The mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, New Jersey, and five rabbis were among 44 people charged by the U.S. with public corruption and money laundering.
Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, 32, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, 64, and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, 42, all Democrats; Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega Jr., 59; State Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, 44, a Republican from Ocean Township; and Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, a Jersey City Democrat, were charged yesterday in an FBI complaint. All except Smith appeared in U.S. court in Newark, New Jersey.
The corruption probe, based in Hudson County, netted many public officials accused of pledging assistance for bribes. A cooperating witness in that probe also infiltrated a “pre- existing money laundering network” that moved “at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, nonprofit entities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey,” according to a release by acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra.
“The fact that we arrested a number of rabbis this morning does not make this a religiously motivated investigation,” Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Newark, said at a news conference. “It is not a politically motivated investigation. It is about crime, corruption, arrogance and a shocking betrayal of public trust.”
The roundup of suspects is one of the largest ever in New Jersey, where more than 100 public officials have been convicted of corruption in the past few years. The cooperating witness laundered $3 million through the rabbis and also made bribe payments to public officials, prosecutors said. Investigators made hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings of illicit transactions, according to prosecutors.
The cooperating witness is Solomon Dwek, a real estate developer in Monmouth County, New Jersey, who was charged on May 11, 2006, with scheming to defraud PNC Bank out of $50 million, according to three people familiar with the matter. Dwek is a rabbi’s son who was vice president of the Deal Yeshiva School in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
Cammarano, Hoboken’s youngest mayor, was sworn in July 1. Former state Assemblyman Louis Manzo, 54, a Democrat from Jersey City, and Leona Beldini, a deputy mayor of Jersey City, also were charged. Cammarano attorney Joseph Hayden didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Suarez lawyer Henry Klingeman said his client was innocent and wouldn’t resign.
The rabbis are Saul Kassin, 87, chief rabbi of Sharee Zion, a synagogue in Brooklyn, New York; Eliahu Ben Haim, 58, the principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal, New Jersey; Edmond Nahum, 56, of Deal Synagogue in Deal; Mordchai Fish, 56, of Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn; and Lavel Schwartz, 57, Fish’s brother.
The rabbis were charged with laundering money that often was sent to Israel. They are members of the Syrian Jewish or Hasidic Jewish communities, Marra said at the news conference. Authorities issued a warrant for Schwartz’s arrest. The other four rabbis were arrested yesterday and appeared in court.
“This case uncovered a web of corruption that spanned the state,” Dun said. “All of the individuals were connected through their illicit activities with the undercover witness.”
Kassin is accused of laundering more than $200,000 through Dwek from June 2007 through December 2008 by accepting “dirty checks” from him and exchanging them for “clean” checks, according to prosecutors.