FBI Arrests Mayors, Assemblymen, Political Operatives, Rabbis

Special to HarpBlaster.com News Wire

NEWARK, N.J. – The mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield were among 44 people charged today in a “two-track federal investigation of public corruption and a high-volume, international money laundering conspiracy,” Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr., announced.

The Jersey City deputy mayor and council president, two state assemblymen, numerous other public officials and political figures and five rabbis from New York and New Jersey were  also arrested.

Among those charged in criminal Complaints are:

— 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.

— Mordchai Fish, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a rabbi at a synagogue in Brooklyn, charged with money laundering of proceeds derived from criminal activity. His brother, also a rabbi, was charged as well.

Most of the defendants were arrested early this morning by a large contingent of federal agents, led by Special Agents of the FBI Newark Division and IRS Criminal Investigation Division. Court-authorized search warrants were also being executed approximately 20 locations in New Jersey and New York, to recover, among other things, large sums of cash and other evidence of criminal conduct.

Additionally, 28 seizure warrants were being executed against bank accounts in the names of the money laundering defendants and entities they control.

The cooperating witness told targets of the money laundering investigation that he was involved in illegal businesses and bank frauds. He also openly discussed with targets that he was in bankruptcy and was attempting to conceal cash and assets, and told them he wanted to launder criminal proceeds in increments ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to $150,000 or more at a time, often at the rate of several transactions per week.

According to the criminal Complaints, the money laundering operations run by the rabbis laundered a total of approximately $3 million for the cooperating witness alone between about June 2007 and July 2009.

The investigation veered onto its public corruption track in July 2007 in Hudson County, where the cooperating witness represented himself to be a developer and owner of a tile business who wanted to build high rises and other projects and get public contracts in Hudson County schools. Through an intermediary, the cooperating witness was introduced to a Jersey City building inspector who, in return for $40,000 in bribes, promised to smooth the way for approvals of the cooperating witness’s building projects, according to the criminal complaints.

From there, introductions and referrals spread amongst a web of public officials, council and mayoral candidates, their operatives and associates – mostly in Hudson County, and primarily in Jersey City – who took bribes. In return, they pledged their official assistance in getting the cooperating witness’s projects prioritized and approved or to steer contracts to him.

In part, the bribe-taking was connected to fund raising efforts in heavily contested mayoral and city council campaigns in Jersey City and Hoboken, and the bribes were often parceled out to straw donors, who then wrote checks in their names or businesses to the campaigns in amounts that complied with legal limits on individual donations – so-called conduit or
conversion donations. Other bribe recipients took cash for direct personal use and benefit; others kept some of the cash and used the rest for political campaigns, according to the criminal complaints.

The investigation produced hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings documenting much of the money laundering and bribe-taking.

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