Day 9: Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was found guilty on a charge of bribery Wednesday afternoon, as a seven-member federal jury acquitted the 66-year-old Democrat of two extortion charges in the corruption trial centered on a $10,000 payment from a government informant.
On what current Mayor Mike Gonnelli called a “sad day for Secaucus,” the jury returned this verdict:
Not guilty – Conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right
Not guilty – Attempted extortion under color of official right
Guilty – Acceptance of a corrupt payment
The corrupt payment charge carries a maximum statutory penalty of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Sentencing is set for November 15. Elwell’s lawyers said they will appeal.
“A sitting mayor took $10,000 from someone seeking an illegal advantage,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. “With every opportunity to walk away from the table, Elwell instead walked away with the cash.”
Michael Ward, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark field office, said in a statement that the verdict “speaks loudly for the people of New Jersey that the citizens demand, expect, and deserve honesty from their elected officials.”
Jurors took about seven hours to deliberate today (July6).
The Record reports this scene today:
As the courtroom emptied, his wife Annette rushed to him and, sobbing, wrapped him in an embrace.
“I can’t believe they would do this to you,” she said.
“I feel very sad for him, his family and his friends,” La Reggia chef and co-owner Enzo Carputo, whose restaurant was the setting for one of the trial’s hidden-camera videos of Elwell, told the Jersey Journal.
Day 8: Closing arguments were made today (July 5) and the jury was dismissed to deliberate.
Link: NorthJersey.com – Elwell Trial Blog
Day 7: Both sides rested their arguments in the case June 30 as jurors heard a run-down of the government’s cooperating witness’ criminal record.
The Record noted that Elwell’s attorney may have scored some points with the jury as “one juror raised his eyebrows and sat back in his chair when defense attorney Thomas Garrigan read that Dwek had tried to cash a $25 million fraudulent check.”
“As Garrigan continued to explain that Dwek intended to use the money to pay debts in a Ponzi scheme he had constructed, and that it was the first of two $25 million bad checks he was caught trying to cash, jury members furrowed their eyebrows and scribbled notes.”
The day’s testimony also saw the prosecution bring up a 2007 complaint filed against then-councilman Mike Gonnelli by Democrat Bob Kickey, although Elwell said he did not recall the matter.
Court is adjourned until July 5.
Day 6: Elwell continued his testimony June 28 saying he never used the $10K payment from a goverment informant, which was stored in a lock box and then in a safe in his father’s house before giving it to his lawyers. Prosecutors pointed out that the former mayor held on to the cash for 56 days before his arrest.
The informant, Solomon Dwek, meanwhile, is in custody after a judge revoked his bail in the wake of charges he stole a rental car.
The trial is adjourned until Thursday.
NorthJersey.com – Elwell Trial Blog
Day 5: Dennis Elwell took the stand today to defend himself from corruption charges, testifying that he never did anything official for the government informant or even promised to act.
Elwell also attempted to outline how a $10,000 contribution could be legal with funds going to a local party on top of the $2,600-per-candidate limit.
Reporters present in the courtroom noted the former mayor’s strong voice in answering questions, a contrast to the more demure Ronald Manzo, who made up the bulk of last week’s testimony.
Day 5 Links:
NorthJersey.com – Elwell’s Testimony
Day 4: A state election official testified today that Elwell did not report the $10,000 payment from a government informant as a campaign contribution, potentially bolstering the prosecution’s case that it was a bribe, rather than a donation as the former mayor’s defense contends.
Kimberly Key, a senior compliance officer with the state’s Election Law Compliance Commission and the second witness to appear in the trial, testified on political donation regulations as prosecutors showed that Elwell’s filings did not show the $10K in question.
Court ended early today and is adjourned until Monday.
Day 4 Links:
NorthJersey.com – Elwell Trial Blog
Day 3: Elwell’s defense team continued to attempt to dismantle Manzo’s credibility and earned the okay from the judge to show the complete videos of the former mayor’s meeting with a government witness, rather than just the clips prosecutors decided to play for the jury.
Judge Jose Linares said the defense team can play longer portions of three of the six videos for jurors, ruling that the three that were denied were irrelevant or similar to others, the Star-Ledger reports.
Elwell’s lawyers have been trying to show that Elwell told the government informant that the mayor was essentially powerless over the development of nearly 90 percent of Secaucus which is under the jurisdiction of the Meadowlands Commission. They maintain that Elwell thought the $10,000 payment in question was a campaign contribution.
It is still unclear whether the informant, Solomon Dwek, will testify because of a recent arrest in Maryland for failing to return a rental car.
The Record has more details of the day’s events here.
A half-day is scheduled for tomorrow with a potential off day on Friday.
Day 2 Trial Update w/ video: Day 2 of the Elwell trial continued with testimony from Manzo and offered the first opportunity for the former mayor’s legal team to cross-examine the man who has become the top witness against Elwell.
Elwell’s team got copies of Manzo’s prior record, which they had requested on Friday, and they will be given time to review the documents before continuing their cross-examination of Manzo on Wednesday. Manzo was still on probation for an insider trading charge when he was arrested in the 2009 FBI dragnet that snared Elwell, according to NJ.com.
Here is a video clip of Elwell and the government informant Dwek at La Reggia, entered as evidence by the prosecution and courtesy of northjersey.com:
The Record continues to live-blog the trial at this link.
Day 1 Trial Updates: Ronald Manzo kicked off the corruption trial of former Secaucus mayor Dennis Elwell today, saying he thought a government informant intended to make payments to Elwell’s reelection campaign in exchange for zoning help in town.
Manzo, the former co-defendant with Elwell who struck a deal with prosecutors last month, took the stand for more than two hours today, according to NJ.com, and will continue tomorrow. “I have to be careful,” he said in a video shown to the jury of a meeting with the informant, Solomon Dwek. “Dennis is my friend.”
Prosecutors also showed a video of Elwell at La Reggia in Secaucus apparently discussing the Transit Village development and musing that he should have asked the developers for $2M on top of their $4M payment to Secaucus, rather than the $1M he got for the town to maintain the roads, according to the Record.
The Record is live-blogging the trial at this link.
It remains unclear if Dwek will testify
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[Updated 6/17: w/ letter from prosecutors re: Elwell tampering charge)] Jury selection wrapped up for the trial of former Secaucus mayor Dennis Elwell on Tuesday as attorneys for the government and Elwell whittled a pool down to 12 jurors and four alternates.
The trial is set to start Monday, June 20, at 9:30 a.m. in Newark before Judge Jose Linares.
Prosecutors fanned the flames of the pending trial this week when two assistant U.S. attorneys told Linares that Elwell violated a court order when he spoke with potential witnesses in the trial after he knew they were questioned by the FBI.
In a bid to get the evidence admitted for the pending trial, the U.S. attorneys said Elwell had his wife call an unnamed female witness who he previously had a close relationship with and insisted on talking to her despite her protests.
[Added 6/15: The witness is identified in a filing June 15 by Elwell’s attorneys as his longtime secretary Madelon Michaels. Conversations with Sandra Mancini at her hair salon in town and La Reggia owner Alfonso Corbosiero were also referenced by prosecutors. Elwell’s attorneys are fighting the evidence of tampering, saying the former mayor did not initiate the contact nor did he attempt to intimidate, coerce or threaten them.]
[Added 6/17 w/ image of letter: The government’s motion “is a purposeful attempt to malign defendant’s character and poison the jury without a scintilla of proof that [Elwell’s] alleged conduct demostrated a consciousness of guilt,” wrote Elwell’s attorneys, Thomas Cammarata and Jeffrey Garrigan.]
Town officials like Mayor Mike Gonnelli, business administrator Dave Drumeler and Assemblyman Vincent Prieto are among 34 potential witnesses in the case, along with three men who have pleaded guilty in the large corruption sting — Ronald Manzo, Edward Cheatam and Denis Jaslow.
Elwell was in court this week during jury selection. The Record reported that his wife, Annette, sat behind him as the former mayor “frequently turned to her for whispered exchanges, to squeeze her hand or offer her glasses of water.” Annette is also among potential witnesses.
Elwell faces charges he took, via an intermediary, a $10,000 bribe from a government witness posing as a hotel developer. The former mayor claims the money was a campaign contribution.