The 75-month federal prison sentence former Passaic Councilman Jonathan Soto got for taking $45,000 in bribes raises an obvious question: Has the cesspool been cleaned?
Because, while that was going on, federal jurors in Trenton were convicting three-term Passaic Councilman Gerardo Fernandez of perjury for what prosecutors said were lies he told a grand jury investigating corruption in the city.
That makes four convictions — three Passaic councilmen and former Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera — stemming from a single federal string operation, in the city for decades has been synonymous with palm grease.
“Clearly, for a significant portion of the city council, corruption was just part of doing business,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra.
“We can only hope that all of these convictions in Passaic will have the desired deterrent effect and give the public hope that their other current representatives are honest and working in their best interests,” he said.
The FBI sting wasn’t even that elaborate: Agents established an insurance brokerage company that offered bribes in exchange for official juice in securing contracts.
The money talked, and no one mumbled — at least on FBI-taped conversations.
Soto was arrested on Sept. 6, 2007, along with 10 other public officials and one private citizen, as a result of the investigation, which began in south Jersey and eventually led government investigators north.
All of the 12 defendants have either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial — the result of an anti-corruption initative under then-U.S. Attorney (and current GOP gubernatorial candidate) Christopher Christie.
U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson ordered Soto, 33, to pay a $5,000 fine and never hold public office again. He’ll be under federal supervision, as well, for three years after his release.
For now, he remains under house arrest, with electronic monitoring, until the U.S. Bureau of Prisons sets a date for him to report.
For more information: U.S. Attorney’s Office news release
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