Dirty Jersey: Officials Plead Guilty to Extortion in Corruption Probe

Two Jersey City officials plead guilty in federal court today

Two Jersey City officials plead guilty to extortion in connection with the large corruption investigation that resulted in 44 arrests in July.

Guy Catrillo, a member of the Mayor's 'Action Bureau,' and Maher Khalil of Jersey City's Health and Human Services Department each plead in federal court in Newark today. Catrillo plead guilty to extortion and admitted he accepted corrupt payments as a Jersey City official; he agreed to forfeit $15,000 in illegal payments he received.

Khlali plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and agreed to forfeit $72,500 in bribes he admits he was paid. The plea agreement says he admits to allegedly conspiring with Edward Cheatam, the vice president of the Jersey City Board of Education, and Mariano Vega, Jersey City Council President, in exchange for help with their official action. Cheatam and Vega have been charged in connection with the incident but not convicted, investigators say.

Khalil, who says he introduced the FBI's cooperating witness to several high-profile Jersey City officials, had agreed to plead guilty on Aug. 10 and made it official today.

Catrillo agreed on Aug. 12 to plead to one count of attempted extortion and told a judge in court today that he was guilty of that charge. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors said they would not prosecute the bribery charge against him.

Both men are scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 15.

An FBI spokesman declined comment. Defense attorneys Michael Pedicini and Michael Koribanics did not immediately return calls as their offices said they were en route to the federal courthouse.

Khalil was charged with taking $30,000 in bribes while Catrillo was accused of taking $15,000 in improper payments.  An FBI informant had posed as a developer willing to make illegal payoffs.

The pair were part of the massive FBI sweep of public officials and rabbis called 'Operation Bid Rig.' The investigation centered on numerous New Jersey public officials who allegedly took bribes.  A parallel track of the probe focused on religious leaders accused of running a money-laundering ring. One man charged in the case is accused of trying help sell body parts for transplant.

With the expected guilty pleas, it is unclear if Catrillo and is cooperating with authorities and naming names. Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy did meet with the FBI informant in the case but denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged.   

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