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Former Hudson elections investigator admits role in bribing Secaucus mayor

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A former investigator for the Hudson County Board of Elections admitted today that he agreed to provide a $10,000 bribe to Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, as part of what became the largest public corruption sting in New Jersey history. However, with the government’s consent, more serious extortion conspiracy charges that he already had pleaded guilty to were dismissed. What this means for Elwell can’t be considered good.

Elwell (l.), Dwek

Denis Jaslow, 48, of North Bergen and Wall Township, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares to a complaint accusing him of aiding and abetting the payoff to Elwell, in exhange for promises of helping a supposed crooked developer — who actually was working for the FBI — get approvals for real estate projects.

Jaslow participated in several recorded meetings and telephone calls with Solomon Dwek, a former Jersey Shore businessman trying to shave time off a federal prison sentence for swindling investors and banks out of hundreds of millions of dollars, the government said (EXCLUSIVE: Meet the cooperator behind N.J.’s biggest corruption bust ever).

At one meeting, Jaslow accepted a $5,000 cash payment from Dwek to introduce him to public officials willing to be bought off by Dwek, the would-be developer, federal prosecutors said. The former state prison corrections officer then arranged several sit-downs with Dwek and public officials in New Jersey, including Elwell, referred to in court documents as the “Secaucus official.”

Elwell, along with then-mayors David Cammarano of Hoboken and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, were among more than 40 public officials whom the government said were caught with their hands in the public’s pocket, thanks to Dwek, in a sting that became known as “Operation Bid Rig II.” Cammarano took a plea and federal jurors last October cleared Suarez.

Elwell’s own prospects for acquittal took a hit last month when Ronald Manzo admitted to Linares that he conspired to funnel $10,000 in bribe money to the ex-mayor. Manzo — brother of former state Assemblyman Louis Manzo — originally was to have stood trial besides Elwell this month, following a series of delays in their respective cases.

Then last month, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said his office decided not to appeal a February U.S. Third Circuit Court decision that the Manzos couldn’t be charged with public corruption because neither was a public official at the time of the sting (which Fishman said was the basis for dropping the extortion conspiracy counts against Jaslow, whose initial plea was then nullified).

Whether the remaining charges against the Manzos would stand was an open question.

That was answered when Ronald Manzo, 67, pleaded guilty a week later to the first count of a federal grand jury indictment charging him with conspiring with Elwell and another man, Edward Cheatam, to collect $10,000 from Dwek. Federal prosecutors dropped two other charges as part of the plea agreement.

Elwell, 65, resigned days after his July 23, 2009 arrest (SEE: Ex-Secaucus mayor indicted in corruption sweep). He has been preparing to go to trial, but another in a series of postponements came around the time Manzo struck a deal with the government that includes forfeiting $42,500 that he admitted collecting from Dwek.

What this means for Elwell is uncertain, given the likelihood that Manzo has agreed to testify on behalf of the government in exchange for a lighter sentence. Jaslow could become another key player in the scenario.

Before the mayor arrived at an April 23, 2009, meeting, a federal complaint says, Jaslow told Dwek he had explained to Elwell that Dwek was interested in real estate development in Secaucus, and assured Dwek that the mayor would help him expedite related official matters. Dwek was wearing a wire at the time.

Jaslow admitted that Dwek asked Elwell how to make the cash payments to him, and that they agreed to work through Jaslow, who assured the mayor that Dwek was “a very generous guy.”

At the end of the meeting, Jaslow and Dwek got into details, agreeing that Jaslow would tell the mayor a $10,000 payment was on its way through him, with the potential for additional cash after Dwek secured necessary zone changes with the mayor’s assistance. Again, FBI agents were listening in.

Linares set Jaslow’s sentencing for Oct. 4, 2011.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman credited the FBI agents, as well as their counterparts with the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, with making the case, which was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra L. Moser of Fishman’s Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

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