ELIZABETH—The owner of a construction business with close ties to Mayor J. Christian Bollwage was sentenced to 39 months in federal prison for paying bribes to a former Linden housing official in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts.
Raymond Vella, 34, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to pay $82,705 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development although a jury found him guilty of trading cash bribes for nearly $700,000 in contracts.
Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. said Vella will surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons once a prison facility is designated.
Observers in the city say they are disturbed by Vella’s connection with Bollwage.
Not only do the two men live across the street from each other, but Bollwage supported Vella’s unsuccessful school board campaign in 2003 and the crooked contractor served as city council campaign manager for the mayor’s ally in the Second Ward.
Vella’s wife, Angela Salazar, who is Councilman Frank Cuesta’s campaign treasurer, chaired a fundraising event backed by Bollwage and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak on Feb. 5, two weeks after the contractor was convicted on all eight counts against him in a federal indictment.
Vella paid bribes between about January 1998 and December 2006 to Frank Rose, the former director of Linden’s Neighborhood Redevelopment Program. Rose testified for the government at trial about the bribes paid by Vella.
The bribes from Vella ranged from between $500 to $3,000 at a time. In return Rose awarded him approximately 16 contracts in construction services worth about $652,448.
Rose was sentenced to five years in prison. He pleaded guilty to taking bribes to steer 126 contracts—valued at $5.2 million—to Vella and five other contractors.
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