Bost admits witness tampering, ends trial Irvington ex-mayor could face up to 10 years in prison

Bost admits witness tampering, ends trial

Irvington ex-mayor could face up to 10 years in prison

April 24, 2003 STAR-LEDGER 

The federal government's year-long effort to convict former Irvington Mayor Sara Bost ended yesterday with her guilty plea to a single count of witness tampering.

Bost was charged in a five-count indictment alleging she accepted bribes and tampered with a witness. She ended her nearly month-old trial by admitting before U.S. District Judge Joseph Greenaway Jr. in Newark that four years ago, she tried to get former Irvington business administrator David Fuller to lie to federal investigators probing a paving contract at the town's Chris Gatling Recreation Center.

In return for her guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney's Office will dismiss criminal charges linked to $8,500 in alleged kickbacks, mail fraud and tax evasion. The government said it would not object to a defense request for a "noncustodial sentence." Bost, however, could receive a suspended sentence or be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and as much as a $250,000 fine, officials said.

"I think the plea is another important step in our fight against corruption in New Jersey," said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie. "We have someone who's admitted they committed a felony while in public office.

"It's an important message to send out to the public, and to elected officials, that we are going to continue to pursue every form of corruption that is occurring in New Jersey," Christie said.

Greenaway set Sept. 8 for sentencing, pending completion of a pre-trial report on the former mayor.

Bost's plea was heard while the jury waited in another room at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building in Newark. After the judge spoke with jurors privately in his chambers, they were dismissed.

Bost, 55, a former Essex County freeholder, freeholder president and Irvington's mayor from July 1, 1994, to June 30, 2002, did not comment after entering her plea.

Her defense attorneys, Raymond A. Brown and Alan Dexter Bowman, also declined to comment.

Bost was indicted April 4, 2002, two months before her second four-year term expired. She decided not to run for re-election.

The trial, which began March 28, had heard from only two witnesses - Bill Peterson, a self- employed paving contractor known as "Bill the Paver" who admitted paying Fuller a $2,000 kickback, and Fuller, who admitted accepting bribes involving the paving contract and from an unrelated Irvington school construction project.

Peterson, who met Fuller while paving a driveway in Fuller's neighborhood, often appeared confused on the witness stand, especially under cross-examination by Brown. He often needed explanations of words and phrases, reminding the court that he had only a "fourth- or fifth-grade" education. He received immunity from prosecution for his testimony.

The paver, who supplied two phony estimates for the Gatling center and admitted he paid the kickback to Fuller, wore a wire during a meeting with Fuller that captured the business administrator pleading in tears: "Don't say anything that would harm me or my family. You can't talk about that (the kickback). I'll be dead."

Fuller pleaded guilty in February 2001 to accepting bribes in an Irvington school construction project involving the firm of former Newark mayor Kenneth Gibson. During testimony in Gibson's trial in late 2002, he testified that Bost received a kickback from the Gatling center paving contract.

At that time, the government already had tapes of Fuller and Bost secretly recorded in April 1999. Peterson recorded two meetings with Fuller, who learned that Peterson had been talking with federal authorities about the kickback scheme and that he had worn a wire to their meetings. Later that month, Fuller met with Bost at a restaurant, but was unable to get her to admit she took a bribe.

During that meeting, Bost is heard and seen telling Fuller what to do if he is questioned by federal investigators. "I want to make it clear. I don't know anything about any request or kickback," Bost says to Fuller. Later, as they get into a car, Bost asks Fuller if he is secretly recording them and pats his chest to see if he is wearing a wire or recording device.

During his testimony, Fuller was often evasive and flip-flopped in his memory of the events and attempted to depict Bost as the villain in the affair. "I made mistakes, but I don't think I'm a criminal," he said, adding he did what he did because "Mayor Bost is known to have a reputation to go after people who don't agree or side with her."

Several times Fuller was warned by the judge to answer "Yes" or "No" and not to add comment. He revealed on his last day on the witness stand that he suffered from "short-term memory loss" and "hearing problems" that affected his testimony.

Dorothy Heyward, 79, who attended most of the trial, said she was shocked by Bost's guilty plea.

"Had I been a juror, with the testimony I heard, there's no way I would have found her guilty," Heyward said. "The witnesses weren't credible. It was like something you would read in a comic book or a comedy routine on television."

However, Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said audio and videotapes of conversations between Bost and Fuller were "pretty disturbing."

Irvington Deputy Police Chief Steven Palamara said the videotape said it all.

"When a public official needs to be concerned if someone is recording their conversation, especially to the extent that would cause them to search that person, things are terribly wrong," Palamara said. "When is a public official camera-shy when they want to deliver a message?"

Arlene Tyler, a long-time friend of Bost, and the township's one-time director of health, said that despite the former mayor's plea, Bost did good things for the community.

"I thank God that this part of the ordeal is over, and I pray that Sept. 8 will bring closure to this unfair situation," Tyler said. "Hopefully, this plea will not tarnish all the good things she did for the residents of the township during her two terms as mayor."

Bost helped secure state Urban Enterprise Zone designation for the town, Tyler said. She removed pay phones from known drug-trafficking locations and led municipal efforts to transform the long-closed Irvington Police Athletic League building on Union Avenue into the Gatling Recreation Center, she said.

Irvington Council President John Sowell said the whole affair was "an unfortunate situation" for the community at large. "Now that it's over, we can get on with moving the township forward."

Before the plea bargain agreement, prosecutors Paula Dow and James Nobile were expected to call Philip and Samuel Golfarb, a New Rochelle, N.Y., developer and his uncle who own the Maple Gardens apartment complex in Irvington. The Golfarbs were expected to testify that they paid Bost $7,000 to "ensure that Bost would not take action to damage the company's significant investment in the apartment complex," according to the indictment.

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