 175 N.J. at 389 (quoting State v. Roth, 95 N.J. 334, 358 (1984)). Yet, in Evers, the Court considered only the serious injustice standard of N.J.S.A.and was not confronted with a downgrade issue under N.J.S.A.Id. at 397. In Megargel, before offering guidance on what types of circumstances justify a downgrade in the interest of justice, the Court specifically noted that N.J.S.A.contains “no reference to the defendant’s character or condition.” Supra, 143 N.J. at 499. 2C:44-1f(2) 2C:44-1f(2). 2C:44-1d

 

Our reading of these cases leads us to conclude that circumstances such as a defendant’s overall character or contributions to the community should not be considered under the interest of justice prong in the determination of whether or not to downgrade a sentence pursuant to N.J.S.A.This is an offense-oriented provision. Characteristics or behavior of the offender are applicable only as they relate to the offense itself and give fuller context to the offense circumstances. See, e.g., State v. Read, 397 N.J. Super. 598, 613-14 (App. Div.) (holding that a downgrade for a juvenile who pled guilty to first-degree robbery was not warranted because, although the defendant acted as the look-out while his confederate committed the robbery, “we see no basis for characterizing defendant’s role as only secondary . . . . [and no] evidence of the kind of psychological impairment that would be relevant to this determination”), certif. denied, 196 N.J. 85 (2008). 2C:44-1f(2).

 

Applying these principles, we agree with the State that the trial judge did not correctly apply the interest of justice prong of the downgrade provision as interpreted by Megargel. One aspect of the judge’s error was in relying on Evers to evaluate “the whole person.” In Evers, “the propriety of downgrading the child pornography distribution charge from a second-degree to a third-degree offense for the purpose of sentencing [was] not raised in [the] appeal.” Supra, 175 N.J. at 397. Evers dealt with the “serious injustice” standard for overcoming the presumption of imprisonment, which includes the statutory criteria of giving “regard to the character and condition of the defendant.” See N.J.S.A.Both in Evers and Megargel, the Court made clear that these are two different tests for two different purposes and, because of the differing statutory language and differing purposes, the tests are not the same. Consideration of the whole person is appropriate as part of the evaluation of the “character and condition of the defendant” for purposes of determining whether the presumption of imprisonment has been overcome. However, it is not appropriate in the “interest of justice” analysis of the downgrade provision. Thus, the judge erred in considering defendant’s many years of public service, his first offender status, his acts of kindness over the years to his family and members of the public, and the like. While appropriate for consideration as mitigating factors, and therefore applicable to the first prong, they have no application to the second prong. In essence, much of the judge’s rationale supporting the second prong was a restatement of the reasons underlying the various mitigating factors. This is contrary to Megargel‘s directive that the basis for the second prong must be separate and distinct from the mitigating factors. 2C:44-1d.

 

The judge’s only finding under the interest of justice prong dealing with the offense itself was that “[t]he evils that were afoot in this matter did not occur.” This fact supported the judge’s finding of mitigating factor (1), that defendant’s conduct did not cause or threaten serious harm. Aside from not being separate and distinct from the facts underlying the mitigating factors, we fail to see how it is relevant that defendant failed in his attempt to subvert the election process through official misconduct and bribery. He did not “see the light” and call off the arrangement. His plan was thwarted only because the person with whom he thought he had a deal was never complicit in the arrangement and refused to go through with it. This “fact” was not properly considered in minimizing the seriousness of defendant’s crimes.

 

We also find no significance in the fact that defendant was required to forfeit his public office and be forever barred from holding public office. This is a statutory consequence of his criminal conduct that was imposed upon him. Besides not being related to the offense, it was not something of his doing that should reduce the penal consequences of his criminal conduct.

 

An analysis of the offense circumstances at once makes clear that this is not one of those rare cases that satisfies the interest of justice standard for a downgrade. Defendant’s conduct spanned several months. He was the sole and direct architect of the scheme. It could not be said that this was an isolated act of aberrant behavior in which an otherwise law-abiding person exercised poor judgment on one occasion. Defendant persisted in his conduct, geared to stealing the election and subverting the electoral process that is at the foundation of our democracy. He met repeatedly with Rullo, attempting to persuade him to participate in the scheme, and offering him public employment, for which he may not have even been qualified, at public expense, as the quid pro quo for allowing defendant to run unopposed for public office. Defendant’s conduct was deliberate, persistent over several months, and flagrant. His conduct presented no compelling circumstances to remove it from the heartland of offenses of this type, to place it in a less egregious light, and to warrant a downgraded sentence.

 

We therefore reverse the sentence of three years imprisonment for second-degree official misconduct and the merged second-degree bribery offenses. Ordinarily, we would remand for resentencing in the second-degree range. However, as in Megargel, the sentencing judge is no longer on the bench. See Megargel, supra, 143 N.J. at 506. As we have stated, we are satisfied from our review of the record that the judge’s finding that the mitigating factors substantially predominate over the aggravating factors is well-founded. Accordingly, as did the Court in Megargel, see ibid., we deem this an appropriate circumstance in which to exercise original jurisdiction. See R. 2:10-5. Based upon the substantial preponderance of mitigating factors, we sentence defendant at the bottom of the second-degree range to five years imprisonment for official misconduct and to a concurrent term of five years imprisonment for the merged bribery convictions. The trial court shall enter an amended judgment of conviction to that effect.

 

0x08 graphic
Reversed on the State’s appeal; affirmed on defendant’s cross-appeal. The stay of sentence is vacated.

 

The State makes a further argument that we should consider the Court’s admonition in Megargel that courts exercise special caution before downgrading a sentence for an offense for which the Legislature has provided for enhanced punishment. See supra, 143 N.J. at 503-04. That was the case in Megargel, where the offense was first-degree kidnapping, which carried a sentence greater than first-degree crimes generally carry. Ibid. In this case, at the time defendant committed the offenses, no enhanced punishment was provided. However, effective April 14, 2007, legislation was enacted providing for a minimum mandatory term of five years imprisonment without parole for certain second-degree offenses, including bribery and official misconduct. See N.J.S.A.L. 2007, c. 49, � 6. We decline to consider this argument, as it may have ex post facto implications. 2C:43-6.5,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(continued)

 

 

 

(continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26

 

A-3988-07T4

 

 

 

 

 

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

 

 

 

   July 27, 2009 

 

 

 

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

 

 

July 27, 2009

Operation Bid Rig Part 3 – update July 23, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Quick update on that massive corruption case that went down today, which we now know is the third phase of Operation Bid Rig.  All of the names have been released.  They are, according to the press release:

  • Leona Beldini, deputy mayor of Jersey City and a realtor. Beldini planned to become broker for his purported 750-unit condominium project on Garfield Avenue, where units would sell for $500,000 each. Beldini, who was treasurer of a Jersey City official’s re-election campaign (that official is identified only as Jersey City Official 4 in the Complaints), also accepted $20,000 in campaign donations, which she said would be divided between “donors” who would return the money to the campaign in increments of $2,600, the maximum individual donation allowed under law.
  • Jack M. Shaw, a Hudson County political consultant. As described in the Complaint, he took $10,000 from the cooperating witness for himself and proposed that the cooperating witness pay $10,000 in campaign contributions for the re-election campaign of Jersey City Official 4.
  • Edward Cheatam, the affirmative action officer for Hudson County, a commissioner with the Jersey City Housing Authority and, until May, vice president of the Jersey City Board of Education. Cheatam took $15,000 in cash bribes. (Khalil had introduced Cheatam to the cooperating witness; Cheatam then introduced Beldini and Shaw to the cooperating witness, all of whom then went on to extend introductions of the cooperating witness to many others.)
  • Mariano Vega, Jr., the Jersey City council president. He met several times with the cooperating witness and ultimately accepted three $10,000 payments, two of which Vega instructed an intermediary to have broken down and converted into individual contributions for his re-election campaign and the third which he received after his election victory.
  • Louis Manzo, a defeated candidate for Jersey City mayor, and his brother and political advisor, Ronald. Together, they accepted $27,500 in three cash payments intended for Louis Manzo’s campaign. The cooperating witness was told that giving money to Louis Manzo was “insurance” to secure his influence for the cooperating witness in the event the incumbent for mayor lost.
  • Lavern Webb-Washington, an unsuccessful candidate for the Jersey City council and a self-described housing activist. She accepted $15,000 in three cash installments of $5,000 for her political campaign.
  • Lori Serrano, an unsuccessful candidate for the Jersey City council and former chair of the Jersey City Housing Authority. Serrano accepted $10,000 in two cash payments of $5,000 for her political campaign.
  • James P. King, an unsuccessful candidate for Jersey City Council, former head of the Jersey City Parking Authority, former chairman of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority and a former Hudson County undersheriff. He accepted two payments of $5,000 each for his political campaign.
  • Michael J. Manzo (no relation to the other Manzos), an unsuccessful candidate for Jersey City Council, and a Jersey City arson investigator. He agreed to accept a $5,000 cash payment from the cooperating witness for his campaign.
  • Joseph Castagna, a health officer with the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services, and a close associate of Michael Manzo. Castagna took the $5,000 payment from the cooperating witness to pass to Michael Manzo.
  • Dennis Jaslow, an investigator for the Hudson County Board of Elections and formerly a state corrections officer. Jaslow accepted $2,500, but complained that he wanted $5,000.
  • Joseph Cardwell, a political consultant and a commissioner of the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority. He accepted two payments of $10,000 in cash to assist the cooperating witness with local government officials in Jersey City and other municipalities, and another $10,000, most of which was used for the purchase of fundraising event tickets.
  • Guy Catrillo, a Jersey City planning aide and member of the mayor’s “Action Bureau,” and an unsuccessful candidate for the city council. Catrillo took $10,000 in campaign cash and another $5,000.
  • L. Harvey Smith, state Assemblyman, a Jersey City mayoral candidate and former three-term councilman in Jersey City and a Hudson County undersheriff. Smith took two cash payments, one for $5,000, the other for $10,000, in exchange for approaching high-level contacts with the state Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection to clear the way for approvals of the cooperating witness’s project on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City and another project off Route 440 in Bayonne. Smith’s aide, Richard Greene, is charged in the same criminal Complaint, and is accused of taking the $5,000 payment from the cooperating witness and passing it to Smith.
  • Peter Cammarano III, previously a Hoboken councilman and now mayor, and a lawyer specializing in election law. While a candidate for mayor, then-councilman Cammarano and his close associate, Michael Schaffer, a commissioner on the North Hudson Utilities Authority, took three payments of $5,000 each with the promise that, in return, Cammarano would sponsor zoning changes and push through building plans for high-rise development in Hoboken by the cooperating witness. After the conclusion of their first meeting at a Hoboken diner, the cooperating witness stated, “Make sure you get my stuff expedited.” To which Cammarano replied: “I promise you … you’re gonna be treated like a friend.” Moments later, in the parking lot, Schaffer took the first $5,000 in cash. On July 16, Cammarano and Schaffer met the cooperating witness again at a Hoboken diner and accepted another $10,000, which Cammarano said was needed to pay campaign debts, bringing the total in bribes accepted by Cammarano and Schaffer to $25,000.
  • Dennis Elwell, mayor of Secaucus, and Ronald Manzo (Manzo is charged in this Complaint in addition to the one with his brother Louis). Elwell received a $10,000 cash bribe—through Manzo as the middleman—to assist the cooperating witness with plans to build a hotel in Secaucus. Manzo took $5,000 from the cooperating witness as a reward for bringing Elwell to him.
  • Anthony Suarez, mayor of Ridgefield Borough and an attorney, and co-defendant Vincent Tabbachino, owner of a tax preparation business in Guttenberg. Suarez accepted $10,000 from the cooperating witness through Tabbachino as a middleman, for Suarez’s promised assistance in getting approvals to develop properties in Ridgefield. Tabbachino said he kept the cash and, in turn, would write checks totaling $10,000 (one check for $2,500 was cashed) to a legal defense fund for Suarez related to an allegation made by a political opponent of Suarez. Tabbachino also laundered $100,000 in cash from the cooperating witness’s purported knock-off handbag business.
  • Daniel M. Van Pelt, state Assemblyman and administrator for Lumberton Township. Van Pelt accepted $10,000 from the cooperating witness for his influence as a state Assemblyman to help in getting the necessary permits for a purported project the cooperating witness was planning in Waretown, Ocean Township. Van Pelt particularly offered his influence in obtaining the necessary permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
  • Jeffrey Williamson, a Lakewood housing inspector, who was also a state Assembly candidate in 2007. He accepted a total of more than $16,000 in bribes in regular payments of $1,000 between about May 2007 and the last one on July 10, to provide lenient inspections on rental and other properties owned by the cooperating witness in Lakewood. Williamson also allowed the cooperating witness to illegally use a residence in Lakewood as a commercial office. Charles “Shaul” Amon aided in the Lakewood payoff scheme by introducing Williamson to the cooperating witness.
  • Charles “Shaul” Amon, previously worked for the cooperating witness managing properties in Lakewood. Amon aided in the Lakewood payoff scheme by introducing Williamson to the cooperating witness. Amon described how he had previously made payoffs to Williamson to go light on housing inspections.

The Money Laundering Defendants

Following are the individuals charged in the money laundering investigation and summaries of their alleged conduct as described in the criminal Complaints (All defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt):

  • Saul Kassin, the chief rabbi of Sharee Zion in Brooklyn, who laundered more than $200,000 with the cooperating witness between June 2007 and December 2008 by accepting “dirty” bank checks from the cooperating witness and exchanging them for clean checks from Kassin’s charitable organization, after taking a fee of 10 percent for each transaction.
  • Edmund Nahum, principal rabbi at Deal Synagogue in Deal, N.J., who laundered money both acting alone and with Kassin. Nahum laundered $185,000 between June 2007 and December 2008 by accepting dirty checks from the cooperating witness and exchanging them for clean checks from his own and Kassin’s charitable organizations, after taking a fee of 10 percent for each transaction. Both Kassin and Nahum also laundered money to create fictitious tax deductions by accepting checks made payable to their charitable organizations, which created the appearance of charitable donations. They then deducted their 10 percent fee for laundering the checks through their charitable organization accounts and returned to the originators checks drawn on one of their accounts for 90 percent of the value of the original checks. These return checks would be payable to a name designated by the originators.
  • Eli Ben Haim, principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal, N.J., laundered $1.5 million with the cooperating witness between June 2007 and February 2009 by accepting dirty checks from the cooperating witness and exchanging them for cash, after taking a fee of approximately 10 percent for each transaction. His source for the cash was an Israeli who, for a fee of 1.5 percent, supplied the cash through intermediary cash houses run by defendants Weiss, Ehrental, and Cohen, who are described below. Ben Haim remarked that at one time he had laundered between $7 million and $8 million in one year, and earned $1 million laundering money in that year.

Cash House Operators for Haim Transactions:

  • Arye Weiss—operated cash house from his residence in Brooklyn for Haim money laundering transactions; charged with supplying $300,000 in cash.
  • Yeshayahu Ehrental—operated cash house from his office in Brooklyn for Haim money laundering transactions; charged with supplying $300,000 in cash.
  • Schmulik Cohen—operated cash house from his residence in Brooklyn for Haim money laundering transactions; charged with supplying $850,000 in cash.
  • Mordchai Fish—Rabbi of Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn. Working with his brother Lavel Schwartz, also a rabbi in Brooklyn, Fish laundered approximately $585,000 with the cooperating witness by accepting dirty checks and exchanging them for cash, after taking a fee of 15 percent for each transaction. His source for the cash for some of the transactions was Levi Deutsch, who supplied the cash through an intermediary cash house run by Spira; for other transactions his source for the cash is unidentified but the cash was provided by cash couriers Gertner and Goldhirsh and cash houses run by Pollack and Weber. On two occasions over the course of his dealings with the Cooperating witness, Fish gave the Cooperating witness new chips for his cell phone to thwart any law enforcement attempt to wiretap their telephone calls.
  • Levi Deutsch—Israeli source/supplier of cash for a number of Fish money laundering transactions. For a fee of two or three percent, he supplied cash for the transactions through intermediary Spira’s cash house and is charged with supplying $200,000 in cash

Cash House Operators and Cash Couriers for Fish Transactions:

  • Binyomin Spira—operated a cash house from a bakery in Brooklyn in which he received cash from Levi Deutsch and supplied cash for Fish money laundering transactions, charged with supplying $200,000 in cash
  • Yolie Gertner—acted as a cash courier for Fish money laundering transactions, charged with moving $185,000 in cash
  • David Goldhirsh—acted as a cash courier for Fish money laundering transactions, charged with moving $100,000 in cash
  • Abe Pollack—operated cash house from his office in Brooklyn (which he shared with Naftoly Weber) for Fish money laundering transactions, charged with supplying $125,000 in cash
  • Naftoly Weber—operated cash house from his office in Brooklyn (which he shared with Abe Pollack) for Fish money laundering transactions, charged with supplying $125,000 in cash.

44 arrested in massive Federal corruption sweep July 23, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Today is a huge day for politics, New Jersey and criminal justice.  44 people have been arrested by Federal Authorities on charges of political corruption and money laundering.  This does not seem to be a small time case either.  All stories indicate that this is a high-volume case that may likely expand beyond the 44 people that have been charged.  In other words, it could be one of the most serious public corruption cases in New Jersey’s history.

The case started as a bank fraud case against a member of the Syrian Jewish community in Deal, N.J.   That man became a federal informant and posed as a crooked real estate developer offering cash bribes to obtain government approvals and in the end, it apparently ensnared a lot of people.  

Just some of the people arrested include:

— Peter Cammarano III, the newly elected mayor of Hoboken and an attorney, charged with
accepting $25,000 in cash bribes, including $10,000 last Thursday, from an undercover
cooperating witness.

— L. Harvey Smith, a New Jersey Assemblyman and recent mayoral candidate in Jersey City, charged along with an aide of taking $15,000 in bribes to help get approvals from high-level state agency officials for building projects.

— Daniel Van Pelt, a New Jersey Assemblyman, charged with accepting a $10,000 bribe.

— Dennis Elwell, mayor of Secaucus, charged with taking a $10,000 cash bribe.

— Anthony Suarez, mayor of Ridgefield and an attorney, charged with agreeing to accept a $10,000 corrupt cash payment for his legal defense fund.

— Louis Manzo, the recent unsuccessful challenger in the Jersey City mayoral election and former state Assemblyman, and his brother and political advisor Robert Manzo, both with taking $27,500 in corrupt cash payments for use in Louis Manzo’s campaign.

— Leona Beldini, the Jersey City deputy mayor and a campaign treasurer, charged with taking $20,000 in conduit campaign contributions and other self-dealing in her official capacity.

— Eliahu Ben Haim, of Long Branch, N.J., the principal rabbi of a synagogue in Deal, N.J., charged with money laundering of proceeds derived from criminal activity.

— Saul Kassin, of Brooklyn, N.Y., the chief rabbi of a synagogue in Brooklyn, New York, charged with money laundering of proceeds derived from criminal activity.

— Edmund Nahum, of Deal, N.J., the principal rabbi of a synagogue in Deal, charged with money laundering of proceeds derived from criminal activity.

While not yet arrested, Federal authorities also searched the office and home of Joseph Doria who is the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.  Doria previously served a the Democratic mayor of Bayonne for nine years and represented Hudson County in the State Senate.

This case is going to create a lot of work for many lawyers in New Jersey.  These defendants have to make sure that these lawyers 1) know what they are doing, 2) have a plan and 3) have the time and ability to make it happen.  Of course, the clients just need one thing:  money as it is going to take a lot of it to dig them out from the whole that they are in.

A lawyer really needs to put life on hold (including weekends) at the moment and dig into this case right away.  You need to determine if your client has any real exposure here.  Then, you need to determine if any of these 44 people can flip on your guy.  If so, its a race to see who can be first in the door for the best deal.  If any of them have a lawyer that doesn’t know how to break down a case quickly but completely, they will either wait and thus get a bad deal or quickly sell out for a bad deal. 

I suggest that as many of the lawyers on this case get together so that everyone is on the same page.  I want to know who is saying what about my client.  I also would want to look into entrapment issues and wiretaps and other recordings. 

Should be very interesting to watch this play out.

Numerous stories from the Star Ledger are here.

Ohio attorney charged in 40 count indictment May 26, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Columbus Attorney Mark Shelnutt faces 31 counts of money laundering, three counts of false statements, one count of attempted bribery, and one count of witness tampering.  All of this stems from his representation of convicted drug dealer Torrance Hill. 

According to U.S. Attorney’s Office, Shelnutt was allegedly aiding and abetting Hill’s drug organization, as well as laundering money for him.  Specifically, the indictment cites to several transactions that allegedly involve drug money to the CB&T account of Shelnutt’s wife, as well as cash payments for a mortgage on a house in Florida.

This is tough.  There is a good chance that Shelnutt’s career is over and that the defense of this case is going to be very tough on him.  I know little about the facts but it at least sounds like this is a defensible case.  I see nothing that indicates incredibly eggregious conduct.  When it comes to white collar crime, the line between normal conduct and criminal conduct is often very, very fine.

Representing a fellow criminal defense attorney would be interesting.  One one hand, it would be nice to have a client that can help you.  On the other hand, you don’t want to have your client run the whole case.  Finding that balance could be tough.

Story is here.

14 members of false title ring indicted in New Jersey April 22, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Wesley Starr of Trenton, a former Motor Vehicle Commission clerk, was indicted today on charges that he sold hundreds of fraudulent motor vehicle titles to various brokers and purchasers, including 13 people who were also charged today in separate indictments.  Starr was charged in a 20 count indictment with conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery, forgery as well as  tampering with public records. 

The State alleges that Starr allegedly circumvented the regular titling procedures using a special procedure by which public agencies obtain an application for certificate of ownership for abandoned vehicles that will be sold at public auction. They allege that between January 2006 and November 2007, Starr used the special procedure to issue approximately 378 fraudulent vehicle titles that were sold, primarily through middlemen or “brokers,” to numerous purchasers.

These defendants were also charged today:  

  • Rafael Gomez, 51, of Trenton, an employee of Hawk’s Towing Recovery in Trenton.
  • Carmine Meola, 33, of East Hanover, an employee of Harrison Auto Body in Newark.
  • Thaer Abuhamood, 29, of Lawrence, whose family owns Kaars, Inc. in Trenton.
  • John Delcorpo, 22, of Stanhope, who owns Specialized Recovery in Rockaway.
  • Thomas Sonnenberg, 41, of Lake Hopcatong, who owns Motorcycle Madness in Lafayette.
  • James Campbell, 30, of East Orange.
  • Manuel Rivera, 42, of Belleville, owner of Manny’s Auto Sales in Newark.
  • John McElroy, 51, of Livingston, owner of Select Towing in West Orange.
  • Maryleigh Barbusin, 50, of Little Silver, McElroy’s girlfriend and an employee of Select Towing.
  • Raymond A. Sobers, 48, of Montclair, owner of Roach’s Towing in Montclair.
  • Hognjan Yuan, 52, of North Brunswick, owner of John’s Auto in Montclair.
  • Damon Stinson Jr., 67, of Montclair.
  • Waldemar Kos, 58, of Montclair, owner of KOS Motor Cars Inc in Montclair.

Each defendant was charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and bribery, all in the second degree, and third-degree tampering with public records or information. All defendants but Damon Stinson Jr. were also charged with third-degree forgery.

Starr faces some big problems here.  Obviously, everyone else is going to line up to flip against him as they are facing less time to begin with.  In addition, when you are facing so many charges, it is almost like each set of charges is another case.  Thus, to win at trial, you have to win all of them which is not easy to do.  His best bet is to work this out ASAP.

Story is here.