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Page last updated at 06:19 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 07:19 UK

US corruption probe nets dozens

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Acting US Attorney Ralph Marra on the "pervasive nature of corruption in this state"

More than 40 people, including politicians, officials and several rabbis have been arrested in a major FBI operation in the US.

Three hundred agents raided dozens of locations in New Jersey and New York as part of a 10-year probe into corruption and money laundering.

Three mayors from the state of New Jersey and two members of the state legislature were among those held.

One man is accused of kidney trafficking involving Israeli donors.

Prosecutors say the arrests were part of a "dual-tracked" investigation.

Acting US Attorney Ralph Marra told reporters there were 29 suspects on what he termed the "public corruption" side of the investigation, including the politicians.

On the other side, he said, there were 15 suspects in connection with alleged international money-laundering, including the rabbis and their "associates".

Prosecutors accuse one man of dealing in human kidneys from Israeli donors for transplant for a decade.

It is alleged that "vulnerable people" would give up a kidney for $10,000 (£6,000) and these would then be sold on for $160,000 (£97,000).

Informant

Officials say investigations originally focused on a network they allege laundered tens of millions of dollars through charities controlled by rabbis in New Jersey and neighbouring New York.

ARRESTED
Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano
Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell
Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini
Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez
State legislator Harvey Smith
State legislator Daniel Van Pelt
Rabbi Eliahu Ben Haim, Deal, NJ
Rabbi Saul Kassin, Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Edmund Nahum, Deal, NJ
Rabbi Mordechai Fish, Brooklyn, NY

Investigators used an informant to approach a group of rabbis from the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn and the New Jersey borough of Deal for help hiding his assets.

The rabbis cashed cheques he made out to charities they oversaw and paid the money back to him, minus a cut, investigators say.

The probe then widened to include alleged official corruption with links to a New Jersey construction boom.

The informant was introduced to a series of politicians and powerful local officials. Posing as a developer, he offered bribes in return for favourable treatment.

State legislators Harvey Smith and Daniel Van Pelt were arrested, as well as the mayors of some of the state's major cities and boroughs.

A number of city building, planning and fire inspectors were also held.

Mr Marra said: "It seemed that everyone wanted a piece of the action. The corruption was widespread and pervasive. Corruption was a way of life for the accused."

He said politicians had "willingly put themselves up for sale" and clergymen had "cloaked their extensive criminal activity behind a facade of rectitude".

'Misunderstanding'

The BBC's Jane O'Brien says the money laundering ring reportedly spanned the US, Israel and Switzerland.

Jon Corzine, the Governor of New Jersey, said: "The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated."

Ed Kahrer, an FBI agent who has worked on the investigation from the start, said: "New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation.

"It has become ingrained in New Jersey's political culture," he said.

Another FBI agent said: "The list of people we arrested sounds like it should be the roster for a meeting of community leaders, but sadly they weren't meeting in a boardroom this morning, they were in the FBI booking room."

Most of those arrested have been released on bail.

Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano was accused of taking a bribe. His lawyer said he intended to fight the charge "with all his strength until he proves his innocence".

A lawyer for 87-year-old Rabbi Saul Kassin of Brooklyn said it was a shame his client had been "caught up in this misunderstanding".

Correspondents say the number of people arrested is large even by New Jersey standards, where more than 130 public officials have either admitted to corruption or been found guilty of it since 2001.



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