24 July 2009

"public corruption and high-volume, int. money-laundering"

Mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, Several Rabbis Arrested

excellent comment from PM

By David Voreacos

July 23 (Bloomberg) -- The mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, New Jersey, and several rabbis are among 44 people charged today as part of a public corruption and money- laundering investigation by U.S. authorities.

Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, 32, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, 64, Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, 42, all Democrats, Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega Jr., 59, and State Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, 44, a Republican from Ocean Township, and Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, a Jersey City Democrat, were charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They will appear today in federal 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 infiltrated a “pre-existing money laundering network” that moved “at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, non-profit 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 FBI 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.”

Cooperating Witness

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 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, Leona Beldini, a deputy mayor of Jersey City, and several rabbis were charged.

The rabbis included 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.

Syrian, Hasidic Jews

They were charged with money laundering. The rabbis are members of the Syrian Jewish or Hasidic Jewish communities, Marra said at the news conference.

“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 the cooperator and exchanging them for “clean” checks, according to prosecutors.

Fish, Schwartz and two other defendants used a charitable, tax-exempt organization called BCG, which was associated with Fish’s synagogue, to launder money, according to the FBI.

Human Organs

Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, 58, of Brooklyn was accused of conspiring with others to acquire and trade human organs for use in transplantation. Rosenbaum, who was “purportedly” involved in real estate, was approached by a cooperating witness and an undercover FBI agent about buying a human kidney from a human organ broker, according to the complaint.

Rosenbaum said it would cost $150,000, with half payable up front, according to the complaint. Rosenbaum said some of the money would go to the donor and some to doctors in Israel, according to the complaint.

“One of the reasons it’s so expensive is because you have to shmear (meaning pay various individuals for their assistance) all the time,” according to the complaint. “It’s illegal to buy. It’s illegal to sell.”

Prosecutors charged the men in a series of criminal complaints detailing the allegations. Ben Haim was accused of laundering $1.5 million through the undercover witness, who said he “was engaged in illegal businesses and schemes including bank fraud, trafficking in counterfeit goods and concealing assets and monies in connection with bankruptcy proceedings,” according to an FBI criminal complaint.

PNC Bank

Before his 2006 arrest, Dwek deposited two $25 million checks from another account of his, which had a zero balance, prosecutors alleged. Dwek then wired $22.8 million out of PNC, falsely assuring bank officials that he would forward funds to cover the overdraft, according to prosecutors.

Dwek posted a $10 million bond, secured by $3 million in equity in the homes of his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Dwek was never indicted, instead receiving 17 extensions from a judge to continue the period in which his case had to be presented to a federal grand jury.

Michael Himmel and Christopher Porrino, lawyers for the cooperating witness, didn’t immediately return calls or e-mails requesting comment.

300 FBI, IRS Agents

More than 300 agents of the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service arrested the suspects and executed search warrants this morning, according to Dun.

Agents searched the house of Joseph Doria, a former Democratic assemblyman and the commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs. He hasn’t been charged. They also searched the offices of the president of St. Peter’s College, a school in Jersey City, as well as a synagogue in Deal, Dun said.

“Any corruption is unacceptable -- anywhere, anytime, by anybody,” New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat seeking reelection against Republican Christopher Christie, the former U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said in a statement.

“The scale of corruption we’re seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated,” Corzine said.

Doria resigned today at Corzine’s request, the governor’s spokesman said.

The arrests today emerged from an investigation that spans a decade and has led to two earlier roundups.

“New Jersey’s corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the country,” said FBI supervising agent Ed Kahrer. “Corruption is a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state and this great nation.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey, at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net.
Last Updated: July 23, 2009 15:44 EDT

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