Elwell trial continues
SECAUCUS – Ronald Manzo, a business man from Bayonne, testified Monday in the corruption trial of former Secaucus Mayor Elwell. Manzo was a close associate of Elwell and pleaded guilty last month to receiving money to facilitate a payment to Elwell.
Manzo sat through lengthy and detailed questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Kanefsky in regard to his dealings with Solomon Dwek, the FBI informant who acted as a real estate developer seeking favors from politicians. Dwek brought down many politicians in a 1989 FBI sting.
Manzo was also questioned about dealings with Edward Cheatam, a former Jersey City housing commissioner who has also pleaded guilty in the sting.
Manzo had previously plead guilty to receiving cash payments from Dwek including a $5,000 payment for facilitating a $10,000 cash payment to Mayor Elwell and $27,500 in payments connected to his brother Louis Manzo.
Manzo testified that he knew Solomon Dwek as "David Eisenbach" (the name Dwek used in the sting), whom he met through Edward Cheatam in February 2009. Manzo described initially meeting with Dwek to help him get assistance in Jersey City where he wanted to build a property. He also stated that he knew Dwek wanted to give his brother, Louis Manzo, formal assemblyman and former Jersey City mayoral candidate, a campaign contribution. Manzo testified that he kept all cash given to him that was meant for his brother because he wanted to protect him. He described Dwek as generous and very aggressive in that he wanted any project of his pushed forward and in that he wanted his name kept off of everything and no records of contributions.
In regard to the language Dwek used during the meetings, Manzo said, "I told him he should watch how he is talking because it is inappropriate for public officials."
Video was shown of a meeting between Manzo and Dwek that took place at the Malibu Diner in Hoboken.
In it, Dwek tells Manzo, "Just make sure I have him in my corner...I just want him to expedite my stuff," speaking of Elwell.
Manzo said he didn't know how Elwell would react, that he thought he would be negative towards accepting money and that he felt uncomfortable putting Elwell in harm's way.
Manzo admitted to arranging a meeting between Elwell and Solomon Dwek at the La Reggia Restaurant in Secaucus to discuss Dwek's interest in a Secaucus property. Manzo had had a 12-year friendship with Elwell, had given him campaign contributions, and provided the township with employee insurance via his insurance company.
Black and white video was shown of the conversation that took place between Elwell, Dwek, and Manzo. In the video there is a reference to the need for zone changes from residential to commercial in the area of interest. Dwek stated that he wanted to"smooth out the speed bumps."
In the trial's opening statements, the defense stated that Elwell had one purpose in meeting with Dwek and that was to give him general information about developing property in Secaucus. The defense stated that Elwell never accepted a corrupt payment, never promised Dwek any action in exchange for money, and that there is "no question" that the money offered to Elwell was a campaign contribution.
The trial will continue this week. Watch this weekend's Hudson Reporter newpapers, as well as hudsonreporter.com, for developments.
Judge rules in favor of those fighting rent control amendments
HOBOKEN – A Hudson County Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of a committee of rent control petitioners last week, allowing a petition for referendum to the recent changes to Hoboken’s rent control law to be accepted by the City Clerk’s office for review, according to court documents filed on June 14.
Rent control is a set of laws that apply to approximately 8,000 apartments in Hoboken built before 1987. They limit the amount that landlords can increase the rent each year, but can allow additional increases for capital improvements and other matters.
A group of tenant’s rights advocates attempted to place three recent changes to the city’s rent control ordinance on the May election ballot in the form of a referendum after changes were approved by the City Council unanimously on March 2.
However, the clerk’s office told the petitioners they did not have enough signatures originally, and when the committee tried to amend the petition by correcting the number of signatures within a 10-day period, as allowed by statute, the clerk’s office denied the petition again.
Sources said that part of the city’s legal position was that a lack of signatures is not a correctable deficiency.
The court ruled on June 14 that the clerk’s office acted arbitrarily and capriciously by refusing to accept the amended petition, and the clerk’s office was ordered to accept the amended petition for review and to process it in accordance with the statute. The court also denied the city’s motion to dismiss the case.
However, when the city clerk’s office was reached on Monday morning, they said they were unaware of the ruling.
A request for confirmation of the ruling from the city attorney’s office was not returned by press time on Monday.
The tenants are represented by Renee Steinhagen of the Newark-based public interest law center, New Jersey Appleseed.
“The city needs to move forward and give the people the right to be heard [by reviewing the petition],” Steinhagen said on Monday.
Appeals are expected, which could delay the results of the case.
If the petition is valid, and has enough signatures, the three changes could be put on hold until after the public votes in the form of a referendum in an upcoming election.
The changes approved by the council on March 2 limits the amount of money tenants can collect in back rent for overcharges to two years; allows a landlord to furnish alternative documents to apply for vacancy decontrol; and a third change requires landlords to inform tenants of their rights under Hoboken’s laws and show proof the information was supplied.
A vacancy decontrol allows a landlord to raise the rent by 25 percent once every three years if a tenant vacates the apartment.
Catrillo released from jail
JERSEY CITY – Guy Catrillo, an ex-official with the Jersey City Planning Department, has been released from federal prison after serving about 16 months of a an 18-month sentence, according to NJ.com.
One of 44 public officials and religious leaders arrested in July 2009 as part of the federal investigation known as Operation Bid Rig, Catrillo was among the first of several who pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Two others were later arrested as part of the sting operation, bringing the total number of those ensnared to 46.
In September 2009 Catrillo pleaded guilty to accepting three cash payments from Solomon Dwek, a government cooperating witness. Catrillo admitted he accepted three cash payments, totaling $15,000, in exchange for helping Dwek to get approvals on a phony development project on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City. (The development project did not, in fact, exist and was invented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of the sting operation.)
In January 2010 U.S. District Court Judge Jose Linares sentenced Catrillo to an 18-month sentence and a $4,000 fine. He had faced as many as 20 years behind bars.
Revival of Xanadu project may not be as easy as gov thinks
– Even though Gov. Chris Christie pledged last month that the state would revive the Xanadu entertainment complex on Route 3 and provide $200 million in state tax breaks, it may not be as easy as it seemed.
The state's Economic Development Authority does not yet have the ability to issue the tax breaks, according to a report in the Star-Ledger over the weekend.
Christie's administration asked Democratic legislators to push through a bill so that the breaks can be issued, the story said.
In the past, various companies that tried to build the project ran into financial roadblocks. A new company that owns the Mall of America plans to spend $1 billion to turn it into "American Dream at the Meadowlands," with the state's help.