Big N.J. Bust -– 44 Mayors, Politicians, Citizens Charged in Public Corruption, Money Laundering Federal Investigation
The mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield, 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 among 44 individuals charged Thursday, July 23rd, 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 today, Thursday, July 23, 2009.
Among those charged in criminal Complaints are:
* Peter Cammarano III, the newly elected mayor of
* 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
* Louis Manzo, the recent unsuccessful challenger in the
* Leona Beldini, the
* Eliahu Ben Haim, of
* Saul Kassin, of
* 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
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 (See addendum of defendants, charges and arrest status). Court-authorized search warrants were also being executed approximately 20 locations in
One criminal Complaint charges a
Those charged in the public corruption investigation are scheduled to begin making appearances today in federal court in
Law enforcement personnel, with the assistance of a cooperating witness, first infiltrated a pre-existing money laundering network that operated internationally between Brooklyn, Deal, N.J. and Israel and laundered at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, non-profit entities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey.
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
From there, introductions and referrals spread amongst a web of public officials, council and mayoral candidates, their operatives and associates - mostly in
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.
"This investigation has once again identified a corrupt network of public officials who were all too willing to take cash in exchange for promised official action," said Marra. "It seemed that everyone wanted a piece of the action. The corruption was widespread and pervasive."
"In both parts of this investigation," Marra said, "respected figures in positions of public and private trust engaged in conduct behind closed doors that belied the faces of honesty, integrity and rectitude they displayed daily to their respective constituencies."
"The list of names and titles of those arrested today sounds like a roster for a community leaders meeting," said Weysan Dun, Special Agent In Charge of the FBI in
"Traditional money laundering used to be confined to narcotics traffickers and organized crime," said Julio La Rosa, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division (CID). "Based on the allegations contained in today's complaints, money laundering has no boundaries and impacts every segment of our society."
The investigation is the third phase of the FBI, IRS-CID and U.S. Attorney's Office "Bid Rig" investigations that began first in Monmouth and Ocean counties in
The Money Laundering Investigation
The money laundering conspiracy involved high-ranking religious figures and their associates in
Haim's source of cash for funding the money laundering was, according to the Complaints, an Israeli in
Similar circles of money launderers in
One of the other money laundering operations was allegedly led by Saul Kassin, a leading
In another conversation, Kassin allegedly asked the cooperating witness - who at the moment was conducting a $25,000 transaction with Kassin - why he didn't do all his business with Haim. The cooperating witness replied that he had by that time already conducted between $600,000 and $700,000 in money laundering transactions with Haim.
Another group of alleged money launderers was led by Mordchai Fish, a rabbi at a
Also arrested today was Levi Deutsch, an Israeli living in
Finally, another alleged money launderer was Moshe "Michael" Altman, a
The Public Corruption Investigation
Guarini introduced the cooperating witness to Maher A. Khalil, deputy director of the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services and a former member of the Jersey City Zoning Board of Adjustment. Khalil - who accepted $30,000 in cash payments from the cooperating witness - made key referrals that set in motion a kind of "corruption networking" amongst the defendants charged today, as well as others, Marra said. The investigation is continuing.
Introductions usually took place at diners and restaurants in
Khalil pledged to the cooperating witness to make introductions only to "players" who would "do the right thing" by approving the cooperating witness's development plans in exchange for payments, according to his criminal Complaint. All along the way, each of the individuals charged allegedly took cash bribes up to $20,000 at a time - often numerous times - either taking the money outright or scheming to direct conduit payments through others to political campaigns in
Following are the individuals charged in the public corruption investigation, with the exception of Khalil and Guarini above, and summaries of their alleged conduct from the criminal Complaints (All defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt):
* Leona Beldini, deputy mayor of
* Jack M. Shaw, a
* Edward Cheatam, the affirmative action officer for Hudson County, a commissioner with the Jersey City Housing Authority and, until May, vice president of the Jersey City Board of Education. Cheatam took $15,000 in cash bribes. (Khalil had introduced Cheatam to the cooperating witness; Cheatam then introduced Beldini and Shaw to the cooperating witness, all of whom then went on to extend introductions of the cooperating witness to many others.)
* Mariano Vega, Jr., the
* Louis Manzo, a defeated candidate for
* Lavern Webb-Washington, an unsuccessful candidate for the
* Lori Serrano, an unsuccessful candidate for the
* James P. King, an unsuccessful candidate for Jersey City Council, former head of the Jersey City Parking Authority, former chairman of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority and a former
* Michael J. Manzo (no relation to the other Manzos), an unsuccessful candidate for Jersey City Council, and a
* Joseph Castagna, a health officer with the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services, and a close associate of Michael Manzo. Castagna took the $5,000 payment from the cooperating witness to pass to Michael Manzo.
* Dennis Jaslow, an investigator for the Hudson County Board of Elections and formerly a state corrections officer. Jaslow accepted $2,500, but complained that he wanted $5,000.
* Joseph Cardwell, a political consultant and a commissioner of the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority. He accepted two payments of $10,000 in cash to assist the cooperating witness with local government officials in Jersey City and other municipalities, and another $10,000, most of which was used for the purchase of fundraising event tickets.
* Guy Catrillo, a
* L. Harvey Smith, state Assemblyman, a
* Peter Cammarano III, previously a
* Dennis Elwell, mayor of Secaucus, and Ronald Manzo (Manzo is charged in this Complaint in addition to the one with his brother Louis). Elwell received a $10,000 cash bribe - through Manzo as the middleman - to assist the cooperating witness with plans to build a hotel in Secaucus. Manzo took $5,000 from the cooperating witness as a reward for bringing Elwell to him.
* Anthony Suarez, mayor of Ridgefield Borough and an attorney, and co-defendant Vincent Tabbachino, owner of a tax preparation business in Guttenberg. Suarez accepted $10,000 from the cooperating witness through Tabbachino as a middleman, for Suarez's promised assistance in getting approvals to develop properties in
* Daniel M. Van Pelt, state Assemblyman and administrator for
* Jeffrey Williamson, a
* Charles "Shaul" Amon, previously worked for the cooperating witness managing properties in
The Money Laundering Defendants
Following are the individuals charged in the money laundering investigation and summaries of their alleged conduct as described in the criminal Complaints (All defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt):
* Saul Kassin, the chief rabbi of Sharee Zion in Brooklyn, who laundered more than $200,000 with the cooperating witness between June 2007 and December 2008 by accepting "dirty" bank checks from the cooperating witness and exchanging them for clean checks from Kassin's charitable organization, after taking a fee of 10 percent for each transaction.
* Edmund Nahum, principal rabbi at Deal Synagogue in Deal, N.J., who laundered money both acting alone and with Kassin. Nahum laundered $185,000 between June 2007 and December 2008 by accepting dirty checks from the cooperating witness and exchanging them for clean checks from his own and Kassin's charitable organizations, after taking a fee of 10 percent for each transaction. Both Kassin and Nahum also laundered money to create fictitious tax deductions by accepting checks made payable to their charitable organizations, which created the appearance of charitable donations. They then deducted their 10 percent fee for laundering the checks through their charitable organization accounts and returned to the originators checks drawn on one of their accounts for 90 percent of the value of the original checks. These return checks would be payable to a name designated by the originators.
* Eli Ben Haim, principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal, N.J., laundered $1.5 million with the cooperating witness between June 2007 and February 2009 by accepting dirty checks from the cooperating witness and exchanging them for cash, after taking a fee of approximately 10 percent for each transaction. His source for the cash was an Israeli who, for a fee of 1.5 percent, supplied the cash through intermediary cash houses run by defendants Weiss, Ehrental, and Cohen, who are described below. Ben Haim remarked that at one time he had laundered between $7 million and $8 million in one year, and earned $1 million laundering money in that year.
Cash House Operators for Haim transactions:
* Arye Weiss - operated cash house from his residence in
* Yeshayahu Ehrental- operated cash house from his office in
* Schmulik Cohen - operated cash house from his residence in
* Mordchai Fish - Rabbi of Congregation Sheves Achim in
* Levi Deutsch - Israeli source/supplier of cash for a number of Fish money laundering transactions. For a fee of two or three percent, he supplied cash for the transactions through intermediary Spira's cash house and is charged with supplying $200,000 in cash
Cash House Operators and Cash Couriers for Fish transactions:
* Binyomin Spira - operated a cash house from a bakery in
* Yolie Gertner - acted as a cash courier for Fish money laundering transactions, charged with moving $185,000 in cash
* David Goldhirsh - acted as a cash courier for Fish money laundering transactions, charged with moving $100,000 in cash
* Abe Pollack - operated cash house from his office in
* Naftoly Weber - operated cash house from his office in
Additionally, money laundering charges were filed against Shimon Haber and Itzak Friedlander, associates of Michael Altman.
Marra credited Special Agents of the FBI Red Bank Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Weysan Dun, in
The cases are being prosecuted by Brian Howe, Deputy Chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark McCarren, Sandra Moser and Maureen Nakly, all of the Special Prosecutions Division.