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Mayors, legislators arrested in New Jersey corruption probe

  • Story Highlights
  • Official sent text messages about "cake," "green broccoli," complaint says
  • U.S. attorney's office says officials accepted bribes of up to $17,500
  • Officials allegedly accepted bribes from insurance, roofing companies
  • Two state legislators, Passaic mayor among those arrested
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(CNN) -- Two mayors and two state legislators are among 11 public officials arrested in New Jersey as part of a corruption investigation, the U.S. attorney's office in Trenton announced Thursday.


Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera is among 11 officials arrested Thursday in a corruption probe.

Prosecutors say the state officials accepted cash bribes -- ranging from $1,500 to $17,500 at a time -- from insurance brokerage and roofing companies and in return awarded the companies with public contracts.

"To those officials engaged in corruption or thinking about corruption, I will want to tell you you need to think again," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Weysan Dun during a news conference Thursday.

"Those who think they can abuse the positions of trust they've been put into to line their own pockets need to think again," he said.

"Those who think they have found some clever way to conceal a bribe or believe that the nature of their bribe is insignificant need to think again. There is no safe haven for public corruption," Dun said.

State Assemblymen Mims Hackett Jr. and Alfred E. Steele -- both Democrats -- and Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera are among those arrested.

Steele also is undersheriff in Passaic County, just outside Newark. Hackett is also mayor of Orange. Video Watch who is involved »

Also arrested were Keith O. Reid, the chief of staff to the Newark City Council president; Passaic Councilman Marcellus Jackson; and former Passaic Councilman Jonathan Soto.

Five current and former school board members in Pleasantville, just outside Atlantic City, were arrested: Jayson G. Adams, James T. McCormick, James A. Pressley, Rafael Velez and Maurice Callaway, who also is on the City Council.

A private citizen, Louis Mister, was caught in the sting as well, officials said.

"In most cases, the defendants sought to establish and perpetuate a corrupt relationship with the cooperating witnesses to continue receiving bribes," a statement from the U.S. attorney's office alleged.

Steele, Hackett and Rivera are charged with accepting bribes totaling $15,500, $5,000 and $5,000, respectively, for arranging insurance brokerage contracts in New Jersey.

Steele was also allegedly promised a 15 percent cut of the insurance brokerage business, Hackett an additional $25,000 payment and Rivera a $50,000 payment to an offshore bank account.

If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison.

Steele's and Hackett's offices declined to comment after the arrests. The Newark City Council president's office issued a "no comment" in response to Reid's arrest.

According to the criminal complaints against the officials, the FBI set up a phony company to persuade the suspects to do business with them.


  • Alfred E. Steele, state assemblyman and Passaic County undersheriff
  • Samuel "Sammy" Rivera, Passaic mayor
  • Mims Hackett Jr., Orange mayor and state assemblyman
  • Jonathan Soto, former Passaic city councilman
  • Marcellus Jackson, Passaic city councilman
  • Keith O. Reid, chief of staff to Newark City Council president
  • Jayson G. Adams, former Pleasantville School Board member
  • Maurice "Pete" Callaway, former Pleasantville School Board member and current Pleasantville City Council member
  • James T. McCormick, former Pleasantville School Board member
  • James A. Pressley, Pleasantville School Board president
  • Rafael Velez, Pleasantville School Board member
  • Louis Mister, Pleasantville resident

Covert recordings were apparently an integral part of the investigation, as the criminal complaints quote or paraphrase each official -- some at length -- about what they were willing to do to help the fake company, what they expected in return and the importance of keeping the arrangements hush.

For instance, Reid allegedly coached a cooperating witness on how to surreptitiously accept bribes, warning him not to "let a lot of people in the kitchen" and adding, "You need a buffer or something," according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint against Soto states the councilman often spoke in code when talking to cooperating witnesses in the case, once sending a text message in November 2006 about an anticipated bribe: "Any word on that cake?"

The following month, Soto allegedly sent a text message to another cooperating witness, saying "Will need that green broccoli for the 1st entree," according to the complaint.

Rivera allegedly was more overt, according to the complaint against the Passaic mayor. He often boasted of how he could snare council votes "easy, easy, easy," the complaint says.

The complaint also states that when a "key employee" of the city questioned him about the phony company's presentation, Rivera allegedly warned him, "I make the [expletive] decision, and the council. And believe me, I've got the four [expletive] votes on the council. So let's stop [expletive], and let's get this thing rolling."

The probe began in mid-2006, "amid evidence of corruption in the Pleasantville School District," according to the statement.

"In response, the FBI established an undercover insurance brokerage company purporting to employ the government's two cooperating witnesses and undercover agents," according to the U.S. attorney's office.


Pleasantville school board members allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes from the cooperating witnesses, the release stated.

The Pleasantville school board members also referred undercover agents to public officials in northern New Jersey, who accepted bribes as well, according to the release. The northern New Jersey officials referred the undercover agents to "still other corrupt public officials," the news release stated. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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