Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, front, and his brother, Ralphiel Mack, right,… (Mel Evans / Associated Press )
Trenton, N.J., Mayor Tony Mack -- aka “Napoleon,” “the Little Guy” and “Honey Fitz” -- was released on bond Monday after his arrest earlier in the day on a federal corruption charge, the result of a two-year probe into alleged kickbacks taken in connection with a purported development project.
Mack, whose administration has been hammered by corruption and incompetence accusations since he was elected in 2010, did not speak as he left a federal courthouse after being freed on $150,000 bond. His office did not respond to email or telephone requests for comment.
In July, when FBI agents raided Mack’s home and office, the 46-year-old mayor denied wrongdoing. But in a 31-page complaint unsealed Monday, federal officials accused Mack; his brother, Ralphiel Mack; and Joseph Giorgianni, aka “the Fat Man,” among other monikers, of involvement in a scheme that was supposed to put $119,000 into the mayor’s hands in exchange for city support of a developer’s proposed parking lot.
According to the court documents, $54,000 in cash was handed over, and the rest was to be paid later.
“Time and again, we have seen public officials in New Jersey who are all too willing to sell their power and betray the public’s trust,” U.S. Atty. Paul J. Fishman said at a news conference announcing Mack’s arrest.
“And he allegedly chose as his middleman a convicted felon who was simultaneously heading a conspiracy to traffic in prescription medication,” Fishman said, referring to Giorgianni.
Giorgianni spent time in prison in the early 1980s on child sex abuse charges. On Monday, he was also charged with illegally selling prescription painkillers from his Trenton restaurant, JoJo’s Steakhouse.
It was there that prosecutors say most of the corruption scheme unfolded. They say Giorgianni met several times in JoJo’s with a man claiming to represent the parking lot developer. In reality, the man was working with federal agents in a sting operation that had been underway since September 2010, shortly after Mack took office.
“I can be bought,” Giorgianni said during one recorded meeting with the man, according to the complaint. “I like money so much; I hate the poor.”
At another meeting, the two discussed the hand-over of bribes and agreed that half would be paid after the purported developer had met the mayor, the complaint said. The other half was to be paid after the city formally gave the parking garage project to the developer.
“It's all going to be green, all cash,” the undercover agent said. “Ain't that a beautiful color?” Giorgianni replied, according to the complaint.
Once cash began flowing, prosecutors said, the accused used a system of code words and nicknames to send messages to one other, including using “Uncle Remus” to refer to money received by Giorgianni for the mayor.
When FBI agents searched Giorgianni's home in July, they found more than $9,400 in cash, most of it bills containing the same serial numbers as those paid out as bribes in the sting operation, prosecutors said. They also found empty folders allegedly used to deliver cash payments of $10,000 and $25,000.
Prosecutors said cash with serial numbers matching those used in the sting also was found in the home of Mack's brother, Ralphiel, who is a high school football coach employed by Trenton's Department of Education.
Mack was arrested in his home early Monday. His hands were cuffed behind his back and his white shirt was hanging out of the trousers of his suit as agents led him away. The charge against him, his brother and Giorgianni is conspiracy to extort bribes. It’s punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Giorgianni made headlines in 1982 when his attorney won him an early release from prison on the sex charges by arguing that his client’s obesity made it dangerous for him to be behind bars. He eventually was returned to prison and was paroled in 1985.
On Monday, Giorgianni was brought to court in a wheelchair, looking slimmer than when he weighed nearly 500 pounds but breathing through an oxygen tube. He was released on $250,000 bond and put under house arrest.
Mack survived a recall attempt in November amid allegations from some critics that he had fired most department heads and replaced them with unqualified friends. According to local news reports, the housing director Mack chose quit after it was discovered he had been convicted of theft in the past. His chief of staff was arrested in connection with an alleged attempt to buy heroin.
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