The following is a WCBSTV report:
(Click HERE for photos) FBI agents swept across northern New Jersey on Thursday morning, making arrests in one of the largest and most high-profile corruption probes in state history, a 10-year investigation known as “Bid Rig.”
The mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield, the Jersey City deputy mayor and council president, two state assemblymen, numerous other public officials and political figures and five rabbis from New York and New Jersey were among 44 suspects nabbed in a two-track federal investigation of public corruption and a high-volume, international money laundering conspiracy, Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr., announced.
“New Jersey’s corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation,” FBI Special Agent Ed Kahrer said during an afternoon news conference.
Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez are under arrest, along with Ocean Co. Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Baldini, Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith and Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt.
Investigators say they have hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings in which the money laundering or bribe-taking was occurring.
According to the complaint, Cammarano, 32, is accused of accepting $25,000 in cash bribes, including $10,000 last Thursday, from an undercover witness. Elwell, 64, is also charged with taking a $10,000 cash bribe, and Suarez, 42, is accused of agreeing to accept a $10,000 corrupt cash payment for his legal defense fund.
Joseph Hayden, an attorney representing Cammarano, said his client “is innocent of these charges. He intends to fight them with all his strength until he proves his innocence.”
Gov. Jon Corzine reacted to the probe Thursday morning by saying, “any corruption is unacceptable — anywhere, anytime, by anybody. The scale of corruption we’re seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated.”
On Thursday afternoon, New Jersey’s Community Affairs Commissioner, Joseph Doria, resigned in light of the investigation. FBI agents seized documents from Doria’s home and office, but federal officials would not say whether the former Democratic state senator from Bayonne would face criminal charges.
Smith, the Jersey City Council President, and several other current and former Jersey City public officials also are accused of accepting money to help the fake developer gain permits and approvals.
Beldini, 74, is charged with conspiracy to commit extortion by taking $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions. Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said Thursday the charges were “a little shocking.”
“I have full faith in Leona,” Healy said. “She’s a good friend of mine — was and will be.”
Arrests that are part of the money-laundering portion of the investigation also include five rabbis in New York and New Jersey.
Mike Winnick was praying inside the Deal Synagogue when it was raided. Winnick says FBI agents removed several boxes from the Deal Yeshiva.
“Everyone was looking at each other, like, “What’s going on here?’ ” he said.
Winnick said four FBI agents escorted a rabbi from the synagogue into his office and blocked the doorway.
Winnick said he left shortly afterward.
One criminal complaint charges a Brooklyn man, with conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant, at a cost of $160,000 to the transplant recipient. According to the complaint, the suspect said he had been brokering the sale of kidneys for 10 years.
The arrests are the result of a 10-year investigation called “Bid Rig” that apparently began with an investigation of money transfers by members of the Syrian enclaves in Deal, New Jersey and Brooklyn, including rabbis and religious leaders of the wealthy communities.
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.
Hoboken’s waterfront has proven to be an especially lucrative piece of real estate across from midtown Manhattan. Developers have put up dozens of buildings in the last 15 years in the mile-square city. It had a prime view on July 4 of fireworks over the Hudson River.
Corruption has permeated New Jersey politics for years. Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who is currently running on the Republican ticket for governor, takes credit for 130 convictions of elected and appointed officials on corruption charges.
CBS 2 HD spoke with Former Asst. U.S. Attorney Randy Mastro on Thursday about the details of the massive FBI probe.
“It reminds me of that old Casablanca line, you know, I’m shocked, shocked to see there’s corruption in New Jersey politics. But this one tops them all, with body parts and rabbis and so many towns involved. It’s an extraordinary story,” said Mastro.
When asked about the arrests of big-name government officials, Mastro said this:
“I think this is the logical extension of what the major focus of the US Attorney’s office was when Chris Christie was the US Attorney. He focused on public corruption and exposing it in New Jersey. Apparently there was some low-hanging fruit and now we see an extension of that good work through the FBI and that office in a wider probe.
“Public corruption, officials taking bribes — that’s a fundamental violation of the public trust that prosecutors and courts take very seriously so I think this is a case that could have very serious consequences for the political futures, and the liberty, of those charged.”