By DAVID PORTER, Associated Press Writer David Porter, Associated Press Writer – 2 mins ago
NEWARK, N.J. – An investigation into the sale of black-market kidneys and fake Gucci handbags evolved into a sweeping probe of political corruption in New Jersey, ensnaring more than 40 people Thursday, including three mayors, two state lawmakers and several rabbis.
Even for a state with a rich history of graft, the scale of wrongdoing alleged was breathtaking. An FBI official called corruption "a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state."
Federal prosecutors said the investigation initially focused on a money laundering network that operated between Brooklyn, N.Y.; Deal, N.J.; and Israel. The network is alleged to have laundered tens of millions of dollars through Jewish charities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey.
Prosecutors then used an informant in that investigation to help them go after corrupt politicians. The informant — a real estate developer charged with bank fraud three years ago — posed as a crooked businessman and paid a string of public officials tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to get approvals for buildings and other projects in New Jersey, authorities said.
Among the 44 people arrested were the mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, Jersey City's deputy mayor, and two state assemblymen. A member of the governor's cabinet resigned after agents searched his home, though he was not arrested. All but one of the officeholders are Democrats.
Also, five rabbis from New York and New Jersey — two of whom lead congregations in Deal — were accused of laundering millions of dollars, some of it from the sale of counterfeit goods and bankruptcy fraud, authorities said.
In rounding up the defendants, FBI and IRS agents raided a synagogue Thursday morning in Deal, a wealthy oceanfront city of Mediterranean-style mansions, with a large population of Syrian Jews.
A couple of thoughts on this:
Aside from these arrests being good news in the civic hygiene sense, this is obviously good news for Chris Christie's campaign to unseat Governor Jon Corzine, given that four of the five public officials arrested were Democrats, that one of Corzine's staff members is a suspect and was forced to resign, and that these arrests will remind voters of Christie's successful track record of prosecuting corruption as a U.S. Attorney in NJ. It will be interesting to see how many tens of millions of dollars the former Goldman Sachs chief Corzine will pour into his reelection campaign now.
The Syrian Jewish community mentioned in the AP article above was profiled a couple of years ago by Zev Chafets in a New York Times Magazine article, "The Sy Empire". That article focused mainly on this community's strict ban on intermarriage. It mentioned that fraudster Eddie Antar ("Crazy Eddie") was a member of the community, and that the community was affluent from its business dealings, but it didn't mention anything about the kidney business. Those of you of a certain age from the New York area will remember the original Crazy Eddie's commercials, but here's a clip of one of them from YouTube for the rest of you. The fellow who posted this video on YouTube noted that the man in the commercial isn't Crazy Eddie himself, but an actor named Jerry Carroll.