Former Jersey City Council President Pleads to Corruption Charges

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP Photo/Mel Evans
    Jersey City, N.J. council president Mariano Vega, in glasses, leaves federal court July 23, 2009.

    The former council president of New Jersey's second-largest city, who had resisted calls to resign for more than a year after his arrest on corruption charges, pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting thousands of dollars from a federal informant in a cash-for-influence scheme.

    Mariano Vega Jr. was subdued as he answered questions from U.S. District Judge Jose Linares in a monotone. He pleaded guilty to one count of extortion conspiracy, an offense that carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Under his plea agreement, the one-time Jersey City council president is expected to receive a 30- to 37-month term when he is sentenced on Jan. 7.

    "I was hopeful we could litigate this case, but in the end we had to do what was best for Mr. Vega and his family," Peter Willis, an attorney for Vega, said outside court. "This is a sad day for Mr. Vega, and a sad day for the people of Jersey City."

    Vega admitted Tuesday to agreeing to accept a total of $30,000 from the informant, Solomon Dwek, in the spring of 2009 through former city health official Maher Khalil. The cash was to be converted into smaller checks to avoid running afoul of campaign finance laws, and donated to Vega's re-election fund.

    In exchange, prosecutors alleged, Vega promised to help Dwek with approvals for a fictitious development project in Jersey City.

    Vega did not comment after the hearing.

    The 60-year-old Democrat was one of 44 people arrested in July 2009 in a massive federal corruption and money laundering sting that used Dwek to snare public officials from housing inspectors to state legislators in addition to prominent rabbis in the Orthodox communities of Brooklyn and Deal, N.J.

    Two others, one of them a sitting Jersey City council member, were arrested later in the fall and pleaded guilty. In all, 20 of the 46 defendants have pleaded guilty and two, former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and former state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, were convicted at trial.

    Before submitting his resignation to city officials on Monday, Vega was one of two elected officials who had remained in office after last year's arrests. The other, Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, survived a recall election last month and is scheduled to go on trial at the beginning of October.

    After Vega's arrest, the Jersey City council defeated a resolution calling for him to resign, even as public protests turned council meetings into raucous spectacles. Vega eventually stepped down as council president in October but retained an at-large seat.