Image: Sharpe James
Mike Derer  /  AP file
Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, center, leaves the U.S. District courthouse in Newark, N.J., on July 12. He returned to court Monday to plead innocent to fraud and corruption charges.
updated 7/23/2007 3:07:26 PM ET 2007-07-23T19:07:26

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James pleaded not guilty Monday to federal corruption charges stemming from the last few years of his two decades running city hall.

James, 71, faces multiple fraud counts accusing him of using city-issued credit cards to pay for $58,000 worth of personal trips and expenses. He’s also accused of engineering the sale of city-owned properties at a cut rate to Tamika Riley, described by prosecutors as his companion on many of his trips.

Riley, 38, was indicted along with James and also pleaded not guilty Monday. She is charged with fraud, stemming from what authorities say was a scheme to profit from the resale of the land, and with tax evasion.

Neither answered reporters’ questions before or after the 30-minute hearing.

The FBI opened its investigation into James about three years ago. He ran the city from 1986 to 2006.

Prosecutors said their evidence included approximately 8,000 documents, the hard drives from four computers, including Riley’s, two search warrants and a tape recording. They said they expected a 12-week trial with 60 witnesses.

U.S. District Judge William J. Martini set a Feb. 4 trial date, but defense attorneys said they wanted more time to prepare.

One of James’ four attorneys, Raymond M. Brown, said the indictment mentions 40 alleged trips taken by the mayor, including some overseas, and said the defense team will need more time to interview witnesses at the different locales.

James is also a state senator, but he said he won’t seek another term.

Riley, a former Newark publicist, now manages a clothing store in Jersey City, according to her lawyer.

James could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the most serious counts.

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