US corruption probe nets dozens
More than 40 people, including politicians, officials and several
rabbis have been arrested in a major FBI operation in the US.
Three hundred agents raided dozens of locations in New Jersey and New
York as part of a 10-year probe into corruption and money laundering.
Three mayors from the state of New Jersey and two members of the state
legislature were among those held.
One man is accused of kidney trafficking involving Israeli donors.
Prosecutors say the arrests were part of a “dual-tracked”
Acting US Attorney Ralph Marra told reporters there were 29 suspects
on what he termed the “public corruption” side of the investigation,
including the politicians.
On the other side, he said, there were 15 suspects in connection with
alleged international money-laundering, including the rabbis and their
Prosecutors accuse one man of dealing in human kidneys from Israeli
donors for transplant for a decade.
It is alleged that “vulnerable people” would give up a kidney for
$10,000 (£6,000) and these would then be sold on for $160,000
Officials say investigations originally focused on a network they
allege laundered tens of millions of dollars through charities
controlled by rabbis in New Jersey and neighbouring New York.
# Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano
# Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell
# Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini
# Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez
# State legislator Harvey Smith
# State legislator Daniel Van Pelt
# Rabbi Eliahu Ben Haim, Deal, NJ
# Rabbi Saul Kassin, Brooklyn, NY
# Rabbi Edmund Nahum, Deal, NJ
# Rabbi Mordechai Fish, Brooklyn, NY
Investigators used an informant to approach a group of rabbis from the
Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn and the New Jersey borough of Deal
for help hiding his assets.
The rabbis cashed cheques he made out to charities they oversaw and
paid the money back to him, minus a cut, investigators say.
The probe then widened to include alleged official corruption with
links to a New Jersey construction boom.
The informant was introduced to a series of politicians and powerful
local officials. Posing as a developer, he offered bribes in return
for favourable treatment.
State legislators Harvey Smith and Daniel Van Pelt were arrested, as
well as the mayors of some of the state's major cities and boroughs.
A number of city building, planning and fire inspectors were also
Mr Marra said: “It seemed that everyone wanted a piece of the action.
The corruption was widespread and pervasive. Corruption was a way of
life for the accused.”
He said politicians had “willingly put themselves up for sale” and
clergymen had “cloaked their extensive criminal activity behind a
facade of rectitude”.
The BBC's Jane O'Brien says the money laundering ring reportedly
spanned the US, Israel and Switzerland.
Jon Corzine, the Governor of New Jersey, said: “The scale of
corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and
cannot be tolerated.”
Ed Kahrer, an FBI agent who has worked on the investigation from the
start, said: “New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if
not the worst, in the nation.
“It has become ingrained in New Jersey's political culture,” he said.
Another FBI agent said: “The list of people we arrested sounds like it
should be the roster for a meeting of community leaders, but sadly
they weren't meeting in a boardroom this morning, they were in the FBI
Most of those arrested have been released on bail.
Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano was accused of taking a bribe. His
lawyer said he intended to fight the charge “with all his strength
until he proves his innocence”.
A lawyer for 87-year-old Rabbi Saul Kassin of Brooklyn said it was a
shame his client had been “caught up in this misunderstanding”.
Correspondents say the number of people arrested is large even by New
Jersey standards, where more than 130 public officials have either
admitted to corruption or been found guilty of it since 2001.
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Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/07/24 06:19:26 GMT
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