Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Jury Trial in Federal Corruption Probe Based on Informant Solomon Dwek Convicts Beldini: Are Some Defendants Living on Hope?

AP Photo: Government Informant Solomon Dwek
Updated:

Recently, the former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini was convicted on two of six felony counts in what is known as a “split verdict,” based on the testimony of government informant Solomon Dwek. She was the first person to go on trial as a result of a massive federal sting operation targeting political corruption and money laundering that resulted in the arrest of 44 persons last summer. Beldini was found guilty of accepting bribes, but was acquitted on the more serious charges of extortion and extortion conspiracy.

Some attorneys are trying to spin the Beldini split verdict as a problem for government prosecutors in future trials related to this massive corruption and money laundering probe. However, the split verdict in the Beldini case presents no substantive problem for the government and raises false hopes for some Defendants who may actually be guilty but are willing to take their chances in a criminal trial, as I will describe below.

In interviews with the Associated Press, certain defense attorneys tried to spin the split verdict in a positive light for their client's future prospects:

"It's actually a very confusing verdict," said Robert Fuggi, attorney for indicted former state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, whose trial is scheduled for early May.

"She got convicted on the same counts she got acquitted on. The main thing I would take away is that the government is on tenuous ground by the way they conducted this investigation and by putting all their eggs in one basket, and the jury showed that yesterday," Fuggi said Friday.

[Snip]

Brian Neary, Beldini's attorney, said he would appeal. He said the verdict repudiates the informant, failed real estate speculator Solomon Dwek, who secretly recorded hours of meetings with public officials and was the government's chief witness at the trial.

[Snip]

The split verdict likely will give defense attorneys more confidence going forward, said Henry Klingeman, who represents indicted Hudson County political consultant Joseph Cardwell.

"It has to, for the simple reason that the government usually wins 100 percent of these cases, and in this one they won 33 percent," Klingeman said.

While it is true that the government "usually wins 100%" of corruption cases, many such cases are won with split verdicts, contrary to Klingeman's spin that they "won" only "33 percent" in the Belsini case.

There are two lessons that I learned back in the day as the criminal CFO of Crazy Eddie: (1) some defendants who are actually guilty as charged live on the hope of a full acquittal and (2) all the government has to do is to hang you once.

In other words, if the government charges a criminal Defendant with several felonies, all the prosecutor has to do is to win a conviction on a single felony count and the convicted felon ends up in prison, barring a successful appeal. It's little consolation for a convicted felon rotting in prison that their attorney landed them a partial victory by getting them acquitted on some other felony counts, especially when such counts could have been dropped if the Defendant had fully cooperated with the investigation and negotiated a plea bargain agreement.

Barring a successful appeal, former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini faces several years in prison as a result of her bribery conviction. She probably could have worked out a successful plea bargain agreement to plead guilty to lesser crimes and may have avoided the time and cost of a gruelling criminal trial if she cooperated with the corruption investigation.

The government's case against Beldini and other Defendants awaiting trial is bolstered by damning videos and tape recordings allegedly catching them in the act of accepting bribes, money laundering, and other schemes. See one sample below:

NJ corruption trial hidden camera video of Solomon Dwek talking to Leona Beldini


Leona Beldini's lawyer, Brian Neary, claimed that Solomon Dwek was a not a credible witness because he is an admitted life-long criminal. However, The Hudson Reporter correctly observes:

Cooperating witnesses such as Dwek do not have to be considered “nice people,” only credible, and other officials such as Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, former Assemblymen L. Harvey Smith and Lou Manzo, and perhaps even former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, have to be shaken as they approach the opening of their own trials on similar charges.
The Hudson Reporter also notes:

Yet the fact that Beldini was cleared of several charges shows the cracks in the federal prosecutors’ case.
On that point, US Attorney Paul Fishman disgrees. He told the Associated Press:
"You can't speculate on why the jury reached one result on one count and one on another count," Fishman said. "What we do know is that jury found that Leona Beldini accepted bribes for official action, and we're pleased with that result."
Prosecutors often rely on criminals like Solomon Dwek to inform on other criminals to build their cases in a process known as "flipping" or plea bargaining. Juries usually convict Defendants based on the testimony of cooperating witnesses like Solomon Dwek as long as they are forthright and truthful about their own crimes. As I described above, Solomon Dwek's testimony was bolstered by very daming video tapes and tape recordings discussing the alleged criminal acts.

Attorney Robert Fuggi representing indicted former state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, whose trial is scheduled for early May told the Associated Press:

The U.S. Attorney's Office has won more than 130 convictions or guilty pleas in corruption cases during the last eight years without a defeat. That could change.
It's a defense attorney's job to advocate for their clients and I respect them for doing their duties. However, I personally doubt that much will change because of the split verdict in the Beldini case. I believe that the government will continue winning its cases, notwithstanding the fact that some juries may render mixed verdicts by convicting Defendants on some felony counts and acquitting them on others.

The Hudson Reporter wisely speculates:

One of the most pressing questions as a result of the Beldini conviction is whether or not she will become the next Dwek and modify or eliminate her jail time by turning in someone else – if indeed, she has anyone she can turn in.
Whether or not Beldini does cooperate with investigators in the future is unsure at present. However, word is out that new witnesses are coming out of the woodwork to cooperate with the Feds. For now, I have some advice for certain Defendants awaiting trial: Don't lie to your attorneys. Tell them the whole truth. If you are in fact guilty as charged, don't make the mistake of living on hope.

I will have more to say about the ongoing and expanding Federal probe into political corruption and money laundering in future blog posts.

Written by:

Sam E. Antar

Previous media coverage of my comments on the ongoing an expanding federal investigation into political corruption and money laundering can be found here:

July 22, 2009: Jewish Week - UPDATED: Syrian Jewish Insider: “Not Surprised” by Arrest of Prominent Rabbis in Breaking FBI Investigation

July 24, 2009: New York Times - Brooklyn Blogs Buzzing With Talk About Rabbis by Paul Vitello

August 17, 2009: Atlantic City Press - Crazy Eddie's cousin stars in Republican hearing on corruption by Derek Harper

August 26, 2009: Jewish Daily Forward - ‘Crazy’ Eddie’s Cousin, a Former Fraudster, Speaks Out on Syrian ‘Subculture of Crime’ by Rebecca Dube

Disclosure:

I am a convicted felon and a former CPA. As the criminal CFO of Crazy Eddie, I helped Eddie Antar and other members of his family mastermind one of the largest securities frauds uncovered during the 1980's. I committed my crimes, simply because I could.

If it weren't for the efforts of the FBI, SEC, Postal Inspector's Office, US Attorney's Office, and class action plaintiff's lawyers who investigated, prosecuted, and sued me, I would still be the criminal CFO of Crazy Eddie today.

After two years of stonewalling government investigations, class action litigations brought by our victims, and lying to my former attorneys, I hired criminal attorney Anthony Mautone and civil attorney Jonathan D. Warner. They correctly advised me to cooperate with the government and the victims of my crimes, rather than risk a trial.

As a result of Mautone's and Warner's wise advice, I was sentenced to only six months of house arrest, 1,200 hours of community service, and paid some nominal fines and disgorgement. In addition, in my settlement with the victims of my crimes, I avoided all civil liability due to my cooperation in helping them recover over $100 million dollars in losses.

Today, I teach the Justice Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, and other federal, state, and local government agencies about white collar crime, completely free of charge. I hope it gets me into heaven, but I doubt that I will ever get there because my crimes are unforgivable.

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