HOBOKEN -- Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo released a statement on Tuesday morning regarding the newly published surveillance tapes of a meeting between himself and FBI informant Solomon Dwek from 2009, saying he's "glad the tapes were released" and "they have now lost all their mystery."
The tapes show Russo discussing a $5,000 payment from the undercover informant, who was part of an FBI sting operation that brought down more than 40 religious and political leaders in 2009.
The sting did not bring down Russo, as he never accepted any bribes from Dwek. But the tapes do show him having a cordial lunch with Dwek and listening to what he has to say.
After the meeting, Russo never met with Dwek again.
The approximately hour-long tape shows a conversation between Russo, Dwek, and two other men at Jersey City's Light Horse Tavern.
Russo and Dwek discuss Hudson County politics, family, the survival of Atlantic City, and ultimately, development in Hoboken.
"While the tape appears to have been edited in several points, it shows, in long, tedious detail, what many fundraising meetings sound like," Russo said. "This was a fundraising meeting, and Solomon Dwek is not the first person to offer to make campaign contributions to a councilman."
The tapes were released in three parts on Monday on NJ.com by the authors of the new book "The Jersey Sting."
Dwek, after discussing development plans for Hoboken, offers Russo $5,000 which would be forwarded through a third person.
"I don't want anything in my name," Dwek says to Russo.
Russo responds: "You're a smart man."
Dwek says he'd give the third party $5,000 "next week" and they'll "work it out from there." When the offer is made, Russo, who is eating at the time, appears to give a nod. No clear, verbal agreement is made. Dwek says there will be more after the election.
The maximum individual campaign donation limit is $2,600.
The authors of the book quoted speculation that Russo was subsequently warned away from Dwek by a lawyer or by his father, former Mayor Anthony Russo, who had spent time in prison due to a bribe.
Russo himself said that when it became clear that Dwek was going to play by his own rules, Russo avoided further contact.
Russo was not up for election in 2009, but Council President Beth Mason was in a heated race with now imprisoned former Mayor Peter Cammarano and current Mayor Dawn Zimmer. Russo backs Mason in the tape. Cammarano was arrested after meeting with Dwek in 2009 for accepting $25,000 in bribes.
Russo says in the tapes that he will "always make sure [his] friends are heard before anyone else."
In the tapes, Russo does not specifically mention cash contributions, or doing anything in exchange for money.
Russo said Tuesday, "As boastful as the meeting became, at no time did I suggest that I would engage in any illegal activity. I told Mr. Dwek, as I tell any developer who wants to develop in town, I believe that development should be a tool for the city to help create affordable housing, fund open space and infrastructure improvements, create jobs and fund recreation and senior programs."
He also notes, "Towards the end of the meeting, as the tape shows, I became uncomfortable with Mr. Dwek’s demeanor and got the impression that he was making incorrect assumptions about me. I called the meeting to an end and never met with him again."
Opponents of Russo, including his opponent in his upcoming council race, have called for him to be removed as the head of the Budget and Fnance Committee.
View the full video HERE. For more, stay tuned to HudsonReporter.com. - Ray Smith