Ex-Passaic official indicted in bribery case

31 01 2008

TRENTON — A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted former Passaic City Councilman Jonathan Soto on charges of pocketing $22,000 in bribes from undercover operatives seeking his help in obtaining lucrative municipal and school contracts.

The 15-count indictment adds two misdemeanor charges of attempted drug possession to the conspiracy and extortion allegations that were first outlined in a criminal complaint at the time of Soto’s Sept. 6 arrest.

“These guys are comedians, man,” Soto said by telephone Wednesday. “I don’t even know anything about it. I’ve been indicted on drug charges?”

Soto, fellow Passaic Councilman Marcellus Jackson, city Mayor Sammy Rivera and former Assemblyman Alfred E. Steele of Paterson were among 11 officials rounded up in an FBI sting operation that stretched from Atlantic County to North Jersey. Six of the officials, including Jackson and Steele, have since pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and are awaiting sentence.

Rivera was indicted two weeks ago on extortion and bribery charges and is awaiting trial. He is accused of offering to peddle his official influence in return for $50,000 and actually taking $5,000.

Soto, 32, a social studies teacher at Lincoln Middle School, had been suspended since his arrest. He remains free on $200,000 bail and will be arraigned as soon as the case is assigned to a U.S. District Court judge.

The indictment alleges that Soto extorted bribes from representatives of an undercover FBI company that offered insurance brokerage services to school districts and municipalities.

Soto allegedly accepted six payments from two cooperating witnesses in exchange for assurances that he would influence city officials to help secure contacts for the company.

According to the indictment, Soto was secretly recorded throughout the investigation, starting with a meeting with the FBI’s informants and a Pleasantville school official in an Atlantic City hotel room in October 2006. He agreed to use his official position and influence to obtain insurance brokerage contracts from the city and the school board in return for corrupt payments and took $2,000 at that time, it alleges.

In subsequent conversations, Soto variously referred to payoffs as “cake and green broccoli,” said he could enlist friends in other cities, and agreed to accept two $25,000 payoffs for himself and a conspirator, described as a high-ranking elected government official in Passaic and identified only as “Individual 1,” according to the indictment.

“[Individual 1] giving you the green light for you guys to come down is huge,” the indictment quotes Soto as saying. “Because it won’t just be the city. It will be the city, the [Board of Education] and everything else. The sky’s the limit in Passaic.”

Soto allegedly accepted $5,000 “for the boss,” at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway and another $5,000 and $2,500 days later at a shopping mall in Egg Harbor Township, the indictment alleges.

After learning that a resolution authorizing the promised brokerage services had been rescinded by his colleagues in his absence, Soto sought to reassure the FBI operative that “the real power is with [Individual 1]” as opposed to members of the council who had voted against the resolution and for its rescission, the indictment said.

Over the next few months, Soto allegedly pocketed two more payoffs of $2,500 and $5,000, acknowledged he had passed on $10,000 to his unnamed co-conspirator and helped engineer the defeat of a competitor vying for the city’s health insurance contract, according to the indictment.

The indictment also contains two counts charging Soto with attempting to possess a controlled substance, which was not identified in the charges.

Soto was recorded saying he was “trying to cop some … weight,” and “that he has to stop smoking,” the indictment alleges. It accused Soto of asking an undercover informant to pay him in drugs rather than money.

Soto said Wednesday that when FBI agents arrested him, they threatened more jail time if he didn’t answer their questions truthfully.

Agents then asked him if he had ever taken drugs in his lifetime, and he said he admitted to smoking marijuana once because “they scared the [expletive] out of me.”

If convicted, Soto could face up to 20 years imprisonment on the conspiracy and extortion charges, 10 years on the bribery counts, and one year on the drug counts.

Soto’s attorney, Jose Ongay, said he was unaware of the indictment.

Three-car crash likely to cause traffic backup on Route 3

31 01 2008

A three-car crash on eastbound Route 3 in Rutherford, just east of Route 21, is likely to backup traffic Thursday morning, police said. No injuries were reported.

The crash occurred shortly before 7 a.m., said police, who did not provide further information.

Motorists should expect traffic to slow as the vehicles are cleared from the roadway, police said.

In Clifton, an earlier rollover accident on Route 3 near the Route 46 merger, which temporarily shut down all westbound traffic around 6 a.m., has been cleared, police said. No injuries were reported in that single-vehicle crash.

— Michael J. Feeney Northjersey.com

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President Of Iran,says Israel will fall,

30 01 2008

TEHRAN – Iran’s hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad renewed his verbal attack on Israel today, saying its days are numbered and predicting that the “filthy Zionist entity” will fall sooner or later.

“I advise you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity which has reached the end of the line,” Ahmadinejad told world powers in a speech in the southern city of Bushehr carried live on the state television. “It has lost its reason to be and will sooner or later fall,” he said. “The ones who still support the criminal Zionists should know that the occupiers’ days are numbered.”

The Islamic republic considers Israel its arch enemy, along with the United States, and its hostility towards the Jewish state has deepened since Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

Ahmadinejad has drawn the ire of the international community by calling for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map and describing the Nazi holocaust a “myth”.

His latest comments come as Iran faces a third round of United Nations sanctions over its controversial nuclear drive.

Hillary Clinton Wins Again

30 01 2008

 Sen. Hillary Clinton will win Florida’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, although party sanctions have stripped the state of its convention delegates and no Democrats campaigned there

Published polls showed the New York senator and former first lady was heavily favored in the state.

Her leading rivals, South Carolina primary winner Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John Edwards, did not campaign in Florida. They opted to concentrate on next week’s “Super Tuesday” contests in states such as New York, California, Missouri and Georgia.

The sanctions make Tuesday night’s results largely meaningless to the Democratic presidential race. Obama described the primary as a “beauty contest” Tuesday, and his campaign issued a statement declaring the race a tie in the delegate count: “Zero for Obama, zero for Clinton.”

But Clinton has pledged to fight to have the state’s delegates seated at the August convention in Denver, and has increasingly stressed the state’s importance since losing Saturday’s hotly contested primary in South Carolina to Obama.

Looks like the former Mayor Of New York is looking for a job

30 01 2008

Fresh off his victory in the Florida Republican primary, Sen. John McCain was poised to take another big prize on Wednesday.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani plans to drop out of the presidential race and endorse McCain at an event in California, two GOP sources with direct knowledge of the plans said.

Giuliani was a distant third with the results from Tuesday’s voting almost final.

While Giuliani didn’t say he was withdrawing from the race, he did speak of his campaign in the past tense at one point.

“I’m proud I ran a positive campaign,” he told supporters. “I ran a campaign that was uplifting.”

An endorsement would give McCain added momentum heading into a debate Wednesday night — and the Super Tuesday contests next week.

The remaining GOP White House hopefuls face off Wednesday at a CNN-Los Angeles Times-Politico debate being held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

With 99 percent of Republican precincts reporting, McCain held a 36 percent-31 percent lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Giuliani had 15 percent of the vote, followed closely by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who held 14 percent.

A top campaign official from McCain’s camp has been in “ongoing discussions” with Giuliani’s campaign about endorsing McCain’s candidacy, a GOP official familiar with talks told CNN Tuesday.

A source close to Giuliani confirmed that discussions were taking place and said there is talk among the staff that an endorsement could come Wednesday in California. The source said McCain and Giuliani need to talk, but “we are working to make it happen.”

“We have a ways to go, but we’re getting close, and for that, you all have my profound thanks,” McCain said as he claimed victory.

Cop Uses Last Day to Ticket Other Cops

29 01 2008

A Middletown police officer spent his last day on the job writing tickets for 14 patrol cars that had expired inspection stickers.

Cpl. Frank Holden says he was just doing his job.

The 26-year veteran tells the Asbury Park Press he retired at the end of the year because Police Chief Robert Oches is hurting morale.

Holden says he spoke to the chief about the vehicles that needed to be inspected several months ago.

The township is investigating whether the tickets are valid because some of the vehicles were out of service.

Driving a vehicle with an expired inspection sticker may result in fines between $100 and $200.

Passaic Council Is A Mess

28 01 2008

PICTURE THIS: Passaic 2008. The City Council has scheduled a vote to fill the vacancy on the council created when Marcellus Jackson resigned after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge. Three council members are present for the vote on Tuesday. Three members, including the president, are absent. The mayor is there in case he is needed to break a tie. But with three councilmen missing, there’s no vote.

In any other city, the main story would be that the missing councilmen — Council President and Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Chaim Munk and Daniel Schwartz — wanted to dodge a difficult vote. Terrence Love, the likely replacement and a Passaic schoolteacher, has the support of the other three council members. Earlier this month, the council deadlocked 3-3 on appointing Love.

Some Passaic residents want Jeffrey Dye to get the seat. He unsuccessfully ran for a council seat in 2005. Approving Love comes with political consequences. Perhaps the council members who were AWOL want to avoid them. Mayor Sammy Rivera told the Herald News last week, “Gary has his own political agenda.”

That may be, but he is not alone. The “Sammy and Schaer Show” has been anything but harmonious of late. “Sammy” — Mayor Rivera — is under indictment. In fact, he was arrested with former city Councilman Jackson. Rivera claims he is innocent, despite federal officials claiming they have him on tape saying he is all too willing to accept a bribe.

Leave that on the side and focus on the facts. The council appears split down the middle. The mayor has the authority to break the tie. So the same person who is under indictment, caught up in the same corruption probe that led to Jackson’s admission of guilt and resignation, probably will be the deciding vote for Jackson’s replacement. Is that irony or just Passaic?

Schaer was unavailable for comment on Friday. He may not want to take a position on either Love or Dye, but he has no choice. Equally unpleasant is that the mayor who is busy trying to raise funds for his legal defense can still have a major impact on Passaic government. It is outrageous that given he was caught in the same net as Jackson, who has pleaded guilty, that Rivera gets a say in who replaces Jackson.

I don’t know why people are walking on eggshells if the eggs went bad long ago. Passaic needs to clean its house. First on the list is reducing the smell of sulfur. According to federal authorities, Rivera boasted that he had the needed votes in his pocket to get what turned out to be a sham insurance contract approved by the council.

The people of Passaic should demand that whoever replaces Jackson be independent of Rivera’s sway. They also should be concerned about the integrity of all elected council members.

Schaer may not win a congeniality award, but he’s a smart politician. Maybe he will run for mayor. Even if he chooses not to run, he has more at stake politically than any other player. He’s found a solid niche in the Assembly. Rivera is correct: Schaer has a political agenda.

Rivera’s agenda is primal: survival. The odds are against him. U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has a 100 percent conviction rate against public officials to date. The Giants should be so favored Sunday.

The AWOL councilmen have a responsibility to the people of Passaic. Whether Munk had jet lag, as reported, and that is why he missed the council meeting, or whether there were legitimate reasons that Schaer and Schwartz were no-shows, there can be no excuse for their absence at the next scheduled council session.

There are boundaries, real and imagined, that separate the Jewish, Hispanic and black communities of Passaic. Leaders forge alliances, shape compromises and find a way of governing for the greater good of all. They take stands, even unpopular ones.

But most of all, they show up. NorthJersey.com