When Guy Catrillo reports to Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution in southern New Jersey on Monday at noon, he will begin spending the next 18 months as inmate 30121-050.
The 55-year-old Catrillo, a former Jersey City planning aide and City Hall employee who ran for City Council last year, has been saying his farewells to family and friends as well as taking care of remaining business in his beloved hometown.
Last week, he spoke about the July sting operation that netted him and dozens of other officials. The downtown Jersey City native is the first of the officials and religious leaders in Operation Bid Rig to report to prison.
“Now the brakes are on.” – Guy Catrillo
In an exclusive interview with the Jersey City Reporter last week, Catrillo said that, in a way, he welcomes jail because it will give him time to compose a film music score for a Christmas play that he has written, and complete other songs he has wanted to write.
“This is given me a chance to put on the brakes, because my life has been nonstop,” Catrillo said. “Now the brakes are on.”
And Catrillo is singing anything but a sad song about the government’s treatment of him, calling it “absolutely professional” even though he is now a convicted felon stripped of his right to vote and bear firearms. Catrillo surrendered his passport permanently, can’t hold another government job and most of all, can’t appeal the government’s case against him because he has pleaded guilty.
Catrillo says he has readied himself for prison by trying not to dwell too much on the unfortunate turn his life has taken. He also has been constantly monitored by federal agents, who checked on his physical and mental well-being. Last July, a Jersey City political consultant who was arrested, Jack Shaw, was found dead in his apartment five days later. The matter still has not been ruled either a suicide or accidental, but the coroner has reported valium in his system.
Catrillo is optimistic about his future beyond his incarceration, saying he has some jobs lined up upon release in a year and a half.
6 a.m. knock at door
Catrillo repeated during the interview, “I don’t want to talk about the case,” but he did “take responsibility” for his actions, citing his violation of the Hobbs Act – a U.S. federal law that prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce – by accepting money from Dwek. Dwek wanted Catrillo use the money for Catrillo’s campaign.
“It was a fairly high price to pay for something like that,” Catrillo said.
Catrillo described the day of his arrest, when federal agents came to the door of his home at 6 a.m. Thinking they were there to tell him that his cousin had died due to his work as a fireman, Catrillo said the plainclothes agents entered his home very “discreet.” He was not read his Miranda rights.
Catrillo admitted in the interview that he had in his house the bulk of the $15,000 that Dwek gave to him to hold, minus a couple thousand dollars he spent to help keep some friends from eviction.
Political reunion in jail
He was brought to Newark by federal authorities and placed in a jail cell awaiting his appearance in court. He looked around and saw many of the arrested public officials, including Jack Shaw, Jersey City Councilman Mariano Vega, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, and Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano.
“I’m looking at these people and thinking, they are so seasoned, how did they caught up in this?” Catrillo said. “I know why I ended up here is because I was naïve.”
In the next jail cell was a Jersey City employee who, unlike the other officials, didn’t keep a low profile, according to Catrillo. Catrillo says that the employee cursed out Dwek and other people whom he blamed for his downfall.
“I said ‘Shut the f--- up, this place is being videotaped,’ ” Catrillo said.
Catrillo also met some of the Jewish religious leaders arrested, including Rabbi Saul Kassin, the leading Syrian Sephardic Jewish cleric in the United States, who said a prayer for Catrillo. Some of the leaders had been implicated in a money laundering scheme and were charged, but they have not entered a plea.
Dwek, Chris Christie, and Healy
Catrillo was fairly diplomatic about some of the major players in the corruption scandal.
Gov. Christopher Christie was, until he resigned last year to run for governor, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey overseeing the investigation. Ultimately, the arrests occurred during the gubernatorial campaign season, shining a poor light on Christie’s Democratic opponent, then-Gov. Jon Corzine.
Catrillo said he was a supporter of Christie for governor. Catrillo cited Democratic New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo possibly using his position to “ruin” the careers of current New York Gov. David Patterson and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, also both Democrats, but Catrillo did not elaborate further. Cuomo is currently considering a run for the New York governor’s seat.
As for Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who gained notoriety for meeting with Dwek twice but hasn’t been charged with a crime, Catrillo said he doesn’t think Healy is “corrupt.” Several of those arrested said the money they collected was for Healy’s re-election campaign, but there are questions as to whether Healy knew of the terms of the donations.
On the subject of Dwek, whom Catrillo knew as “David,” he recalled running into him when he was processed for prison and seeing him shake his head. Catrillo said he recalled how the rabbi Kassin described Dwek.
“I remembered Kassin saying that Dwek was ‘an instrument of God sent to us for a reason, and we were not to be angry with him,’ ” Catrillo said.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.