NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Operation Bid Rig, a federal sting that snared 46 people in 2009 and left indelible images of rabbis and politicians being herded off buses, quietly reached a milestone Monday as the final defendant pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.
With a small group of family members looking on, former Jersey City council candidate Lavern Webb-Washington pleaded guilty to illegally using contributions to her political campaign, specifically $1,000, for personal use.
She faces up to a year in prison when she is sentenced in August, more than five years after FBI agents rounded up 44 people on a hot July morning. Two people were arrested in the following weeks.
More than three-quarters were convicted or pleaded guilty to some form of political corruption or money laundering; one pleaded guilty to illegally trafficking in human kidneys. One man remains a fugitive.
The guilty included two mayors, a state assemblyman and numerous northern New Jersey public officials who took money from Solomon Dwek, an admitted con artist who ran a $100 million real estate Ponzi scheme in his own Orthodox Jewish community.
Unlike previous New Jersey corruption cases, however, the prosecution wasn't a grand slam. Two defendants, Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez and former state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, were acquitted by juries, and four others had charges dropped after a judge ruled federal extortion laws applied to elected officials but not to those running for office.
Webb-Washington initially pleaded guilty in 2010 to an extortion-related charge and was sentenced to a year in prison, but her plea was vacated after U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares' ruling was upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court Appeals in 2011.
Webb-Washington is alleged to have taken $15,000 from Dwek in three installments. Her lawyer, Wanda M. Akin, said Monday her client expects to have paid back all of the money by the time she is sentenced in August.
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