New Jersey Corruption Complaints Reveal Scheming

9 09 2007

9:11 AM EDT, September 8, 2007

TRENTON, N.J.

Passaic Councilman Marcellus Jackson was, according to federal prosecutors, more than happy to receive $6,000 to try steer city business to an insurance company. “I appreciate it, baby,” he said, according to the criminal complaint. “Good things is gonna happen.”

His fellow councilman, Jonathan Soto, thought the “sky was the limit,” making sure those doling out money knew, “I have friends in other municipalities, and I’m all for getting my feet wet as well, man, you know what I’m saying?” The criminal complaints against the 12 people arrested Thursday in New Jersey on federal corruption charges detailed what prosecutors describe as brazen greed even for a state infamous for corruption.The 12, including 11 public officials, were released Thursday after initial court appearances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While meeting the witnesses at a Passaic restaurant, Rivera, the one who vowed, “I’ll have my day in court” made clear he had the influence to get contracts approved, claiming, “I can get four votes easy, easy, easy,” a complaint said. He then took $5,000, it said.Soto, charged with taking $12,500, made sure to tell the cooperating witnesses on Nov. 3 he was “very appreciative that, you know, you guys have counted me as part of the team,” a complaint said.

But he was also apparently anxious to get his money, though he didn’t exactly say that. According to the complaint, he sent a text message on Nov. 6 asking, “Any word on that cake?” Twelve hours later, he got $5,000 in a car parked at a Garden State Parkway rest stop, the complaint states. He got another $5,000 the next day in a shopping center parking lot. After he pushed the council to approve the company on Dec. 19, he sent another message: “Will need that green broccoli for the 1st entree,” the complaint said. He is accused of getting another $2,500 in February.

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