Monday, June 20, 2011
NJ corruption trial begins; star witness Solomon Dwek arrested
NEWARK, N.J. - The trial of a former northern New Jersey mayor began Monday as prosecutors revealed that the star government witness scheduled to testify in this and many other cases in a wider corruption probe had been arrested on theft charges.
Prosecutors announced the arrest shortly before opening statements in the trial of former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, who is accused of accepting $10,000 in corrupt payments through a middleman from undercover informant Solomon Dwek. Dwek was arrested in Maryland and accused of failing to return a rental car, they said.
A message left Monday for Dwek's attorney wasn't returned.
Dwek, the son of a prominent rabbi from Deal, N.J., became a government cooperator after he was arrested in 2006 in a $50 million bank fraud. He became the central witness tying together a massive federal investigation into international money laundering and political corruption. Wearing a wire and miniature video camera, Dwek first took down members of his own Orthodox Jewish community by posing as a failed businessman who needed to launder money.
The investigation then veered into what prosecutors said was a cash-for-development scheme, with Dwek posing as a corrupt real estate developer and ensnaring several New Jersey elected and appointed officials.
Elwell, who served as mayor of Secaucus from 2000 to 2009, was among two other mayors, two assemblymen and five rabbis from New York and New Jersey arrested in July 2009 in the corruption case. Ultimately, 46 defendants were arrested.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen Nakly opened the case against Elwell on Monday by alleging he had taken a $10,000 payment through political consultant Ronald Manzo, who has pleaded guilty to acting as a middleman between Dwek and Elwell.
Manzo, took the stand Monday afternoon in Newark federal court to recount how he received money from Dwek to introduce him to politicians and how he arranged a meeting with Elwell and Dwek to discuss projects in Secaucus. Manzo, whose brother has also been charged in the wider case, was expected to continue his testimony Tuesday.
The money and promise of $20,000 more, Nakly said, was proof that Elwell knew he was taking bribes from Dwek in exchange for promising to give him preferential treatment on a proposed hotel development project in Secaucus.
"Let's consider what you won't see and hear," Nakly told the jury. "You won't hear him (Elwell) say he didn't get the money, or didn't want the money, and you never hear him say the simple word 'no -- I can't take the money.'"
Elwell's lawyer countered that the former mayor had taken the money as a campaign contribution, and that such a practice was common -- and legal -- between developers and politicians.
"Dennis Elwell never accepted a corrupt payment and never accepted money with corrupt intent," said attorney Thomas Cammarata. "He never promised Dwek that he was going to do anything of an official nature in exchange for the money. There's no question that the money that Solomon Dwek intended to pass was a campaign contribution."
Elwell resigned as mayor after his arrest. The 66-year-old Democrat is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was born and raised in Secaucus, where he runs his family's long-haul hazmat trucking business.
More than 30 defendants have pleaded guilty in the wider case, including two who entered pleas Monday. Three have been convicted and three have been acquitted or had charges dropped. One defendant died. Others are awaiting trial or haven't been indicted yet.