Federal jury convicts Beldini on 2 bribery counts; she'll lose deputy mayor job, faces years in prison

Federal jury convicts Beldini on 2 bribery counts; she'll lose deputy mayor job, faces years in prison

February 12, 2010 Jersey Journal

A federal jury yesterday convicted suspended Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini of taking $20,000 in bribes that prosecutors say she funneled into Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy's re-election campaign last year.

The 74-year-old Realtor and former burlesque queen showed no reaction as the jury foreman read the verdict convicting her on two of the six counts, but her daughter Bianca slumped in her seat in the packed courtroom yesterday afternoon.

Beldini is the first person to be convicted as a result of work done by FBI informant Solomon Dwek, who surreptitiously made audio and video recordings that resulted in 46 arrests last July, following a months-long probe into money laundering and corruption in New York and New Jersey.

"Every case like this that we bring is designed to send a message. And the message is that public service is about something other than enriching yourself and enriching your friends and your colleagues," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, who called the verdict a victory.

Beldini faces up to 10 years in prison for each count and a maximum fine of $500,000. She is to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Jose Linares at 10 a.m. on June 1.

Dwek was the key witness in the nine-day trial that featured recordings he made of meetings between Beldini, Healy, Dwek and Edward Cheatam and Jack Shaw.

At trial, Dwek testified that he gave the $20,000 to Cheatam and Shaw to be broken down into checks by straw donors and contributed to the Jersey City Democratic Committee and the Healy for Mayor 2009 campaign.

The informant said Beldini, who was treasurer of the campaign account, accepted the money in exchange for a promise of her official help in expediting approvals for a development project on Garfield Avenue invented as part of the sting.

Shaw, a political consultant, died of a valium overdose a few days after his arrest in July. Cheatam, a former Jersey City Board of Education vice president and former Hudson County affirmative action officer, has pleaded guilty. He was expected to testify for the government in Beldini's trial, but was never called.

The eight-man, four-woman jury found that Beldini accepted a $10,000 bribe from Dwek on March 26, 2009 and another $10,000 on May 5, 2009. Healy has not been charged.

Beldini was found not guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, two counts of attempted extortion under color of official right and one count of acceptance of things of value to influence and reward - namely real estate commissions from the Garfield Avenue project.

Beldini will be forced to forfeit her position as deputy mayor as a result of the conviction and she will be barred from holding any public position, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said last night.

Dwek began cooperating with the FBI after he was charged in a $50 million bank fraud in 2006. His cooperation helped net five rabbis, three mayors, two state assemblymen and one man accused of conspiring to sell a kidney on the black-market. Dwek has pleaded guilty, but has not been sentenced.

Resource Box

Jersey City Deputy Mayor Guilty of Bribery Charges



 NEWARK – A federal jury today convicted suspended Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini of two counts of bribery for accepting $20,000 in illicit political contributions in connection with the May 2009 Jersey City mayoral race, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

The jury acquitted Beldini, 74, of conspiracy to commit extortion under of official right, two counts of attempted extortion under color of official right and one additional bribery count.  “Once again, public officials are on notice that we will not permit them to turn public service into self-service,” said Fishman. “Today’s verdict is a credit to all those who have worked tirelessly on this complex investigation and prosecution.” Beldini originally was arrested on a criminal complaint on the morning of July 23, 2009,
along with 43 other individuals, resulting from a two-track federal investigation of public corruption and a high-volume, international money laundering conspiracy.

Edward Kahrer, Assistant Special Agent in Charge and head of the FBI's Public Corruption Program in Newark remarked: "The conviction of Ms. Beldini today is further evidence that the people of New Jersey will not tolerate those who use public office for personal gain."

The jury began deliberating at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9 and returned a verdict at 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2010. U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares, who presided over the nearly two-week trial, scheduled sentencing for June 1, 2010.

The case was tried by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra L. Moser and Thomas R. Calcagni of the U.S. Attorney's Office Special Prosecutions Division.

In convicting Beldini, the jury found that Beldini, while the treasurer of the campaign committee Healy for Mayor ‘09 accepted $20,000 in illicit campaign contributions benefitting Beldini and Mayor Healy. These payments were made in exchange for Beldini’s agreement to exercise official influence and action in favor of the government’s cooperating witness, Solomon Dwek, with real estate development projects, including one on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City, according to trial evidence and testimony.

Each of the two bribery counts carry a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 per count. In determining an actual sentence, Judge Linares will consult the advisory U.S.

Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges that take into account the severity and characteristics of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, if any, and other factors. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

Parole has been abolished in the federal system. Defendants who are given custodial terms must serve nearly all that time. Fishman credited Special Agents of the FBI Red Bank Resident Agency, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin B. Cruise, in Newark, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge William P. Offord, for their commitment of resources and success in the Bid Rig investigations.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra L. Moser and Thomas R. Calcagni of the U.S. Attorney's Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

Defense Counsel: Brian J. Neary, Esq., Hackensack


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