NEWARK – Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in prison for accepting a $10,000 cash bribe in exchange for agreeing to provide assistance in securing town approvals for purported real estate projects in Secaucus, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
A jury found Elwell, 66, guilty following a two-week trial in July 2011. Elwell was convicted of one count of bribery and acquitted on one count of conspiracy and one count of attempted extortion under color of official right. U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares presided over the trial and imposed the sentence on April 12 in Newark federal court.
“Corrupt public officials betray and unfairly tarnish all of us who live and work in this state,” said Fishman. “Despite his obligations to the people of Secaucus as their mayor, Dennis Elwell took $10,000 in cash to play favorites. It is tragic when someone who clearly understands the rewards and responsibilities of public service trades his principles for private gain.”
According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:
On May 28, 2009, Elwell met with businessman and friend Ronald Manzo, Edward Cheatam and Solomon Dwek – a cooperating government witness with the government – at La Reggia Restaurant at the Meadowlands Plaza Hotel in Secaucus. During that meeting, Dwek purported to be a developer interested in building a large-scale real estate development in Secaucus. He offered to pay Elwell $10,000 “green” in exchange for the mayor’s future assistance, action and influence in favor of his development projects. At the end of the meeting, Dwek gave $10,000 in cash – which was intended for Elwell – to Manzo in the parking lot of the hotel restaurant. Elwell then accepted the $10,000 in cash from Manzo, knowing that the cash payment was being made in exchange for his future official assistance.
On July 17, 2009, Elwell met with Cheatam, Manzo and Dwek at Secaucus Town Hall. During that meeting, Elwell confirmed that he had received the $10,000 in cash from Manzo, and that he was happy with it.
In addition to the prison term, Linares sentenced Elwell to serve one year of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine. The $10,000 bribe payment will also be forfeited to the government.
Manzo and Cheatam pleaded guilty to charges which arose from related investigations. Manzo is currently scheduled to be sentenced on May 1, 2012; Cheatam awaits sentencing on a date to be determined. Dwek is detained pending sentencing following his guilty plea on an unrelated charge.
Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ward in Newark; and IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge JoAnn S. Zuniga, for the investigation leading to the sentence.