Jersey City Councilman Mariano Vega was indicted Thursday on eight counts by the U.S. Attorney’s office in connection with the July 23 arrests of 44 public officials and religious leaders.
Vega, 60, was among those arrested on charges pertaining to allegedly accepting bribes from government informant Solomon Dwek.
Vega was charged in the indictment with allegedly taking $30,000 from Dwek that was to be funneled into Vega’s campaign fund when he ran for reelection earlier this year (and won a fourth term), including payments after the election allegedly in exchange for Vega’s help getting Dwek approvals for a purported project on Garfield Avenue.
“I’m prepared to go into this for the long run because I have a reputation to keep.” – Mariano Vega
Since his arrest, Vega has steadfastly refused to step down from his council seat despite calls to do so from his council colleague, Steven Fulop, and from members of the public. However, he did resign as council president.
At one recent meeting, residents exposed Vega’s lack of disclosure regarding a donation he received last year from an engineering firm that was approved by the council to work on a public project. Vega had voted with the majority to approve the contract.
Last week, Vega maintained his innocence.
“I’m prepared to go into this for the long run because I have a reputation to keep,” Vega said. “I will plead not guilty and I will spend whatever it takes to defend myself.”
Vega added, “What would you do, especially if you feel how I feel?”
Vega is being represented by noted Jersey City criminal defense attorney Peter Willis.
Corruption prosecution interrupted
In related news, on Tuesday, former Jersey City officials Guy Catrillo and Maher Khalil were to be sentenced by a federal judge for allegedly accepting bribes from Dwek. Both have pleaded guilty.
But U.S. District Judge Jose Linares rescheduled the sentencing dates for both men.
Catrillo’s date is now Jan. 24. Khalil’s attorney, Michael Pedicini, said no new date had been scheduled yet. Catrillo is represented by attorney Michael Koribanics.
The reason for the date change, according to Pedicini, is that the probation officer assigned to each of those arrested needs more time to put together a pre-sentence investigation report. The report contains information like previous criminal activity to family history.
“The probation officers do a very thorough job when they get a case,” Pedicini said.
Catrillo faces a sentence of 18 to 24 months, while for Khalil it is an even harsher 70 to 87 months. But both can get shorter or possibly longer sentences based on what judge gleans from the pre-sentence reports.
Catrillo said in a brief interview he was “doing okay” and volunteering his time to help in various holiday events. Pedicini said his client was “just fine” and is “being private and very remorseful.”
Besides Catrillo and Khalil, there are others who have already pleaded guilty in court and are awaiting sentencing: Edward Cheatam and Denis Jaslow (this Tuesday, Dec. 22), Jimmy King (Jan. 5), Phil Kenny and Lavern Webb-Washington (Jan. 12), and Mike Manzo (March 15).
Cheatam’s lawyer, John Collins, said his client will definitely not be sentenced on Tuesday because of the delay in the pre-sentence report, and no new date has been issued.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.