Don't Lie, Don't Cheat, Don't Steal: Corruption Case Goes to Jury

Former burlesque dancer, Beldini could spend rest of life in jail if convicted

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
    Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, left, in handcuffs.

    For both the government and the defense, the closing mantra was "Don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal."

    But they were talking about two different sides of the same coin.

    Federal prosecutors were talking about Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, who many years ago was the star of the burlesque stage when she went by the moniker "Hope Diamond."

    But for the past two weeks, her stage has been a federal courtroom in Newark. And this time, she was being judged not for her long legs on the burlesque circuit, but her cameo appearances on secret tape recordings made by the government's key informant, Solomon Dwek, who admitted earlier to a Ponzi scheme that bilked an uncle out of nearly $200 million.

    "The ultimate con-man," is how defense attorney Brian Neary described Dwek in his closing summation Monday afternoon. Neary noted the $50 Dwek used to bribe a Math teacher for a good grade when he was a kid, the tears Dwek shed on the witness stand when he admitted that since becoming a cooperating witness his only friends were in the FBI, and how his own parents disowned him.

    "It's about a man who as the center of this case attempted to have this lady (Leona Beldini) convicted," Neary said to the jury.

    Of the $20,000 dollars she took in campaign contributions for what she thought was an effort by Dwek to build a 750 unit condominium building downtown, Neary claimed: "She's not in it for gain, she's in it for her friend, to watch his back."

    That "friend" would be Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who was never indicted in the case but did meet with Dwek and Beldini and is seen on the tapes.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Calcagni seemed to suggest the government was close to indicting Mayor Healy when he quoted from the tapes "The Mayor takes care of his friends."

    Calcagni then added "Does that sound like an honest official [seeming to refer to the Mayor]? While the defendant and the, mayor are looking out for their friends, who's looking out for everyone else?"

    The prosecutor wouldn't let go, later adding "Four times she met with Dwek, assuring Dwek he could rely on her and the Mayor."

    A spokeswoman for Healy denied that he was involved in any shenanigans.

    "To use hearsay to slander the mayor is simply wrong," said Jennifer Morrill, a spokeswoman for the Mayor. "The mayor has not been charged in this case, and several of the defendants have made statements about the Mayor that could have been said merely to further enrich themselves.”

    And for the first time in this trial, we got an idea of the dollars that Beldini could have put cash into her own bank account if this had been a real deal instead of a government set-up.

    Dwek, posing as a developer, had agreed to make her the listing agent for his condo project.

    Beldini, a realtor, would have made a minimum of $20,000 dollars a unit according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Maser. When Maser added it up for the first time for the jury, she came up with a minimum of $15 Million dollars that Beldini stood to gain for helping make the project happen.

    "It was all about self-service," said Maser to the jury.

    If convicted on all six corruption charges, the 74-year-old Beldini could spend the rest of her life in prison. More likely, however, is a sentence of three to five years, according to one source.