JUDGMENT DAY Former Irvington mayor gets jail Bost receives one-year term and stern words following corruption trial


Former Irvington mayor gets jail
Bost receives one-year term and stern words following corruption trial

September 9, 2003  STAR-LEDGER

Compared with other New Jersey officials snared in the recent wave of federal corruption cases, former Irvington Mayor Sara Bost seemed lucky.

Her bribery trial ended abruptly in April after the first two government witnesses crumbled under cross-examination. Prosecutors offered to drop the most serious charges if Bost pleaded to a single count of witness tampering. They even pledged not to push for jail time.

By the time Bost arrived for sentencing yesterday, about 50 of her supporters had written to the judge. Renowned defense attorney Raymond A. Brown was there to argue that Bost's 16 years in public office and spotless record made her a good candidate for probation.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Greenaway took note of it all, then shocked Bost by giving her the stiffest sentence he could: one year in prison.

"A mayor of any city in New Jersey cannot engage in that type of behavior and expect to get a slap on the wrist," Greenaway said. "This court will not allow it."

Brown muttered in disbelief under his breath as the judge signaled his intentions, but Bost remained motionless. As the Newark courtroom cleared, the two-term mayor and former Essex County freeholder stood and appeared to gasp for breath. Then she hugged her husband, her brother and her teary-eyed sisters.

A year in prison "was something that we certainly didn't expect," her husband, Irvington Councilman Fred Bost, said minutes later. Asked about an appeal, Brown said, "We'll have to see."

Greenaway noted that Bost never admitted to the most damning accusations against her: that she took a $1,500 kickback from a paving contractor in 1999 and another $7,000 in bribes earlier from the developers of the sprawling Maple Gardens apartment complex in Irvington.

But it was within the judge's sentencing authority to consider other relevant conduct and pieces of evidence in the case. Few, he said, were as telling as the secret audio and videotapes in which Bost is heard discussing payoffs with former township business administrator David Fuller, a cooperating FBI witness.

Greenaway recited the taped dialogue the jury had heard repeatedly before it was dismissed. Instead of being shocked by talk of bribes, the judge said, Bost was "detached and calculated" and savvy enough at one point to frisk Fuller and ask if he was wired.

"There is no doubt in this court's mind that Mrs. Bost was deeply involved and part of the bribery scheme," the judge said.

Greenaway also ordered the 55-year-old Bost to pay a $2,000 fine and serve two years of supervised release plus 150 hours of community service after prison. He gave her two months to report to begin serving her term.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Nobile, the lead prosecutor on the case, said after the hearing that the sentence shows "that the federal courts are going to take corruption very seriously."

But such a penalty seemed unlikely, especially during the trial five months ago. Defense attorney Alan Bowman had shredded the credibility of the first two prosecution witnesses. Fuller, who has pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes, admitted he had memory and hearing problems, and repeatedly backpedaled during his testimony.

The paver, Bill Peterson, was even more confused and at times unable to follow the line of questioning. He said he paid Fuller $2,000 in kickbacks for a $15,000 township contract, but admitted he didn't know if Bost received any of the money.

Prosecutors still had as witnesses Samuel and Philip Goldfarb, the developers who were prepared to say they paid $7,000 to Bost in the mid 1990s for her approval in developing Maple Gardens. But sensing they might be losing the jury, Nobile and fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney Paula Dow halted the testimony and started to negotiate.

The plea deal placed Bost in a federal sentencing guideline range of six to 12 months, with a pledge from prosecutors not to object to a sentence that included no jail time.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie defended the decision to negotiate a plea.

"The plea was just and the sentence was just," he said yesterday. "It still sends a very clear message to political criminals in New Jersey that if you break the law, you are going to jail."

Bost, a former bank accountant, was a fixture in Irvington politics after winning a council seat in 1986. She was the township's first female mayor, and in 1998 became its first mayor in two decades to win successive terms, despite mounting financial woes for the town of 60,000.

Bost was also among more than two-dozen New Jersey public officials who have been charged or convicted of federal corruption charges in the past two years.

Her successor, Mayor Wayne Smith, said he's glad the trial and sentencing have passed. "It's a chapter in Irvington's history that is behind us," Smith said.

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