New Jersey fraud scandal: the trial begins

By Paul Berger, January 28, 2010

Government informer Solomon Dwek is expected to be a key witness in the first trial to arise from New Jersey’s largest-ever public corruption bust.

Jersey City deputy mayor Leona Beldini was accused this week in court of accepting $20,000 in illegal campaign donations from Mr Dwek.

Mr Dwek, a property developer in New Jersey’s Syrian Jewish community, posed as a crooked businessman looking to bribe officials in return for planning permission. In fact, he was a federal informant working for the FBI after being caught trying to defraud a bank out of $50 million in 2006.

Rather than face jail, Mr Dwek, the son of a Sephardic community leader, Rabbi Isaac Dwek, offered his services to the FBI, allegedly uncovering a web of money laundering, corruption and fraud. His work, recording and videoing conversations with prominent rabbis, politicians, and others, resulted in 44 arrests on a range of charges last July.

This included the arrest of Levy Yitzchok Rosenbaum, of Brooklyn, who was charged with organ trafficking.

Mr Dwek’s undercover work also led to the arrest of five rabbis from New York and New Jersey, who were charged with money laundering.

Other prominent figures caught up in the probe include three New Jersey mayors and an assemblyman. Almost a dozen people have pleaded guilty.

The remainder will be watching to see how Mr Dwek performs in the trial of Jersey City deputy mayor Beldini and how the jury reacts to a government witness, Mr Dwek, who has already pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

Ms Beldini, 74, is charged with bribery and extortion. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in jail. Her trial opened on Tuesday and is expected to last a few weeks.

Last updated: 4:40pm, January 28 2010