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Politicians, Rabbis Among Arrested In N.J. Probe

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

In New Jersey, dozens of elected officials and community leaders were arrested this morning in a sweeping corruption investigation. Among those rounded up, the mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus, two state legislators and several rabbis accused of taking bribes and laundering money.

NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH: In New Jersey, political corruption is as unremarkable as a pileup on the turnpike. One hundred and thirty public officials have been convicted there just this decade, but today's arrests are jaw dropping, even for the Garden State. FBI agent Weysan Dun says it's not just the number of people charged, 44, but their job titles.

Mr. WEYSAN DUN (Special Agent, FBI): Mayors, deputy mayors, New Jersey state assemblymen, city councilmen, city council candidates and a variety of other public officials ranging from commissioners to regulatory inspectors and, of course, a number of rabbis from the Jewish community.

SMITH: Starting at 6:00 this morning, 300 agents hit the street rounding up that who's who of New Jersey politics. It took buses to bring them all to federal court this afternoon. And the whole investigation started with one man, a real estate developer charged with bank fraud three years ago. U.S. attorney Ralph Marra says that man, referred to as the CW, or cooperating witness, offered to go undercover into the world of bribes and money laundering.

Mr. RALPH MARRA (U.S. Attorney): And basically he's marketing himself as interested in certain business developments.

SMITH: He started with the rabbis. Among them, Eliahu Ben Haim, who ran a congregation in Deal, New Jersey. He also allegedly laundered money, sending dirty loot to Israel, returning clean cash to criminals, minus a 10 percent cut. Mark McCarren from the U.S. attorney's office says the rabbi laundered $3 million of cash for the undercover informant.

Mr. MARK MCCARREN (U.S. Attorney's Office): And described the fact that in prior years he had been washing up to $6, 7, 8 million a year.

SMITH: In one instance, the cash was returned stuffed into a box of Apple Jacks. Another source of the cash: A man who was dealing in illegally harvested kidneys. That part of the case with 15 people charged would alone be big news. But it turns out that some New Jersey politicians could smell all that money floating around. And pretty soon, the cooperating witness, the CW, was being approached by political middlemen. Ralph Marra, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, he says the CW would set up meetings with local politicians about expediting certain real estate deals.

Mr. MARRA: I don't donate, I invest, the CW would say in meetings, in parking lots, at restaurants, luncheonettes, diners, offices, basement boiler rooms and bathrooms. And the politicians willingly put themselves up for sale.

SMITH: Some of them, secretly recorded, were brazen. Peter Cammarano, the mayor of Hoboken, has only been in office for three weeks. But he was allegedly busy during the campaign.

Mr. MARRA: On June 23rd, when the CW offered $10,000, Mr. Cammarano says, great. And we're going to be friends for a long time.

SMITH: Marra says that Cammarano thought his political career was safe.

Mr. MARRA: He said I could be indicted and still get 85 to 95 percent of the vote.

SMITH: Cammarano's lawyer says there's no truth to the allegations. It would take the rest of the hour to detail all the charges against all 44 people, but suffice it to say that it reaches all the way to the top of the state. One member of Governor Jon Corzine's cabinet, Joseph Doria, resigned this afternoon after federal officials searched his house and office as part of the investigation.

Robert Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Robert Smith
Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.