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Operation Bid Rig Part 3 – update July 23, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
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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.
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44 arrested in massive Federal corruption sweep July 23, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
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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.

Ex-politician avoids serious prison term in computer crime case May 21, 2009

Posted by jefhenningeresq in My Cases.
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This was a rather high profile case that I just finished up last week.  Due  to my client’s position as a politician at the time of his arrest, this incident was featured in a ton of news articles.  However, I was able to keep the sentencing out of the news for the most part so I’m going to be vague on the details.  Other than a brief mention on television, there was nothing in print. 

Basically, my client was charged with very serious offenses that could have landed him in prison if convicted.  He confessed before he hired me and the evidence against him was strong.  I worked the case out with prosecutor for a plea to lesser charges with probation and 364 days of county jail time.  I’ve had these cases before and I have been able to get that 364 down to zero but it isn’t easy to do that.

I filed a sentencing brief that the prosecutor viewed as so impressive, that he agreed to slash his recommendation in half.  So,  the new recommendation to the court was 180 days in jail and not 364.  This is the first time I have seen the State do this.  Of course, I still pushed for zero days.

However, when I got to court, the whole game changed.  This judge does not like these cases and there was another defendant with the very same charges. His attorney also asked for no jail time but the judge ripped him up pretty good.  I the end, he got the full 364.  The prosecutor told me that he knows this judge and he rarely departs from the 364 when these deals are made.

Great huh?  Looked like my guy was getting the 364 and not even the 180 that the State was recommending now.  I spent about a half hour arguing with the judge, focusing him on my client and his situation, his service to the community and the circumstances of the case.  The judge thanked me for my zealous advocacy of my client  which was important because he did not thank the previous attorney. 

In the end, the judge gave my guy 120 days in jail.  Would I have liked nothing?  Of course!  However, I can’t see how I could have done anything else with this case.  Of the 120, my guy will probably do about half of that.  Even better, the judge granted my application to delay his entry to jail so that he can get his life together.  The last guy went right out in cuffs.

While my client was happy, especially after seeing what happened to the last guy, I had a prospective client that was sitting in the audience watching me as well.  She was so impressed with me that she fired her previous attorney and has since hired me.  Thus, I had a good day in court.

New Jersey Assemblyman sets bad example by making a statement without an attorney April 15, 2009

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I don’t know Anthony Chiappone and I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I have to seriously question what he is thinking because he plans on talking to the AG’s office without an attorney.  I am sure he knows plenty of attorneys.  I don’t care how innocent you think you are; going it alone is just a bad move.

Chiappone is not charged, just under investigation for forgery.  Several former and current aides called him yesterday to say that they were visited by state AG detectives who showed them copies of canceled checks and asked them to verify their signatures. 

In my opinion, this is bad news.  You can make one mistake, but as far as the authorities go, if you do something several times, it is a crime.  I think there is a good chance that he will be charged.  The fact that they went to these other people first show that they are working to build a case and not investigate if something happened. 

I really hope he re-thinks his actions.

Blagojevich says he’ll stay put (and keep his leverage) December 20, 2008

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In case you missed it, Blagojevich made a very short statement today. Basically he says he did nothing wrong. Normally I can’t stand when lawyers put clients in front of the media (see Drew Peterson) as it does nothing but keep the story going; but in this case, I think it makes sense.

He needs all the leverage he can get and since this involves Obama’s seat, the story is going to be hot regardless of whether he talks to the press. If this case is going to plea out, resigning could be part of the deal. If he left now, that would be off the table.

Normally, I wouldn’t mention these big national stories, but this one could get interesting. His defense seems like it will be walking the fine line of the law on conspiracy because there was no “overt act”. Watch for an indictment. if he gets indicted, the US Attorney will be sure they have a really good case. He is undefeated in these types of cases as most US Attorneys are.