N.J. county Democrat Party Chairman resigns following bribery and corruption charges

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Joseph Spicuzzo, a 30-year veteran of the county sheriff’s office and head of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, turned himself in to law enforcement officials on Monday on charges of bribery and official misconduct.

While serving as County Sheriff, Spicuzzo, 65, allegedly demanded payments from individuals seeking appointments as sheriff’s investigators or for promotions within the department. Prosecutors said that Spicuzzo charged up to $25,000 per person and received at least $50,000 in total between 2007 and 2009. Those who refused to pay his demands were reportedly passed over for promotion.

Attorney General Paula Dow said that at least three investigators paid a “cash tribute” to Spicuzzo for their jobs. All are still employed, and prosecutors said they are not being targeted in the investigation.

In Dec. 2009, Gov. Chris Christie singled out Spicuzzo, a former Gov. John Corzine appointee to the Sports and Exposition Authority as “probably the most unqualified candidate for the Sports Authority you can find.”

The state Democratic Party Chairman, John Wisniewski, said “While Joe is entitled, under our constitution, to the presumption of innocence, for the good of his family, our system of government and the Democratic party, he ought to consider stepping aside from his roles as a Commissioner of the Sports & Exposition Authority and chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.”

If convicted, Spicuzzo faces up to ten years in prison, and could lose his pension.

Star-Ledger

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California mayor indicted on bribery and extortion charges

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The former mayor of Upland, California, a community of 76,000 just east of downtown Los Angeles, was indicted on Wednesday by a Riverside County grand jury on bribery and extortion charges, alleging he demanded money from locals businesses seeking city approvals and permits.

John Pomierski, 56, who resigned from office last week, was accused of demanding $70,000 from a nightclub owner and $20,000 from a medical marijuana cooperative in 2007, in exchange for his help in getting permits and other services for the businesses.


Pomierski was charged in an 11-count indictment, which alleges he “would demand money from the owners of businesses located in the city of Upland in exchange for the performance of official acts in connection with Upland city government business and transactions.”

Also charged in the indictment was a business associate of the former mayor, Edward Hennes, who allegedly acted as an intermediary between Pomierski and businesses looking for favorable municipal treatment. Hennes, 54, is a member of the city’s building appeals board and owner of a local construction firm.

Two other men- Jason Crebs and Anthony Sanchez- acted as middlemen in the extortion operation, communicating demands to businesses and collecting payments. Crebs and Sanchez have reportedly reached plea agreements with prosecutors.

The court documents claim Hennes and others entered into consulting agreements and contracts with businesses to “disguise and conceal” the true nature of the illegal payments. Pomierski’s company, JP Construction Co., received at least $90,000 from Hennes’ company since 2000, the year Pomierski was elected mayor.

Aaron  Sandusky, the owner of the marijuana cooperative, cooperated with the FBI in its investigation of Pomierski and Hennes.

Sandusky said that one of Pomierski’s representatives demanded $20,000 to stop an effort by the city to shut down the cooperative. He said he paid $10,000 to Hennes.

“It’s hard enough to run a business, let along this kind of business,” Sandusky said. “When this happens, where do I go? The police? The FBI? I’m in the medical marijuana business. I’m an easy target.”

If convicted, Pomierski faces a maximum of 145 years behind bars and Hennes faces 50 years.

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17 Baltimore police officers arrested in extortion scheme

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On Wednesday morning, 15 Baltimore police officers were ordered to report to its training academy for a routine equipment check. After they arrived, they were confronted by police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard McFeely, who took their badges before arresting them.


The 15 officers, and two others who were on vacation, were charged in an extortion scheme in which they were paid a $300 kickback each for vehicles involved in accidents, that the police officers arranged to have towed to an Rosedale repair shop. One of the officers received a total of $14,400 over a two-year period.

The towing company and repair shop, Majjestic Auto Repair, owned by brothers Edwin Javier Mejia, 27, and Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia, 30, recruited police officers beginning in January 2009 who would call the shop from an accident scene to arrange towing, repairs and car rentals.

Some of the cars towed by the shop were not disabled, but police officers convinced owners that Majestic should tow the cars, presumably to collect additional monies from insurance companies.

“The criminal complaint alleges that the officers were secretly working for a private auto repair business when they were supposed to be working for the police department and the citizens of Baltimore,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement. “Police officers cross a bright line when they take payments from private citizens in connection with their official duties.”

The police officers charged in the scheme included Eddy Arias, age 39, of Catonsville; Eric Ivan Ayala Olivera, age 35, of Edgewood; Rodney Cintron, age 31, of Middle River; Jhonn S. Corona, age 32, of Rosedale; Michael Lee Cross, age 28, of Reisterstown; Jerry Edward Diggs, Jr., age 24, of Baltimore; Rafael Concepcion Feliciano Jr., age 30, of Baltimore; Jaime Luis Lugo Rivera, age 35, of Aberdeen; Kelvin Quade Manrich, age 41, of Gwynn Oak; Luis Nunez, age 33, of Baltimore; Samuel Ocasio, age 35, of Edgewood; David Reeping, age 41, of Baltimore; Jermaine Rice, age 28, of Owings Mills; Leonel Rodriguez Torres, age 31, of Edgewood; Marcos Fernando Urena, age 33, of Baltimore; Osvaldo Valentine, age 38, of Edgewood; and Henry Yambo, age 28, of Reisterstown.

The FBI said the investigation began within the police department and involved the use of wiretaps and electronic surveillance.

All the officers were suspended without pay, and could face up to 20 years behind bars.

Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a statement which read “I expect all City employees to serve the public with the highest level of integrity, and I will not tolerate criminal or unethical activity by any city employee. I appreciate the efforts of Commissioner Bealefeld and our federal partners for working closely together to investigate, arrest, and prosecute these individuals. Any criminal activity by a Baltimore police officer dishonors our city and the 3,000 men and women of the Baltimore Police Department who serve with great professionalism and integrity.”

Read the court documents here.

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Top D.C. area official indicted on corruption charges

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The former top elected official of Prince George’s County, Maryland, part of the Washington D.C. metro area, was indicted Monday in federal court on eight charges, including extortion, bribery, witness and evidence tampering and conspiracy.

Jack B. Johnson, 61, the former County Executive from 2002 through 2010, was arrested on November 12 after FBI raided his home and found evidence that he had received bribes from a real estate developer.

Prince George's County top elected official was indicted for bribery, extortion and other corruption charges.

The raid on his home was triggered when agents, who had wire-tapped his phone, heard a conversation between Johnson and his wife Leslie, instructing her to destroy a check for $100,000 that was paid as part of a bribe by a developer. When agents arrived at their home, she had already flushed the check down the toilet, but had $79,600 stashed in her bra.

Leslie Johnson, a just-elected Prince George’s County councilwoman, was arrested for evidence tampering, but was not named in the current indictment.

The 31-page indictment said that Johnson and others in his administration ran a pay-for-play operation and regularly demanded bribes, including cash, checks, airline tickets, mortgage payments, rounds of golf and more, from individuals and companies wanting to do business within the county.

The document provided details on a shakedown that Johnson and county housing director James Johnson, who is unrelated, were planning, that involved an affordable-housing real estate developer who had been paying kickbacks since 2007.

In a recorded conversation, the two men discussed steering a $1.5 million federal funds grant to the developer, for which they would receive a $500,000 kickback. Jack Johnson was planning on taking $300,000 of it, with $200,000 going to James Johnson.

The indictment also alleges that in a previous transaction, county executives steered a $1 million affordable housing grant to the same developer, who paid $200,000 of it to Johnson.

Prosecutors say that Johnson was the king-pin in a wide ranging culture of corruption that ran deep through county offices and the business community. In 2006, investigators began looking into the activities of real estate developers who they said, “were regularly providing things of value” to county officials for help getting projects approved, and to qualify for affordable housing grants.

Johnson’s administration had been long criticized for corruption and cronyism since he was elected in 2002, although he was a popular figure locally, taking credit for raising the county’s bond ratings on Wall Street and improving emergency services.

After his first four-year term in office, a Washington Post investigation showed that Johnson had given 51 county contracts to friends and allies totaling about $3.3 million. The investigation also revealed that Johnson and other officials routinely used county-issued credit cards for personal charges. Since then, measures have been put in place requiring regular audit of the accounts.

Prior to his post as County Executive, Johnson was elected for two terms as County Prosecutor. If convicted on all counts, he faces decades behind bars.

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Kilpatrick’s aide to cooperate with prosecutors in corruption case

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Marc Andre Cunningham, the top aide to ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has apparently agreed to cooperate with government prosecutors in their city hall corruption case against the disgraced mayor, according to The Detroit News.

An order signed by U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen pushed back the hearing date for Cunningham’s sentencing to April 14, signaling that the one-time top city hall official was ready to turn against his friend and former frat-house brother. The date is one day after a status conference hearing on the criminal case against Kilpatrick.

Cunningham pleaded guilty to charges that he took $300,000 in commissions from an investment firm that he helped secure $30 million of city pension funds to manage. Cunningham admitted that he paid a portion of the commission to Kilpatrick’s father Bernard, as a bribe to make the deal happen.

After the transaction, Cunningham was made Kilpatrick’s executive assistant. Later he was appointed head of the Detroit Film Office.

Cunningham pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit bribery, and faces up to 37 months in prison.

The Detroit News

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Former Mich. State Rep. Mary Waters backtracks on corruption guilty plea

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After pleading guilty last year in a corruption case involving her then-boyfriend, convicted Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle, former politician state Rep. Mary Waters has changed her mind and wants the plea reversed.

Waters, 55, pleaded guilty for her role in a bribery case in which Riddle allegedly took $45,000 in cash, and a $5,500 Breitling watch, for his help in getting an approval from the city of Southfield, Michigan, for the relocation of a jewelry store and pawnshop. As part of the arrangement, Waters received a $6,000 Rolex watch.

A Southfield city councilman, William Lattimore, was paid a $12,500 bribe by the couple to push the approval through Southfield city council.

Waters and Riddle were indicted in July 2009 by a grand jury investigating widespread corruption in Kwame Kilpatrick’s city hall administration.

Riddle pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and extortion, and is serving a 37-month sentence in federal prison.

As part of a plea deal, Waters claimed the Rolex was a gift from Riddle, and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false tax return. She was sentenced to one year’s probation.

Waters filed a brief on Friday claiming her Constitutional rights were violated, and wants the plea arrangement overturned.

In the court papers, Waters court-appointed lawyer, Melvin Houston, said that her Six Amendment rights to effective legal representation were violated, that U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani failed to establish a factual basis for her guilty plea and it was unfair to make her guilty plea part of an overall plea deal involving Riddle.

The legal brief asks that the conviction be set aside, and for a new plea and sentencing hearing.

Information from: The Detroit News

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Boston politician Chuck Turner sentenced to 3 years behind bars for bribery

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Former Boston Councilor Chuck Turner, who was convicted in October for taking a $1,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in 2008, was sentenced today to three years in prison by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

Turner, 70, could have received a sentence for as much as 35 years, although his defense team asked for no-prison sentence, pointing to his more than 40 years of community service.

Boston Councilor Chuck Turner was sentenced today to 3 years in prison for taking a $1,000 bribe to help secure a liquor license. (photo The Boston Herald)

Turner was caught in an FBI sting, during which he was recorded on video taking a $1,000 bribe from businessman-turned-FBI informant Ronald Wilburn. During his trial, Turner said he didn’t remember if he looked at the cash changing hands and referred to it as a “preacher’s handshake.”

Around the same time, another prominent African American politician was also taken down by Wilburn and the FBI. Former State Senator Diane Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes for agreeing to help Wilburn obtain a liquor license for a nightclub he was purportedly planning, and for her influence on a property development deal.

Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion and was sentenced two weeks ago to 3 ½ years in prison.

The Harvard-educated Turner began his career in politics as a community activist in Boston’s South End, fighting for better housing conditions for poor residents. He was first elected to the Boston City Council in 1999 running on the Green-Rainbow ticket, and representing District 7.

Even though he was under indictment for bribery when he ran for re-election in 2009, his popularity with voters helped him easily retain his seat.

After a jury convicted him of bribery, the city council voted him out of his seat earlier this month, but Turner refused to go quietly. Turner filed a civil lawsuit against the city claiming it had no authority to remove him from office.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said of the sentencing, “Mr. Turner was sentenced to prison today because of the choices he made and the actions he took during the course of this case. It is the obligation of every elected official to be ethical and honest, and in this case, Mr. Turner was neither. Public corruption is more than a violation of the law, it erodes the public’s trust in the very system that was designed to protect us.”

In addition to the prison sentence, the Judge Woodlock ordered Turner to return the $1,000 bribe monies.

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