The mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus were among scores of people arrested in early morning raids across New Jersey this morning as federal officials unveiled a long-ranging probe into public corruption and international money laundering, officials said FBI and IRS rounded up scores of elected officials and several rabbis across the state in what is being described as one of the biggest investigations of its kind in Jersey's scandal-plagued history.
It appears to be a corruption-related investigation but Justice Department and FBI spokesmen would only say the corruption involved a "high-volume international money-laundering conspiracy." It is said to involve rabbis in the Syrian Jewish enclave in Brooklyn and Deal, New Jersey. The probe is said to have started when money transfers drew the interests of the feds who followed the trail back to small-town Jersey corruption.
Among those arrested this morning were Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, authorities said. Several area rabbis and other community leaders and politicians, including Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega, were brought into custody in connection with this case, officials said.
Officials say separate from the corruption probe, some of the suspects charged today were also connected to an illegal human organ-selling ring. Investigators say some charged would take cash payments to help find organs for sick patients in need of transplants. It's unclear where the body parts might have come from or how many surgeries may have been done. The FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney's office all declined comment saying details will be given at the press conference.
In past years, New Jersey has seen more than 100 corruption-related arrests of public officials. There was no word on the specific charges against those being rounded up today, but a press conference is scheduled for noon.
Secret recordings made of the defendants by the feds paint a classic portrait of Jersey-style corruption.
In April of this year, as a Hoboken councilman and mayoral candidate, the 32-year-old Cammarano, after meeting with a developer who had promised him a bribe of several thousand dollars, said “I wanna make sure that I, you know, you, you’re my man,” emphasizing that he was a proponent of redevelopment, according to court papers.
Later when asked by a “cooperating witness” if his development projects would be sped through the bureaucratic process, Cammarano said, “I promise you… you’re gonna be, you’re gonna be treated like a friend,” according to the court documents.
Defendant Michael Schaffer, a Commissioner with the North Hudson Utilities Authority, told the witness, Cammarano “told me, ‘Michael, the way I operate politics, anybody who helps me, I help them. That’s the way I operate. And if you’re not there the first round, I don’t need ya’ the second round.”
According to the court papers, it's not quite clear how the international money-laundering scheme is related to corrupt local politics. Two of the Rabbis involved, Mordchai Fish, who served at Congregation Sheves Achim, a synagogue in Brooklyn, and his brother Albert Schwartz, were caught on tape having conversations with the cooperating witness that seemed staight out of a movie script, according to court transcripts:
“I had 25 million from [the bank] – 20 million – that schnookie deal. I gave 20 million to [another bank]. I, I took five million. I sent it offshore..” said the witness, who was reputedly also involved in a counterfeit handbag racket, according to the court papers.
Defendant Issac Rosenbaum, meanwhile, was caught up in a shady organ procurement program, where an undercover FBI agent and the cooperating witness pretended to need a human liver for the undercover’s sick uncle, the feds charge.
“Let me explain this to you,” said Rosenbaum on February 26, 2008 according to the court documents. “It’s illegal to buy [ a liver]. It’s illegal to sell.They are going to investigate him [the donor] not you, not your uncle. He’s going to speak to a social worker and a psychologist to find out why he is doing it… and it is our job to prepare him.”
The cost would be $160,000 for the liver donation – 50 percent up front – but Rosenbaum repeatedly made it clear, according to court papers, “It's illegal to buy or sell organs. .. . So you cannot buy it. What you do is, you're giving a compensation for the time . . . whatever–-he's not working. You can't even mention.”