Mayor With a Past Has a Future in Prison

25 08 2008

WHEN a federal judge sentenced former Mayor Samuel Rivera to 21 months in federal prison on Aug. 15, an era ended in this tattered city of nearly 70,000, leaving many here debating Mr. Rivera’s tumultuous past and wondering what is to come.

To many, Mr. Rivera, 61, had been an improbable choice as mayor; he was an explosive man who had been implicated in the deaths of two young men. But to others in this city of shifting demographics, he was the forceful leader they needed to fight crime.

“He was a good politician in his first four years,” said Gary Schaer, the former City Council president who became acting mayor when Mr. Rivera resigned. “But in the last three years, he became inebriated with his own power, he forgot himself.” Read the rest of this entry »


In a crowded Passaic field, Morales says she has fire in the belly

25 08 2008

DENVER – You can’t stray far from New Jersey’s ward politics here, not if you’re at the Hotel Inverness, where Ritzy Morales told that she definitely intends to run for mayor of Passaic.

A longtime director of constituent services for U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), Morales, 41, said she plans to submit 700 petitions to the municipal clerk in advance of the Sept. 12th filing deadline, and expects to have at least 400-500 of them certified to earn well over the required 200.

“The public has known me for a long time,” said Morales, born in Paterson and a resident of Passaic for ten years. “I have strong values, and I wouldn’t even accept a cup of coffee from someone as mayor, because of the negativity left by Sammy Rivera. I would definitely stop corruption.”

A judge sentenced Rivera on corruption charges earlier this month. Now Morales is one of seven people jockeying to win a special election on Nov. 4th to fill in for the disgraced former mayor. The field consists of School Board member Alex Blanco, city supervisor Vincent Capuana, councilman Jose Garcia, Councilwoman Maritza Colon-Montanez, real estate developer Jose Sandoval, bail-bondsman Carl Ellen, and Morales.

Latinos make up the biggest voting bloc at 52-54%, with the two biggest sub-communities split between Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Puerto Ricans have the upper-hand numbers-wise – 2,000 to 800-900 registered Dominican voters – but they still don’t quite have the rock solid Election Day numbers that orthodox Jews possess: 1,800-2,200 votes.

“I see a lot of potential in Passaic, and a lot of growth opportunity to unite all of the communities in the city,” said Morales.

She’ll be in a dogfight for Puerto Rican base votes with Colon-Montanez. The latter will have another scrap on her hands in addition to Morales, meanwhile, as Colon-Montanez will be trying to shore up the remnants of Rivera’s political apparatus, even as Capuana tries to do the same thing from within the base camp of the old city guard.

A Dominican who is making his own big play to unite all parties, Sandoval is nonetheless a Republican who has fought the power on numerous occasions and lost. Ellen has the challenge of outleaping the reality of 12% African-American voter registration in Passaic, and appealing to base and new voters.

Then there’s Blanco, who is said to be close to Acting Mayor Gary Schaer, an orthodox Jew who with his endorsement can deliver a plurality of his own ethnic community. But Schaer remains coy about his pick, and Morales hopes she can gain his support.

She acknowledges that one of her chief challenges will be striking down her opponents’ attempts to depict her as an inner sanctum Pascrell plant.

She’ll have to fight the campaign mail piece, perhaps, that suggests she was tossed into the race simply to drain votes from fellow Puerto Rican Colon-Montanez so that Blanco – in the event he’s the back room establishment pick settled on by Schaer, Pascrell and Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie – can rely on a split Puerto Rican vote, and himself unite Dominicans, Jews and others, to scratch out a win.

But Morales insists there’s no stalking horse back story to her candidacy. She wants to win.

“I have a loyalty to Bill and to the party, but I am an independent person,” said Morales. “They affiliate me with Bill. Bill has taught me how to be independent, and he taught me how to care about people. This was a hard decision for me to make. When I spoke with the congressman, he definitely opened the door to allow me to do this. But ultimately this is for me to decide. I have a fire inside my belly to help people.”        

Morning misery on Route 21

22 08 2008

PASSAIC — A three-car accident Thursday morning caused a tractor-trailer to jackknife and shut down Route 21 south and sent one man to the hospital, police said.

The crash took place around 6:30 a.m. just past Exit 10B to River Drive.

Passaic police Detective Andy White described the accident this way: Rafael Perez, 49, of Clifton was driving a Honda Pilot in the middle lane of the highway when he entered the left lane, where Hawthorne resident Michael Alberta, 26, was driving a Ford Explorer.

The Honda caused Alberta to lose control of his car, White said, which led Perez to swerve and hit the guardrail. Perez’s Honda then spun out into the right lane of the highway, where Melesio Garcia, 39, of Clifton was driving a tractor-trailer.

Garcia swerved to avoid hitting the Honda, and in doing so lost control of the vehicle. The tractor-trailer spun into the left lane and jackknifed on the median.

Perez was taken to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Paterson with non-life-threatening injuries, White said.

Passaic police shut down parts of Route 21 south for nearly three hours and diverted all traffic on the northbound side of the highway off at the Passaic Park exit.

Police reopened the highway around 9:30 a.m.

N.J. police stockpile assault weapons

20 08 2008

BERGEN COUNTY, N.J. — North Jersey police are stockpiling some of the most sophisticated tactical and assault weapons on the market, but some residents question the need for such firepower in sleepy suburban towns.

Nearly half the agencies in a Record survey of 44 police departments said they own tactical weapons or plan to purchase them in the near future. Most departments are buying semiautomatic guns capable of one to three shots per trigger pull, while a handful of departments have fully automatic weapons capable of firing 10 bullets a second. A few have military-grade M16s or urban rifles that can blast through body armor.

“You’re not looking at major crime in these towns,” said Eric Krasnov, a 26-year-old from Harrington Park who works in Tenafly. Read the rest of this entry »

St Mary’s is trying to close the very well needed psych unit.

19 08 2008

Editors notePCJN has learnt that the St Marys psych unit is very well needed. And also would like the resident’s of passaic county to know that, the psych unit last week was completely full. So where would these 38 beds go? Also many of the Patients at st Mary’s psych facility are voluntarily going to the psych facility however if they have to travel they probably would not go. And many of the low income families would not be able to visit there loved ones. Which is very important for such patients

 The overburdened mental health system in North Jersey is closely monitoring the proposed closure of the 38-bed psychiatric unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic County, assessing the potential domino effect on other providers if the state approves the closure, officials said yesterday.

Chilton Memorial Hospital in Pequannock and Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville are two likely destinations for many patients, said officials, who noted such a move would make it less-than-convenient for some Passaic County families to visit loved ones who are hospitalized.

St. Mary’s has a pending application with the state Department of Health and Senior Services to close its 40-year-old psychiatric unit. Hospital officials said they don’t have adequate funds to continue the operation.

Read the rest of this entry »

A video of Rivera taking bribe hits Web.

19 08 2008

A 40-second video showing former Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera accepting a bribe from FBI operatives has made its way onto the Internet.

U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson released the footage to a reporter on Friday after sentencing Rivera to 21 months in prison and a $4,000 fine, after he pleaded guilty to extortion.

The video, first posted on The Star-Ledger’s Web site, shows Rivera seated in a parked car, chatting with one of the FBI’s cooperating witnesses, and accepting $5,000 cash and brochures from the fake company they allegedly represented.

Although the cooperating witnesses’ face is blurred in the video, Rivera is seen wearing a T-shirt, shaking hands with the man and exchanging quick pleasantries after accepting the bribe. Some of the conversation on the video is inaudible.

“As I told you I’m going to give you some brochures,” the FBI agent says to Rivera. “It’s only $5,000, but it’s a start. And I appreciate your help.”

Then, the agent adds, “Listen, that idea about the Passaic water, that’s fantastic.”

To which Rivera replied, “We have everybody there, everybody.”

“Well, they’ve got a big house on top of the hill,” the agent answered, chuckling.

Rivera then looks at the cooperating witness and smiles.

“Between him and I … easy, easy,” Rivera said.

“Sammy, I really appreciate it,” the cooperating witness said. “Thank you for your time.”

“Take care, baby,” Rivera said as he got out of the vehicle.

Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, said the video was part of the federal prosecution’s sentencing brief.

The defense submitted its own video from family members asking the judge for leniency against the 61-year-old former Passaic mayor.

Prosecutors alleged that Rivera accepted the bribe and the promise of $50,000 to be sent to an overseas bank account from the cooperating witnesses, who posed as insurance brokers wanting contracts from the city.

The witnesses said they worked for Coastal Solutions LLC, a fake business. Rivera, in exchange, promised to use his influence with the City Council to get the brokers lucrative city contracts.

Rivera, as mayor of one of the cities that owned the Passaic Valley Water Commission, also bragged that he could get the brokers contracts with that agency.

The video is just one of hundreds of recorded tapes made during the FBI’s six-month corruption investigation, dubbed “Operation Broken Boards.”

The FBI probe led to the arrests last September of 11 public officials and a private citizen in New Jersey, including four from Passaic County – former Assemblyman Alfred Steele, D-Paterson, former Passaic City Councilmen Marcellus Jackson and Jonathan Soto.

Soto has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, which is scheduled for the fall.

Ex-Mayor of Passaic Gets Nearly 2 Years in Prison

17 08 2008

TRENTON (AP) — Samuel Rivera, the former mayor of Passaic, N.J., was sentenced on Friday to nearly two years in prison and fined $4,000 for accepting cash bribes in exchange for influencing city contracts.

Mr. Rivera, who was caught in a corruption scheme that netted 11 public officials, resigned last year after pleading guilty to attempted extortion.

Mr. Rivera, 61, admitted taking $5,000 in exchange for using his official influence to help a company become the city’s insurance broker. The company turned out to be an F.B.I. front.

The only explanation Mr. Rivera offered on Friday for his role in the scheme was “poor judgment.”

A former police officer, Mr. Rivera is among nearly two dozen New Jersey mayors charged with corruption since 2000.

Among the most well known is Sharpe James, the former mayor of Newark, who is set to surrender to prison officials next month. Mr. James was ordered to serve a 27-month sentence and pay a $100,000 fine for his role in the sale of city-owned properties at a discount.

We at PCJN wish our former Mayor the best of luck. And we acknowledge all the great things he has done for our city.