Prosecutor to jurors: Trenton's mayor took bribes

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January 9, 2014 2:54:59 PM PST
The mayor of New Jersey's capital city agreed to sell a piece of downtown land at less than half its value in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes, a government prosecutor contended in opening statements Thursday in the trial of the mayor and his brother, a local football coach.

Mayor Tony Mack and brother Ralphiel Mack sat impassively in federal court as Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Skahill showed jurors a chart displaying dates when the bribes were allegedly passed to Joseph "JoJo" Giorgianni, a sandwich shop owner who presented himself as a power broker with influence with the mayor.

The land deal, ostensibly involving a parking garage project, didn't really exist and was set up as part of a government sting that also involved two informants - one an attorney and another a developer. The government is expected to introduce numerous secretly taped phone calls and videotapes during the trial.

The scope of investigators' efforts, as well as a government-commissioned psychological profile that characterized Giorgianni as suffering from "narcissistic personality disorder," should create significant doubt in the minds of jurors, contended Mark Davis, an attorney representing Tony Mack.

"The government spared no expense. They used every bullet in their gun," Davis said in his opening statement. "The purpose was to set up the mayor of the city of Trenton. They wanted to find and catch Tony Mack with money."

Mack was arrested in late 2012. He and his brother face extortion, bribery and fraud charges. Giorgianni pleaded guilty last month to two extortion-related counts and unrelated drug and weapons counts and could be a key witness in the trial, which is expected to last about four weeks.

The case has a healthy dollop of colorful lingo, from the nicknames - "Honey Fitz," ''The Little Guy" and "Napoleon" for Mack, and "Mr. Baker" and "The Fat Man" for Giorgianni - to the code words for money: "Uncle Remus," ''steaks" and "pizzas," according to the government. Giorgianni also apparently referred to himself as "St. Joseph" and told associates during the sting that "St. Joseph always provides," according to Skahill, who told jurors Tony Mack was well aware what the terms meant.

"In all the calls, one thing you're never going to hear is Tony Mack ask what 'Uncle Remus' means," he told jurors.

In afternoon testimony, prosecutors played audio recordings of Giorgianni talking with one of the informants that elicited chuckles from the gallery. In one, he compared himself to Boss Tweed, the notorious New York politician known for corruption.

"One thing ... I can be bought," he is heard saying at another point. "I like money so much I hate to fold it."

The land in question had been assessed for nearly $300,000, Skahill told the jury, but Mack authorized its sale to the informant for $100,000 in exchange for bribes. In all, $54,000 was passed to Giorgianni from late 2011 through mid-20121, according to the government. Another $65,000 had allegedly been agreed on.

Davis gave a different picture to jurors, claiming that the case was built around Giorgianni's exaggerations of his influence with Mack. Mack never took any bribe money, didn't know the purported project was corrupt and didn't authorize the sale for $100,000, Davis said.

Robert Haney, an attorney representing Ralphiel Mack, conceded that his client received $2,500 from Giorgianni but said there was no evidence that it was a bribe or that it was to be given to his brother.


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