Federal prosecutors unveiled a mammoth corruption and money-laundering investigation in New Jersey today, arresting 44 people, including the mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, and Ridgefield; two assemblymen; and five rabbis. Also some guy who's been selling human kidneys for ten years.
Basically the FBI equipped a real estate developer named Solomon Dwek with a recording device and set him loose on the swamp of kickback schemes, mob payoffs, and money-grubbing pols that is New Jersey, where you have bribe someone to get your driver license. Dwek—whom the Wall Street Journal has identified as the unnamed "cooperating witness" whose testimony the indictment relies on—was charged with defrauding a bank of $25 million in 2006. He apparently turned snitch rather than fact jail and suckered half of the state's political class into doing business with him on behalf of the feds.
In doing so, he (allegedly):
- Paid $25,000 in cash bribes to Peter Cammarano, a city councilman who just got elected mayor of Hoboken on July 1. Dwek paid $10,000 of that last Thursday. "In return," according to a press release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, "Cammarano [said he] would sponsor zoning changes and push through building plans for [a] high-rise development in Hoboken.
- Paid New Jersey Assembleyman L. Harvey Smith $15,000 in bribes "to help get approvals from high-level state agency officials for building projects."
- Paid Daniel Van Pelt, a New Jersey Assemblyman, a $10,000 bribe.
- Paid Dennis Elwell, mayor of Secaucus, a $10,000 cash bribe.
- Paid Anthony Suarez, mayor of Ridgefield a "$10,000 corrupt cash payment for his legal defense fund."
There's so, so much more. The press release announcing the arrests [pdf] is 12 pages. Aside from reeling in greedy politicians, Dwek also set his sites on a vast money-laundering ring centered among New Jersey's Syrian Jewish community and run by delightfully named rabbis, who used their synagogues and affiliated charities to clean up dirty money. Dwek approached them and told them he was "involved in illegal businesses and bank frauds," according to the release, and "was in bankruptcy and was attempting to conceal cash and assets." So Rabbi Saul Kassin of Sharee Zion in Brooklyn, Rabbi Edmund Nahum of Deal Synagogue in Deal, N.J., Rabbi Eli Ben Haim of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal, N.J., and Rabbi Mordchai Fish of Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn all happily accomodated him, laundering more than $3 million over two years. They would take a check from Dwek, written to their synagogues or associated charities, and pay him back—less a 10 percent cut—in cash from Israel or Switzerland that they kept in a network of "cash houses" throughout Brooklyn.
Dwek is an Orthodox Jew; it's unlikely he could have penetrated the ring otherwise. For a look at the Syrian Jewish community's xenophobic ways, check out this New York Time Magazine piece on the Brooklyn enclave, which excommunicates any member who marries outside of the tribe—including gentiles who convert to Judaism. Rabbi Kassin, who was arrested today, cut off his own daughter for marrying a non-Jew. After 25 years, she made contact with the family, and they told her she was welcome back, but without her husband and kids.
Lastly—and it's not clear from the release how this relates to the money-laundering and corruption investigations—Dwek somehow hooked up with Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, a Brooklyn man who offered to sell him a human kidney for $160,000. According to Talking Points Memo, which has been poring over the indictment, "Rosembaum explained the process of finding a donor in Israel and stated that "[t]here are people over there hunting . . . One of the reasons it's so expensive is because you have to shmear all the time." We think a good sun-dried tomato shmear goes nicely with a kidney.
All of these people are going to roll over on everybody else, and the New York and New Jersey state legislatures are going to be completely emptied out within a week.