Ex-mayor, lover convicted in corruption case

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal jury convicted ex-Mayor Sharpe James and his former mistress Wednesday of corruption stemming from the cut-rate sale of city land.

James was found guilty of all five charges he faced, including fraud and conspiracy. Under federal guidelines, he could face seven to eight years in prison, but a judge could impose as much as 20 years on some individual counts. James could also be stripped of pensions that provide a six-figure annual income.

His ex-girlfriend, Tamika Riley, was convicted on the same five charges and eight others, including evading taxes and cheating to obtain subsidized housing assistance for herself. She faces a similar possible sentence.

Neither James nor Riley showed any emotion as the verdicts were read. The two and their lawyers declined comment afterward.

Both remain free on bail. Sentencing was set for July 29.

"Sharpe James used the power of his office for his own self-gratification," U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said outside court.

State Attorney General Anne Milgram, whose office investigated and prosecuted the case with federal authorities, said the verdict showed the jury rejected "the cancerous form of government that Sharpe James presided over."

Jury deliberations
The jury deliberated about 30 hours over six days at a courthouse just a block from City Hall, where James led New Jersey's largest city for 20 years until 2006. Riley, 39, was a publicist who once ran a clothing boutique in the same neighborhood.

Prosecutors charged that the 72-year-old James, who was also a Democratic state senator from 1999 to January 2008, abused his office as mayor and betrayed his constituents by arranging for the sale of nine city-owned properties for $46,000 to Riley from 2001 to 2005. Riley quickly sold them for $665,000 without ever starting required rehabilitation work on most of them, prosecutors said.

James' attorneys argued that no evidence showed that the mayor assisted Riley or even had knowledge of her transactions, and that the mayor's interest in redeveloping the struggling city was well within the scope of his duties.

They stressed that the Newark City Council, not the mayor, had final approval over the land prices and sales. James' team presented only two witnesses, both members of the council, who said James never tried to influence their decisions.

Riley lawyer Gerald Krovatin blamed her real estate lawyers for failing to protect her from missteps in the land deals. He said 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.

Affair under scrutiny
Krovatin told the jury that the affair lasted just six months, ending in the fall of 2002. Prosecutors suggested the affair lasted several years, with one witness saying it started around 2000 and went to 2006.

Neither James nor Riley testified during the trial, which had five weeks of testimony from 40 witnesses.

Jurors got some sense of the power James wielded in the city and the state, and learned that he had a home on the Jersey shore and yachts — possessions that had long raised eyebrows around the state.

They did not hear about his last mayoral election, in 2002, when he defeated the current mayor, Cory A. Booker, in a bitter campaign chronicled in the Oscar-nominated documentary film "Street Fight."

James is one of the most powerful figures snared in a federal corruption probe and one of the few to plead not guilty. 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.