JULY 30, 2008
Claiming the decisions of those in power are “often understandably clouded by romantic entanglements,” a federal judge blasted prosecutors for going after a veteran mayor convicted of corruption for getting his young mistress heavily discounted public property that she later sold for large profits.
The judge’s rather surprising rebuke was delivered during this week’s lengthy sentencing hearing for the longtime mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, Newark’s Sharpe James. A few months ago, the 72-year-old politician was convicted by a federal jury of corruption for getting his 39-year-old mistress (Tamika Riley) nine city-owned properties through a program meant to redevelop Newark’s struggling South Ward. Riley paid a total of $46,000 for the parcels and immediately resold them for more than $600,000.
James, a nine-term Democrat mayor who also served as a state senator, has for years been federally investigated on a range of corruption allegations. Among them was that he bilked taxpayers out of nearly $60,000 by charging personal expenses—mainly trips with a variety of mistresses to luxury Caribbean resorts—to city credit cards.
That entertaining federal indictment portrays James like a careless rich playboy who repeatedly abused his office and charged taxpayers for stays at upscale hotels, expensive meals at fancy restaurants and airfare for himself and an army of mistresses. Prosecutors even included a detailed chart listing more than 150 instances in which James charged personal expenses on his city-issued credit card.
Yet a federal judge had the audacity to chastise prosecutors, and even refer to them as heartless, for five hours for pursuing this corrupt politician. In justifying the convicted mayor’s actions, Judge William Martini said life gets messy sometimes. He added that Newark lost nothing in the deals and there might not have been a prosecutable case at all had the mayor not been romantically involved with the beneficiary of the city deals.
A former Republican congressman, Judge Martini told prosecutors he was “shocked and disappointed” by their sentencing request of 20 years and reminded them that James’ crime was a far less serious offense than other acts of corruption such as bribery and extortion. Martini ended the scolding by sentencing James to just 27 months in prison.
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