Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr., announced on Friday that in connection with the July 23 arrests of 44 public officials and religious leaders statewide, former Hudson County affirmative action officer and Jersey City Board of Education vice president Edward Cheatam pleaded guilty today to conspiring with Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and others to accept bribes, illicit political contributions and other benefits in return for their official influence.
Cheatam, who was also a commissioner with the Jersey City Housing Authority, admitted before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares that he personally took $70,000 in bribes from cooperating witness Solomon Dwek, who represented himself as real estate developer, in exchange for Dwek getting approvals for a purported condo project on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City.
Cheatam also admitted to introducing Dwek to officials including: New Jersey Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith; Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo and his brother Ronald; then-Hoboken mayoral candidate Peter Cammarano and North Hudson Utilities Authority Commissioner Michael Shaffer; Jersey City Council candidates Lavern Webb-Washington, Lori Serrano and Jimmy King; and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Ellwell.
Also pleading gu ilty today was Denis Jaslow, an investigator with the Hudson County Board of Elections, who admitted that he took $15,500 in bribes from Dwek in order to facilitate meetings between Dwek and Jersey City council candidate Michael J. Manzo and Joseph Castagna, also a Jersey City official, as well as with a specific candidate for municipal office (unnamed) who accepted $10,000 in illicit political contributions from Dwek. Jaslow also admitted that he helped convert bribes into illicit contributions through the use of “straw” donors.
Cheatam and Jaslow both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, which carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Judge Linares scheduled sentencing for both Cheatam and Jaslow on Dec. 22. - RK