SECAUCUS AND BEYOND -- Former Secaucus Mayor Elwell took the stand yesterday to testify in his own defense and will continue to testify today. Elwell maintained a serious composure on the stand as he has throughout the trial and filled the room with his voice as he replied to each question posed to him by Defense Attorney Thomas Cammarata.
Cammarata opened his questioning by asking Elwell if he'd ever had any conversations with Solomon Dwek, the FBI informant who posed as a real estate developer seeking to build a hotel in Secaucus, that were not taped. Elwell said no. Cammarata then asked if Elwell had ever promised, in exchange for any money, to take official action in the present or the future on May 28 or July 17, two dates of meetings with Dwek, to which Elwell replied, Never and No, I did not.
The questioning then shifted to Elwell's history in Secaucus, his roles in government, how a developer would go about meeting with the town, and the levels of contributions that could be given by individuals or corporations to individuals and committees supporting primaries and elections.
In his testimony, Elwell elaborated on his power or lack thereof as Mayor of Secaucus both in the fact that the Meadowlands Commission controlled 88 percent of Secaucus land and and in any official voting that would take place on the Town Council. Elwell stated that the mayor's vote would count in a tie-breaker but that Secaucus had a weak-mayor form of government, one in which the council has greater power over voting and budget matters.
Elwell was among 46 politicians and religious leaders arrested in 2009 in connection with a government sting. Elwell’s trial began last week in U.S. District Court.
Elwell was arrested on July 23, 2009 and faces three counts: conspiracy to commit extortion, attempted extortion, and bribery.
Federal prosecutors allege that Elwell took a $10,000 cash bribe from Dwek. They say the money was delivered through Elwell associate Ronald Manzo. Manzo pleaded guilty last month to receiving money to facilitate a payment to Elwell, and was a witness against Elwell in the trial last week.