Dozens of politicians and rabbis have been arrested by US law enforcement agents in an anti-corruption probe in New Jersey. Allegations include money laundering, extortion and trafficking in human body parts.
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AFP – US law enforcement agents on Thursday arrested dozens of politicians and rabbis in an anti-corruption sweep alleging money laundering, extortion, bribery and even trafficking in human organs.
The stunning New Jersey swoop netted 44 people across a state long seen as one of the most corrupt and crime-ridden in the country.
Five rabbis were among the suspects, along with the mayors of the cities of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield, the Jersey City deputy mayor and council president, two state assembly members, and numerous other politicians, prosecutors said.
Acting US Attorney Ralph Marra told a press conference the arrests demonstrated “the pervasive nature of public corruption in this state.”
The money laundering ring allegedly stretched from New Jersey and New York to Israel and Switzerland, while US politicians easily exploited loopholes in state law to disguise bribes as contributions in bitterly fought campaigns.
“The politicians willingly put themselves up for sale,” said Marra, while “clergymen cloak their extensive criminal activity behind a facade of rectitude.”
Although New Jersey is more famous for a history of Italian Mafia families, it was Jewish clergy who allegedly played a central role in this crime network.
The Department of Justice said in a statement that the international network “laundered at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, non-profit entities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey.”
The bribe-taking meanwhile was connected to fund raising efforts in “heavily contested mayoral and city council campaigns in Jersey City and Hoboken.”
Authorities raided several synagogues and among those arrested was the chief rabbi of Syrian Jews in the United States.
One rabbi, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, was also charged with conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for transplant.
Marra said that Rosenbaum’s “business was to entice vulnerable people to give up a kidney for 10,000 dollars which he would turn around and sell for 160,000 dollars.”
He’d allegedly been peddling kidneys for a decade.
Raids began shortly after dawn, officials said, targeting a who’s who of state leaders.
Television footage showed FBI and tax agents bringing a stream of handcuffed suspects, including rabbis wearing traditional Orthodox Jewish garb, into custody in the city of Newark. Other suspects were shown being put onto a bus.
The New York Post confirms:
Three New Jersey mayors, two state assemblymen and roughly 40 other officials and private citizens, including rabbis, were rounded up today by federal authorities after a massive, 10-year investigation of an international money laundering ring.
The ring allegedly trafficked in goods as diverse as human organs and fake designer handbags. Suspects were taken by the carload to the FBI’s Newark office, with cars at times stacked four-deep waiting to unload their passengers.
Three hundred agents in 54 locations in New Jersey and New York were involved in the arrests this morning, the Newark Star-Ledger reported.
The wide-ranging scandal led to the resignation of Jersey’s commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, Joseph Doria. He wasn’t arrested but after his office and home were searched, Gov. Corzine said he could no longer be effective and asked him to step down.
The politicians willingly put themselves up for sale,” acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra said. “For these defendants, corruption was a way of life. They existed in an ethics-free zone.”
The arrested include Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, state Assemblymen Peter Van Pelt and Harvey Smith, Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Baldini, Jersey City Republicans John Guarini and Guy Catrillo, La Vern Webb-Washington, a Jersey City council candidate, Joseph Castagna, Jersey City’s health officer, and Michael Manzo, a long-time veteran of the Jersey City fire department.
Suarez was charged with agreeing to accept a $10,000 corrupt cash payment for his legal defense fund, the Bergen Record reported.
Elwell was charged with taking a $10,000 cash bribe.
Cammarano was charged with accepting $25,000 in cash bribes from an undercover cooperating witness.
Van Pelt is accused of accepting $10,000 from a cooperating government witness posing as a developer who sought help in getting permits for a project in Ocean County.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the investigation initially focused, with the help of the cooperating witness, on the money laundering network that operated between Brooklyn, Deal, N.J. and Israel. The network is alleged to have laundered tens of millions of dollars through charities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey.
The investigation widened to include official corruption in July 2007 when the cooperating witness approached public officials in Hudson County posing as a developer seeking to build in the Jersey City area.