Ex-Paterson mayor gets 37-month term. His apparent lack of remorse in corruption case stuns courtroom

Ex-Paterson mayor gets 37-month term
His apparent lack of remorse in corruption case stuns courtroom

April 29, 2003 STAR-LEDGER 

The evidence against Marty Barnes included tape recordings by a cooperating contractor, photos of Barnes frolicking with prostitutes at a Brazil resort and a paper trail showing kickbacks, clothes, trips, furniture, even a new pool and a waterfall.

But Barnes, the once-defiant and reform-minded Paterson mayor, wasn't exactly contrite as he stood yesterday for sentencing in federal court.

Instead, he blamed the rigors of his job.

Barnes told a judge that the hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and illegal gifts occurred because he had become "bogged down" trying to run New Jersey's third-largest city.

"I probably didn't pay as much attention to other things that I should have," Barnes told U.S. District Judge William Bassler, in a brief and seemingly off-the-cuff statement. "For that, I'm truly sorry."

The comments left some people slack-jawed in the crowded Newark courtroom. The prosecutor abandoned his intention to recommend leniency. The judge, who had already once noted Barnes' lack of remorse, seemed stunned that the onetime mayor balked at his last chance to express it.

"I've had a number of corruption cases but I've got to tell you: I haven't seen anything like this," Bassler replied. "You got caught up in it but it wasn't due to overwork."

So Bassler ordered Barnes to serve 37 months in prison, the maximum term recommended under federal guidelines.

The judge said he considered an even stiffer sentence. But Bassler noted that Barnes, 54, had no criminal history and he agreed with Barnes' attorney, David Fasset, that Barnes had a record of achievement in Paterson.

Barnes' only apology was to his family, friends and supporters. Asked after the hearing if he believed he should apologize to his former constituents, he declined comment, serving more ammunition to prosecutors.

"It just shows the contempt he had for the people he served, or ill-served in this case," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said. "You can't come to any other conclusion other than the fact that he has contempt for the citizens of Paterson. He stole from them."

Barnes served as Paterson mayor from 1997 until he lost a re-election bid last year. He was among the most prominent officials snared in a still unraveling investigation into the dealings of United Gunite, a sewer repair company whose principals have admitted using bribes to win millions of dollars in municipal contracts across New Jersey.

A city engineer in Paterson and water authority superintendent in Camden also pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Gunite salesman Jerry Free. Former Essex County Executive James Treffinger, who was indicted in October, is accused of accepting illegal campaign donations from Free.

Free and former Gunite president W. Steven Carroll secretly recorded conversations with elected officials for as much as a year before their cooperation was made public. Both have pleaded guilty to bribery charges but will not be sentenced until the other cases conclude.

Louie Allen, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Newark division, pledged yesterday that his office will keep hunting for corrupt officials in New Jersey. "We have to stop this," he said.

The case against Barnes was sweeping both in its detail and because it suggested a drumbeat of kickbacks and payoffs dating to his first months in office. The 40-count indictment against him said that Barnes accepted thousands of dollars in free travel, clothes, home improvement and cash and demanded routine kickbacks from city vendors.

He pleaded guilty in July to just two counts, but they included a mail fraud charge that included most of the underlying allegations of corruption tied to Gunite, which had more than $16 million in Paterson contracts.

Free paid for 14 trips that Barnes took with his wife, Diane, a girlfriend or hired female companions during his tenure. The destinations included Aruba, England and Rio de Janeiro.

As the judge recited some of the items yesterday, Diane Barnes closed her eyes and shook her head in the front row of the courtroom, where she sat with their children and other supporters. Her husband, however, sat calmly during the hearing, with his legs crossed and offering no visible emotion.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone, who prosecuted the case, had intended to recommend a prison term below the maximum, but that was before Barnes spoke.

"Those comments belittle the crimes that Mr. Barnes pled to," Carbone said, urging the judge to use the sentencing to send a message to other public officials.

Beyond the prison term, Bassler ordered Barnes to pay a $1,000 fine, serve three years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service.

Still, Bassler said, "I'm not entirely convinced that as you leave here today you'll really understand the seriousness of what you have done."

Barnes, who will begin serving his prison term this summer, offered no clues as he left. His former spokesman, Bob Grant, called it a "very sad day" but refused to retract his assertion last year that the prosecution against Barnes, an African-American, was racially motivated.

A dozen friends and relatives ringed Barnes as he walked two blocks to his car and was swarmed by reporters. He lit a cigarette and repeatedly declined to change or expand on his courtroom comments.

"There's nothing to comment about," he said.

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