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Judge upholds convictions of ex-Newark mayor

Ex Mayor Trial
Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James arrives at the U.S. District Courthouse in Newark on Wednesday for a court hearing on his corruption conviction. U.S. District Judge William J. Martini upheld the corruption convictions of James and his one-time mistress Tamika Riley. Mike Derer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge on Wednesday upheld the corruption convictions of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James and his one-time mistress, but indicated that James probably will get less than the 15- to 20-year prison sentence prosecutors are seeking.

U.S. District Judge William J. Martini rejected bids by James and Tamika Riley to scrap the verdicts and order a new trial, finding that their jury had substantial evidence to determine that Riley was able to purchase city land at bargain prices while James was mayor. The convictions are to be appealed to a higher court.

But Martini gave James some cause for relief after hearing arguments on issues related to his sentencing, set for Tuesday.

The judge told federal prosecutors he rejected their contention that aggravating factors merited a sentence of 15 to 20 years for the 72-year-old James, who led New Jersey's largest city for 20 years. Martini suggested that the appropriate sentencing range for James was about 10 to 12 years.

Prosecutors want eight to 10 years for Riley.

Abuse of office?
Prosecutors are also seeking restitution for Newark, charging that the city was deprived of the chance to sell to a legitimate developer by the fraud. Lawyers for James and Riley said the city did not suffer any loss.

Prosecutors say James abused his office by arranging for the sale of nine city-owned properties for $46,000 to Riley from 2001 to 2005. Riley, 39, a publicist who once ran a clothing boutique near City Hall, quickly sold them for $665,000 without ever starting required rehabilitation work on most of them, prosecutors said.

James and Riley were convicted in April on all charges they faced. Both were convicted of conspiracy and fraud. Riley also was convicted of tax evasion and cheating to obtain subsidized housing assistance for herself.

James had faced a second trial on charges he racked up $58,000 on city credit cards for lavish personal expenses and for travels with several women other than his wife. But prosecutors reached a deal with him in May that they would drop those charges unless any portion of his conviction is overturned.

James, who had also served as a Democratic state senator, was one of the most powerful figures snared in a series of corruption cases in New Jersey brought by the U.S. attorney's office. He left office in 2006 after declining to seek a sixth term.

James and Riley are free on bail. The judge said he would rule after Tuesday on whether they should remain free while their appeals are considered.