The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting in today's paper that the bribery and corruption probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) leading to the arrest of eleven public officials in New Jersey, and one private citizen with connections to a powerful political racket based in Atlantic City, extended outside New Jersey to at least two other states, Connecticut and Michigan, and that the scheme was even brought to a national school board conference in San Francisco by one of the sting's cooperating witnesses: a bogus insurance business.
The FBI's investigation began as a probe into the awarding of business contracts in exchange for bribes and promises of kickbacks within the Pleasantville school district outside Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The FBI organized a shell business, Coastal Solutions, L.L.C., based in Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County, NJ, and enlisted the help of another company, Aetna Roofing of Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey.
Coastal Solutions, was run by a cooperating FBI witness, John N. D'Angelo III, a well-respected local businessman from Atlantic County, NJ.
The Trenton, NJ business, Aetna Roofing, is headed by Bruce Begg.
The FBI, using undercover surveillance video and tape recording devices, caught Pleasantville, NJ Board of Education (BOE) members on tape and camera accepting bribes and promises of kickbacks in exchange for securing insurance and roofing contracts for the Pleasantville school district. The investigation began in the spring of 2006.
On Thursday, September 6, 2007, the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Christopher Christie, announced the arrests of numerous past and present Pleasantville BOE members including: past president of the BOE and former member Jayson Adams, former BOE member and current Pleasantville city council member, Maurice "Pete" Calloway, former BOE member James McCormick, current BOE member Rafael Velez, and current Pleasantville BOE president James Pressley.
The Pleasantville, NJ school district is a so-called Abbott , or high risk, low attainment district whose designation enables it to receive state funding. The district currently receives $65 million in funding.
On that Thursday, September 6th, FBI agents fanned out across New Jersey arresting corrupt public officials and one private citizen, with ties to the Callaway political machine in Atlantic County, NJ, in what had morphed into a statewide---and now, apparently national---bribery and corruption probe that also netted two northern New Jersey state assemblymen and a mayor.
The two state assemblymen, Mims Hackett, a member of the New Jersey General Assembly representing the 27th Legislative District in Essex County, and Assemblyman Alfred E. Steele of the 35th Legislative District representing Passaic and Paterson , New Jersey, both resigned their seats in the state legislature on September 10, 2007.
Also arrested was Mayor Sammy Rivera of Passaic, who served on the Hispanic Leadership Conference of New York Senator Hillary Clinton's US presidential campaign. Clinton spoke at the annual New Jersey state Democratic conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey on the day that Christie's office announced the arrests. Clinton did not address the specific allegations of bribery and corruption alleged in this particular case, nor did she address the larger national problem of political corruption and over-influence of special interest groups in the US political system.
The northern New Jersey public officials became entangled in the investigation after Pleasantville officials referred the FBI investigators to them exposing what US Attorney Christie has characterized as a network of corruption.
Rivera has refused to resign fom his mayoralty and none of the indicted public officials in Atlantic County have resigned. Pleasantville Mayor Ralph Peterson has condemned the arrested Pleasantville officials in a sharply worded public rebuke, and has stated the Pleasantville BOE has shown "...it can not govern itself."
According to sources cited in the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as sources connected to the officials arrested in New Jersey, the corruption probe is ongoing and more arrests are anticipated.
Based on the Philadelphia Inquirer's report in Sunday's edition (September 16, 2007) that network now appears to have extended even beyond New Jersey.
An official in Detroit, Michigan has confirmed, according to the Inquirer, that he met with a representative of Coastal Solutions sometime in 2007. An official in New Haven, Connecticut also met with Coastal according to an Inquirer source familiar with the FBI investigation.
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