Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James was indicted Thursday on corruption charges involving land sales and allegations that he spent extravagantly on himself and several women using city-issued credit cards.
The federal grand jury’s 33-count indictment charges James with fraud for allegedly facilitating and approving the cut-rate sales of city-owned land to a female companion.
It also charges James, 71, with using the city-issued credit cards on himself and eight women during trips to destinations including Rio de Janeiro, Puerto Rico and Martha’s Vineyard, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie and state Attorney General Anne Milgram announced.
“The allegations in this indictment are stark examples of the greed and arrogance of unchecked power,” Christie said. “When Sharpe James had a choice between enriching himself or helping the people of Newark, he chose self-enrichment.”
James surrendered to the FBI shortly after the indictment was announced. He later appeared in court and answered “Yes, yes,” when asked whether he understood the charges he was facing; the judge set bail at $250,000.
The woman accused of buying the bargain-priced city land, Tamika Riley, also was charged with fraud and was to appear in court. Riley, a 38-year-old publicist and former clothing store operator in Newark, allegedly made more than $500,000 from the land sales, authorities said.
Ethical questions have long surrounded James, who has a home on the Jersey shore, a yacht and a Rolls-Royce. He has been a Democratic state senator since 1999, while also serving as Newark’s mayor until last year, when he decided not to seek re-election after two decades in the job.
Tom Wilson, the state Republican Party chairman, blamed Democratic leaders for tolerating James’ ethics lapses and called on James to resign from the Senate.
Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine and Senate President Richard Codey said the accusations were best addressed in court.
James has said little publicly since federal investigators notified him that he was the target of a corruption probe last month.
In a handwritten letter to The Associated Press, dated June 16, he said he never had the power to broker land deals or set prices by himself.
“No, no, no, the mayor is not a boss or a lord or can give away municipal land,” he wrote.
The indictment charges that James improperly steered properties to Riley, and that she, with James’s help, quickly resold at least seven properties at much higher prices. Riley was able to buy the properties though she lacked real estate and construction experience and the financial ability to rehabilitate the properties, the indictments alleges.
Riley also raised and donated campaign funds for James and traveled internationally with him, enjoying vacations and meals partly paid for by the city credit cards, the indictment alleges.
In all, the credit card charges listed in the indictment total more than $58,000 between 2001 and 2006. They include luxury hotel suites, expensive meals, airfare, car rentals including one for a Jaguar convertible, and a trip to Florida to test drive a Rolls-Royce the former mayor was considering purchasing, according to the indictment.
James’ election in 1986 made him Newark’s second black mayor. He collects an annual pension of about $125,000 from Newark and earns $49,000 a year as a senator. He announced in April that he also wouldn’t seek another term in the Senate after his current term expires in January.