Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Sharpe James Indictment: What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

Murray Sabrin

On Thursday former Newark mayor and state senator Sharpe James was indicted on 33 counts, “including 17 counts of defrauding the residents of Newark with credit cards, four counts of fraud involving local government receipt of federal funds, three counts of improperly favoring girlfriend Tamika Riley through the fraudulent sale of city properties, one count of conspiring to use the U.S. mail to defraud the public, four counts of housing assistance fraud, three counts of tax fraud, and one count of tax evasion.”

Professing his innocence, James spent Friday “politicking” in the streets of Newark to win the hearts and minds and eventually the sympathy of the citizens who will judge the charges brought against His Honor and his former female companion. Whether the trial of Sharpe James will be New Jersey’s version of the O.J. Simpson trial more than a decade ago remains to be seen. O.J. was acquitted by a jury of “his peers” even though the evidence was overwhelming that he killed his former wife and her male friend.

Will the defrauded people of Newark, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, listen to the evidence with an open mind? And if the facts are beyond a reasonable doubt, will a jury vote to convict the Sharpe James on all or most of the counts brought against him?

Meanwhile, if the allegations against Sharpe James are true, who else knew about his corrupt actions? In politics, corruption cannot be hidden from the state’s political elite. In short, what do former and current elected officials, from the governor’s office on down, hear or know about corrupt practices in Newark?

For example, when I was a candidate for governor in 1997 I was told by a reliable source and confirmed by members of the media that Jim McGreevey was either gay or bisexual. It would seem to me then that politicians who worked with him would also have known about McGreevey’s sexual behavior. Therefore, it was no surprise to me when Governor McGreevey announced on August 12, 2004 he was “a gay American.” In fact, a member of the Legislature told me he and his colleagues knew about McGreevy’s sexual preferences for years, when Jim served in the Assembly and then in the Senate.

McGreevey's homosexuality is not the issue. The fact that he then appointed an unqualified individual, with whom he had an alleged affair, to be the state's homeland security director, demonstrated how the personal lives of politicians affect their public responsibilities

As far as the alleged corrupt practices in Newark are concerned, several years ago I was told by two businessmen independently of each other that contractors had to “deliver brown bags of cash to City Hall” to do business in Newark. They did not participate in this practice but knew individuals who were told to pay up or forget about any work in the city.

In addition, one contractor also said that when a city contract was made some of the “boys” from City Hall had to be given no show jobs. And if the contractor didn’t comply, his SUV or vehicle would mysteriously catch fire.

This brings me back to the point of the Sharpe James indictments. If I heard about alleged corrupt practices in Newark that were occurring during the James administration, shouldn’t the gossip through the political grapevine have alerted the State’s Attorneys General and U.S. Attorney’s to begin investigating the James administration years ago?

Honesty, truth, integrity, and justice, are supposed to be defining traits of American society. In New Jersey, given all the indictments and convictions of the past several decades, both the political class and government practices in general have a long way to go to earn the public’s trust.

Murray Sabrin, Ph.D., is Professor of Finance in the Anisfield School of Business, Ramapo College of New Jersey, where he is Executive Director of the Center for Business and Public Policy. He also writes a blog twice a week for the Star-Ledger, Sabrin’s weekly column on national issues will soon appear on