(You first heard it yesterday, here on PCJN!)
PASSAIC — Mayor Samuel Rivera was expected to be in Trenton today, pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. But on Thursday, he was in City Hall as streams of well-wishers said their goodbyes.
Men and women stood in a line outside his office, crying. Even the mayor’s hefty bodyguard, Passaic police Detective Lucho Candelaria, was a little misty.
“He’s leaving, and we’re never going to see him again,” said the mayor’s secretary, Angely Ramirez, who wiped her eyes with tissues.
“It’s just sad for the people who knew him well,” Ramirez said between sniffles. “He helped a lot of people.”
Rivera, a former police detective who built his reputation on being tough on crime and cleaning up the streets, is expected to plead to a two-count indictment alleging he accepted a $5,000 bribe and the promise of another $50,000, in exchange for lucrative insurance contracts with the city. Rivera’s plea hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. in Trenton.
In an interview Thursday evening with Univision 41, a Spanish-language news channel, Rivera sat down with a reporter and said in Spanish, “I have to resign.”
Julio Luciano, the mayor’s assistant, carried cardboard boxes out of the office. Later, he stood on the steps of City Hall, smoking a cigarette and shaking his head.
“He gave a lot of people jobs and helped a lot of police,” Luciano said. “The people that don’t like him are going to see: Passaic is going to be bad. Without him, there will be a lot of gangs and dirty streets.”
Ramirez said Rivera would not see reporters in his office: “He’s not in a good mood right now,” she said.
Then, about noontime, Rivera emerged from his office. A group of employees surrounded him as he made his way out of City Hall. He shook their hands and embraced them.
When asked whether he had resigned, he simply shook his head and said, “No.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, offering a handshake. If convicted, Rivera faces up to 30 years in prison on both offenses as well as up to $250,000 in fines on each.
Under state law, once Rivera pleads guilty, he must resign.
Rivera, along with former Councilmen Jonathan Soto and Marcellus Jackson, was accused of taking bribes from undercover FBI agents in exchange for working to get public contracts for a fake insurance company, called Coastal Solutions LLC. The officials were arrested in September as part of a statewide FBI sting dubbed “Operation Broken Boards.”
Jackson pleaded guilty in December and resigned from the council in January. Soto awaits trial.
Neither prosecutors nor Rivera’s attorney, Henry Klingeman, would comment on whether a plea agreement had been struck.
Thus far, all but five public officials have pleaded guilty to being part of the scheme. Among them are former state Assemblyman Alfred Steele, D-Paterson; Jackson, of the Passaic City Council, Pleasantville school board members Rafael Velez, Jayson Adams and James Pressley, and Pleasantville Councilman Peter Callaway. All await sentencing. NorthJersey.com