SECAUCUS – Former Mayor Dennis Elwell was arraigned today in federal court on two counts of extortion and one count of accepting corrupt payments. Elwell entered a plea of not guilty.
Elwell and political associate Ronald Manzo were among 44 political and religious leaders arrested on July 23 in an FBI sting operation. The men were indicted last month.
Federal prosecutors allege that Elwell took a $10,000 cash bribe from a witness who was cooperating with federal investigators. In exchange for the payment, the ex-mayor allegedly agreed to help the witness get a hotel built in Secaucus.
According to the indictment, Elwell and Manzo allegedly conspired with former Jersey City Housing Authority Commissioner Edward Cheatam “and others to extort cash payments from [government witness Solomon Dwek] with the promise that Elwell would help [Dwek] obtain development approvals in Secaucus.”
Manzo, who was arraigned today along with Elwell, also pleaded not guilty. Manzo was indicted on the same three counts Elwell is facing, in addition to a separate charge that he accepted a “corrupt payment” of $5,000 to introduce Dwek to Elwell.
The extortion charges each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars, according to the indictment. The third offense carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
If convicted on all three counts, Elwell could also face a maximum of $750,000 in fines. – E. Assata Wright