A former aide to Newark Mayor Cory Booker has pleaded not guilty to extortion and bribery charges for allegedly steering city demolition contracts to a company in which he had a financial interest.
Ronald Salahuddin was named in a federal indictment released Feb. 18.
Also indicted was Sonnie L. Cooper, owner and president of S. Cooper Brothers Trucking Inc., the company in which Salahuddin allegedly had a stake. Cooper also pleaded not guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Trenton.
Salahuddin was released on $250,000 bail, Cooper on $100,000 bail.
Salahuddin -- who cited health reasons when he resigned last year after the feds arrested scores of public officials in a sweeping corruption bust last July -- was ensnared by a cooperating witness who was working for the government, according to a 33-page indictment unsealed Thursday.
He is charged with extortion conspiracy, bribery and attempted extortion for shaking down a cooperating witness posing as a the owner of a demolition company looking to get work knocking down buildings near the New Jersey Devils' new hockey arena.
"I know I've been, I'm talking circuitous, but you understand... So all I want you to do is, you know help him," the feds say Salahuddin said to the cooperating witness -- with "him" referring to his alleged co-conspirator, businessman Sonnie L. Cooper. "You know feed him, not a salad, you know, sometimes a man got to have a steak."
According to the indictment, Salahuddin told the government informant that "it's not a deal when you are giving it all and nothing in return... that's Santa Claus... you understand... and none of us believe in Santa Claus."
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman has said there is no evidence Booker was involved in illegal activity.