Mayors May Not Avoid Prison

STATE—Federal prosecutors decided to drop charges that former Newark Mayor Sharpe James abused city credit cards, saying that a second federal conviction wouldn’t add any more prison time to his pending sentence on fraud charges.

This half of the indictment had always been the more scandalous of the two—prosecutors had alleged than James billed Newark for $58,000 in personal expenses, including vacation trips with more than a half-dozen female companions.

The government expects that James will receive between 10 to 15 years behind bars at sentencing for his conviction on fraud charges.

Meanwhile, Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera bowed to the inevitable as well, pleading guilty last week to federal corruption charges and resigning as mayor.

“I’m still waiting for the one that says, ‘Yup, you are right. You got me. I did it.’ They are all the same. It’s almost a ritual dance that goes on,” said Edwin Stier, the former director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, about New Jersey politicians who insist they are innocent, until the day they plead guilty.

Stier recalled that Rivera went on the offensive in a federal courtroom in shackles last September, with a steadfast denial.

Facing a possible 30-year prison term if he fought the charges in court and lost, Rivera took a deal that will put him in prison a maximum of two years for a $5,000 bribe from an undercover investigator posing as an insurance company official.

After federal prosecutors charged the former Paterson mayor with taking $200,000 in gifts from city contractors, Marty Barnes, said: “People aren’t ignorant. We know we haven’t done anything. An indictment is an indictment. You can indict a ham sandwich.”

Barnes accepted a plea deal that sent him to prison for nearly three years the day his trial was set to begin in July 2002.


FACTOID: Sharpe James and Marty Barnes both awarded lucrative contracts for legal work in their cities to a law firm owned by Elizabeth Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

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