The fate of a former Newark mayor and his ex-mistress on charges of corruption in the sale of city-owned land went to a federal jury Wednesday after five weeks of testimony.
Prosecutors alleged that Sharpe James abused his office and betrayed his constituents by arranging for the sale of nine city-owned properties at a discounted rate of $46,000 to former girlfriend Tamika Riley from 2001 to 2005.
Riley, 39, who admits to having an affair with the 72-year-old James, quickly sold the properties for $665,000 without starting required rehabilitation work on most of them, prosecutors said.
James' lawyer, Thomas Ashley, argued that no evidence showed James assisted Riley or even had knowledge of her transactions, and that his interest in redeveloping the struggling city was well within the scope of his duties as mayor.
Ashley stressed that the Newark City Council, not the mayor, had final approval over the land prices and sales. He presented only two witnesses, both members of the council, who said James never tried to influence their decisions.
Riley lawyer Gerald Krovatin asserted that she got no special treatment because of her affair with James, a married man twice her age, and claimed she was swept up in the investigation of James only because of their "intimate" relationship.
Krovatin also blamed Riley's real estate lawyers for failing to protect her from missteps in the land deals.
The 41 witnesses heard in the trial did not include James or Riley, a publicist who once ran a clothing boutique near City Hall, where James led the state's largest city from 1986 to 2006. He was also a Democratic state senator from 1999 to January 2008.
James faces five charges, including fraud and conspiracy. Riley faces those charges and eight others, including evading taxes and cheating to obtain subsidized housing assistance for herself.
While some of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, prosecutors have said that according to federal guidelines for sentencing, James would likely get seven to eight years if convicted on all counts. Riley faces a similar range.
A verdict in his favor would not end James' legal issues. He still faces a federal trial on charges he used city-issued credit cards to pay for $58,000 worth of personal expenses while he was mayor, including trips with several women other than his wife, to Martha's Vineyard, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Rio de Janeiro.