Two New Jersey mayors and dozens of political and religious figures were arrested today and charged in a massive bribery and money laundering scheme that included traffic in human body parts.
As part of an 10-year investigation into pervasive public corruption in New Jersey, hundreds of FBI agents fanned out across the state this morning to make arrests and search offices. Later, law enforcement vehicles crowded in front of agency offices as agents waited to unload their quarry.
Among those arrested following were Hoboken mayor Peter Cammarano III, Secaucus mayor Dennis Elwell, Jersey City deputy mayor Leona Beldini, state legislator Daniel Van Pelt, officials in the state capital, and several Syrian-Jewish rabbis who officials said laundered illicit cash through charities they controlled.
The 44 people arrested today were snared by a single FBI witness who laundered $3m through networks with branches in the US, Israel and Switzerland, and paid more than $650,000 in bribes to the accused politicians, FBI officials said.
One northern New Jersey man, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, was charged with conspiring to traffic human organs. Officials said he promised to sell to the witness’s relative for $160,000 a kidney he had acquired for $10,000.
The witness at the centre of the investigation was himself charged in 2006 with bank fraud, and was familiar enough with the argot of bribery and international organised crime to win the suspects’ trust, court filings in the case show. In several of the cases, he posed as a developer interested in paying public figures under the table to expedite real estate projects.
The deals caught on video and audio recordings took place in boiler rooms, bathrooms and diners, with the suspects coaching the witness on code language to use in facilitating the transactions.
Offered cash to speed along a proposed real estate project, Cammarano promised: “You’re gonna be treated like a friend,” according to court documents filed in the case.
“Just make sure you expedite my stuff,” the witness told Cammarano. “That’s all I ask.”
After suggesting he hire Van Pelt as a “consultant” on a project, the witness told the politician he was a member of neither the Democratic nor Republican parties, but was a member of the green party, where “green is cash”, according to a court filing.
Many of the arrested come from a gritty, urban area of New Jersey directly across the Hudson River from New York City that in recent years has attracted young professionals driven out of New York by high real estate prices. Hoboken is most famous as the home town of singer Frank Sinatra.
New Jersey has a long record of political corruption, and the FBI said the new haul adds to dozens previous convicted in recent years.
“The victims in these corruption cases are the citizens of this state,” said Ralph Marra, US attorney for the state of New Jersey, “and the honest businessmen who don’t pay off”.