Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini pleaded not guilty last week to a six-count indictment charging her with taking money from a government informant who offered bribes to political and religious leaders this past spring as part of an FBI sting. More interestingly, the indictment contains assertions that Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy was more involved in the dealings than previously believed.
“The same evidence, the same reshuffled deck, same Solomon Dwek.” – Brian Neary
Beldini was Healy’s election treasurer during the campaign.
Beldini allegedly accepted $20,000 in payments from developer Solomon Dwek in exchange for helping Dwek get city approvals for his purported development project on Garfield Avenue. Some of those payments were, she has alleged, meant to go to Healy’s re-election campaign.
Beldini was among the 44 people arrested in July in connection with the sting, and had already been indicted closer to her arrest. But this most recent indictment is new and supersedes the previous one. Beldini is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 27.
Beldini is one of three people from the July arrests who have pleaded not guilty and are seeking a trial, along with brothers Louis and Ronald Manzo. Eight others have pleaded guilty.
More about ‘JC Official No. 1’
Beldini’s case is one of the most interesting of those arrested. Her alleged dealings with Dwek were – she said – on behalf of her boss and longtime friend, Mayor Healy, named in the new arrest documents as “JC Official No. 1.”
Beldini’s new indictment sheds further light on Healy’s alleged involvement with Dwek.
Before the indictment, it had already been reported that Healy took part in a March 13 meeting at the Medical Center Luncheonette in Jersey City. According to federal documents, at that meeting, Healy, Beldini, former Hudson County employee Ed Cheatam (who has already pleaded guilty), and the late Jack Shaw, a longtime political consultant, met with Dwek to discuss helping him with his Garfield Avenue project and his contributing to Healy’s reelection campaign.
But information in the more recent Beldini indictment shows after that March meeting, Dwek gave $5,000 in cash each to Shaw and Cheatam, cash that was “converted into four $2,500 donor checks totaling $10,000 benefitting JC official 1’s reelection campaign.”
Two of those checks went to the Jersey City Democratic Committee for a March 28 fundraiser at the Beacon condo complex on Montgomery Street.
Also in the new indictment, just as in the old one, Healy, along with Beldini, met a second time with Dwek on April 30, when Dwek agreed to give another $10,000 payment to Shaw to be converted into political contributions for Healy’s campaign, the indictment says.
Healy only had this to say about the new indictment last week: “This is an ongoing investigation, and as it evolves and new charges are filed, we continue to be dismayed by the negative light this has cast on Jersey City. That being said, we continue to conduct honest, open and efficient government and are focused on moving our city forward. Like all defendants in a criminal investigation, Leona Beldini is innocent until proven guilty and we will await the outcome of the court proceedings in this matter.”
Also last week, former Jersey City fire investigator Michael Manzo pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newark on Wednesday to accepting a $5,000 payment from Dwek. Manzo is scheduled to be sentenced on March 15. (He is not related to Ronald and Louis Manzo.)
Manzo had served in the Jersey City Fire Department for 27 years until he retired on Aug. 1.
Manzo’s attorney, Frank Arleo, said his client pleaded guilty because he is a “good man who got caught up in a bad situation.”
The charges against Manzo result from a meeting on May 6 with Dwek at an undisclosed location in North Bergen, also attended by Manzo’s alleged associates Joseph Castagna, a former Jersey City health officer, and Denis Jaslow, a former investigator for the Hudson County Board of Elections (who has already pleaded guilty). Manzo at the time was running for the Ward B City Council seat in Jersey City, which was eventually won by Phil Kenny (who has also pleaded guilty).
Manzo admitted in court Wednesday that he agreed at the May 6 meeting to accept $5,000 from Dwek, which was allegedly paid to Castagna and Jaslow the next day at the same North Bergen location. Manzo also admitted that Castagna had allegedly delivered an envelope with $5,000 cash to him on May 8, two days before the Jersey City municipal election.
Manzo agreed in court to “provide more information” on others who may have taken payments from Dwek or been involved with others who took payments.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.