Davila-Colon is now Prisoner 25094-050 Connecticut prison to be ex-freeholder's home for next 3 years

Davila-Colon is now Prisoner 25094-050
Connecticut prison to be ex-freeholder's home for next 3 years

March 17, 2004  Jersey Journal

Former Hudson County Freeholder Nidia Davila-Colon is now prisoner 25094-050.

The former seven-term freeholder from Jersey City, who was convicted on corruption charges in June, has begun her 37-month prison term at a federal minimum security facility in Connecticut.

In one of Hudson County's highest profile political corruption trials in years, Davila-Colon was convicted of passing bribes in 1999 to then-Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski, now one of the most notorious government witnesses in North Jersey, who made his debut on the stand during her trial.

Davila-Colon, a county freeholder for 20 years, was committed to the Danbury Federal Correction Institution's "camp," on Friday, said Carla Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prison in Washington.

The minimum-security facility houses 200 women, and is near the larger, low-security prison where 1,100 women are housed, Wilson said.

Davila-Colon drove to Connecticut on Thursday with her nephew, brother and 18-year-old son, Keith, said her friend Eliu Rivera, the executive director of Puerto Rican Association for Community Organization in Jersey City.

Rivera said Davila-Colon called home from jail and told relatives that prison wasn't as bad as she'd expected. Rivera said he saw Davila-Colon on Thursday as she packed and said her most pressing concern was separation from her son.

"She was doing very well," Rivera said. "A few of her friends called her to ask her to lunch, but she didn't want to go anywhere.

"She was packing some things and she was not the same person she was the day before, you know, the smile on her face.

"She kept talking about her son. They have always been together and this separation is what bothered her most."

Davila-Colon was convicted of passing thousands of dollars in bribes to Janiszewski from her boyfriend at the time, Dr. Oscar Sandoval, a Union City psychiatrist who held millions of dollars worth of county contracts.

While the married Sandoval wooed her with promises of a future marriage and even gave her a ring to symbolize his commitment, he was secretly tape-recording their conversations, collecting evidence against her for the federal government.

At her trial, a teary Davila-Colon spoke of how betrayed she had felt, and how she had been manipulated by Sandoval, who prescribed her mood-altering drugs and begged her to help him bribe Janiszewski.

Davila-Colon, the state's longest-serving female in elective office, was convicted last June 23 on three mail fraud and two aiding and abetting attempted extortion charges. She was fined $1,000 and on Dec. 15 was sentenced to 37 months in prison, one of the stiffest penalties given to any New Jersey official in the recent wave of federal corruption cases.

The structure of prison life begins upon arrival.

Inmates are photographed and fingerprinted at commitment, issued prison clothing and their personal property is collected and mailed home, Wilson said. Prisoners are then made to sign for a handbook outlining prison policy and procedure, before being assigned a housing unit, Wilson said.

Sleeping facilities range from large rooms with numerous bunk beds, down to cubicles housing only two inmates, a desk and a locker, Wilson said, adding that shower and bathroom facilities are in common areas. Within seven days, the prisoner goes to an orientation class.

Prison time is structured each day and every prisoner is assigned a job.

Lights on is at 5:30 a.m. and breakfast is from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. Work call is at 6:30 a.m. and prisoners' jobs range form clerical, janitorial, food service and grounds maintenance. Lunch is from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., with prisoners eating on different shifts, said Wilson.

After lunch, it's back to work until 3:30 p.m., and dinner is after the 4 p.m. prisoner count is cleared. After dinner, prisoners have a chance to relax or participate in educational activities before lights out at about 10:30 p.m., Wilson said.

The minimum-security faculty has no perimeter fence.

Davila-Colon has been barred for life from holding public office, but Rivera said he hopes that she will get a second chance after serving her time.

"It's sad that she got caught in the middle of this whole situation," he said. "I wish her a lot of luck and hope when she gets out she will be more fully prepared to work in our community.

"We always believe in a second chance, and I'm sure that with the proper approvals, perhaps our community would be able to open the doors to her again. I think in this whole situation she was a victim of the circumstance, and as such, we wish her a lot of luck."

John A. Young Jr. and Peter Willis, the Jersey City attorneys representing Davila-Colon, filed an appeal shortly after her conviction and are now reviewing transcripts and doing research to determine what issues will be raised in the appeal briefs to be filed in May, Young said yesterday.

Although sentenced to 37 months, the former freeholder's actual prison term will be calculated in upcoming days, and she will be credited with 54 days per year for good behavior. With good behavior, she will retain those days. After completing her sentence, she will serve a period of supervised release.

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