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Former Newark mayor pleads not guilty to corruption charges

  • Story Highlights
  • Former Newark mayor accused of charging lavish vacations on city credit cards
  • Sharpe James' salary as mayor ranged from $171,000 to $203,000 annually
  • James also charged with arranging sale of city properties at a reduced rate
  • James was mayor from 1986 to 2006
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From Joann Rizzo
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James pleaded not guilty Monday to federal corruption charges that he courted women using city money and engaged in property fraud.

James, 71, is accused of charging more than $58,000 on city-issued credit cards for trips for himself and several female companions, according to an indictment from earlier this month.

In recent years, he allegedly charged vacations to places such as Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and the Dominican Republic, where he attended major sporting events, test drove exotic cars and ate at fine restaurants.

"The allegations in this indictment are stark examples of the greed and arrogance of unchecked power," said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie. "He chose to cheat the people of Newark and the citizens of New Jersey."

James' salary as mayor ranged from $171,000 to $203,000 annually, including $25,000 a year for personal expenses and vacations. During his tenure, James also earned another $49,000 a year as a member of the New Jersey Senate.

He said his 2006 visit to Rio de Janeiro was to meet with the region's consulate general on city business. He also said a $1,400 trip to the Dominican Republic was to "assess the tropical gardens on a resort property there to determine if those gardens could be replicated near Penn Station in Newark," according to the indictment.

James is also accused of approving the sale of city-owned land to one of his female companions, Tamika Riley, at a fraction of its actual value. Riley is alleged to have made more than $500,000 from the purchase and sale of city property.

The indictment charges James with "steering" properties to Riley under a city program designed to sell rundown city property to experienced developers who then rebuild the property and sell it at market prices. With James' help, Riley allegedly bought several properties at low prices and sold them at market rate without fixing them.

In 2004, James introduced a law that when passed gave him more power over the sale of city land. James accused City Council members of improperly arranging sales to friends and family, and said that a law was needed to give the mayor greater power over city land sales so "we do not allow thievery with municipal property."

In a statement made before the New Jersey Senate's Community and Urban Affairs Committee, James said, "What we have is that council people are giving themselves municipal land so that at the end of their term of office they will have acquired wealth based on the acquisition of municipal property, which is contrary to law and very wrong."

Among the 33 charges, James faces 17 counts of mail and wire fraud, each of which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge William Martini said James' trial is expected to begin on February 4, 2008, and is expected to last three to four months.

The government is expected to call about 60 witnesses, according to Gale Hansen, deputy clerk to the judge in the case.

James, who retired last year, was mayor of Newark for two decades. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's David Miller contributed to this report.

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