The trial of former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini continued in U.S. District Court in Newark last week with Beldini’s lawyer questioning government informant Solomon Dwek, who offered bribes to Beldini and many other local officials last year as part of a government corruption sting.
The 74-year-old Beldini is accused of accepting a total of $20,000 from Dwek, some of it for Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s reelection campaign. Healy has not been accused of any crimes, although many of those arrested have said they were collecting money for his campaign.
Beldini is also accused of taking some of the money as “real estate commissions” for herself.
Dwek met with various officials asking for future help with a supposed condo project he wanted to build on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City.
“You wouldn’t know about friendship” – Brian Neary
Beldini is the first to stand trial. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted. Beldini’s trial was expected to go on for another two weeks, but the defense lawyer for Beldini, Brian Neary, on Friday opted to rest his case and not call any new witnesses.
That was a day after the prosecution had called one of its last witnesses, late political consultant Jack’s Shaw girlfriend, Cathy Chin, to testify in the case. Closing arguments are scheduled to start Monday.
Dwek talks about his meetings
At the trial, which started on Jan. 25, Dwek has testified about meeting with Beldini at various locations in Hudson County. He has described one memorable meeting in which he discussed his project with Beldini, Mayor Healy, longtime political consultant Jack Shaw (who passed away shortly after his arrest), and former Hudson County employee Edward Cheatam.
The meetings with Dwek were captured on videos from a hidden camera that Dwek wore on him, videos that have been shown during the trial.
The videos, which some have called a “smoking gun” that could send Beldini to jail as well get Healy indicted, have also been seen by many as a revealing look at the kind of wheeling and dealing that goes on in local government.
However, some people, upon seeing the video on news websites, have suggested that Beldini’s comments during the discussions seem non-criminal, and that Dwek appears to have baited Beldini, with the help of Shaw and Cheatam (who were allegedly paid with bribe money to bring politicians to Dwek).
Beldini’s defense lawyer, Brian Neary, attempted to prove this last week, in addition to casting doubt on Dwek’s character and credibility.
Dwek, a Monmouth County resident, became a government informant after he was charged with trying to deposit two $25 million checks in a New Jersey bank in 2006. Dwek also has admitted to swindling about $300 million from various investors in various schemes. He faces a sentence of 9 to 11 years for the bank fraud, reduced from an initial 40-year sentence after he cooperated with the government.
Dwek, clean-shaven and attired in a conservative gray suit with a traditional yarmulke on his head, looked like an overgrown schoolboy being scolded by Brian Neary for a third day on the stand Wednesday.
Neary, wearing a tweed jacket and his signature bowtie, was like Matlock with a New Jersey accent as he questioned Dwek on his conduct during the Jersey City meetings.
Neary projected in the courtroom the black-and-white videos of meetings on March 30, April 1, and April 30, when Beldini met with Dwek, Jack Shaw, and Edward Cheatam.
Neary routinely stopped the video at a specific point to question Dwek as to why he would bring up the Garfield Avenue project when Beldini would mention some other subject or would be gracious and cordial to Dwek.
Neary’s opinion seemed clear: If my client is bad, you’re a lot worse.
Dwek became agitated when Neary picked on phrases that Dwek would use in conversations at the different meetings, such as “good as gold” and “the big cheese” when referring to Healy. Neary asked Dwek if he was “coached” by the FBI to say them. Neary was trying to cast doubts upon the idea that she knew about bribes when the others discussed them.
Dwek tried to defend himself by saying that he wasn’t using phrases intentionally and that he was only responding to Beldini. Dwek also referred to Shaw as a “bagman” during Wednesday’s proceeding.
Things only got worse when Neary unsettled Dwek during discussion of a video clip of a meeting at the Medical Center Luncheonette with Healy, Beldini, Shaw, Cheatam and Dwek.
Neary commented on Beldini’s telling Dwek that “Jerramiah Healy always remembers his friends” to point out the contrast between a loyal and honest Healy ally who warmed to Dwek because he was bringing development to the city, and a dishonest person like Dwek.
Neary said, “You wouldn’t know about friendship” while reeling off all the people Dwek has allegedly swindled, including his own Uncle Joey, who apparently lost $100 million to his nephew.
Dwek went silent and stammered “Yes” under Neary’s barbed questions.
Dwek admitted that he had not served any significant time in jail due to his status as a government informant.
Shaw’s girlfriend talks about checks
The prosecution called other witnesses the next day.
The girlfriend of late political consultant Jack Shaw, Cathy Chin, testified that Shaw gave her cash. She said that she then wrote personal checks for donation to Healy’s campaign. Then Healy’s campaign bookkeeper, Theresa Smiley, testified about donations made to the Healy campaign from Shaw, Chin and Cheatam .
Watch www.hudsonreporter.com for further updates this coming week.
Sidebar Healy has been following trial
Mayor Jerramiah Healy has been following the trial of his close friend, former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini. Healy was for many years a practicing attorney with stints in the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and as a Municipal Court judge.
His spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said last week that he has been “following the trial in the newspaper.” But he declined to answer comment other questions posed by the Jersey City Reporter such as has he seen the videos of himself, whether he has spoken to Leona Beldini since she was arrested, and whether he has been subpoenaed to testify.
Morrill said, “He is not going to answer due to the fact this is a trial in progress and what we are told is an ongoing federal investigation.” – RK Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.