Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James indicted with his “companion”

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HAT TIP: Newark Star-Ledger by Ian T. Shern and John P. Martin

Sharpe James, the legendary former Newark mayor who spent a quarter-century as a dominant force in New Jersey politics, was charged this afternoon with defrauding taxpayers by billing the city for vacations with female friends and arranging lucrative city land deals for a companion.

Ending a nearly three-year FBI investigation, a federal grand jury in Newark indicted James on 33 counts that include conspiracy and mail and wire fraud.

The 86-page indictment said James, 71, arranged for the city to sell municipal real estate at a steep discount to a Newark businesswoman, Tamika Riley, then secretly shared in the profits when Riley sold the parcels to developers.

Prosecutors also accused James of using city-issued credit cards to pay for lavish trips he took with eight women, including Riley, to places including Martha’s Vineyard, Rio de Janeiro, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The credit card charges – hundreds between 2001 and 2006 totaling more than $58,000 – covered hotel rooms and luxury suites, meals and fine dining, airfare, car rentals, tickets to sporting events and other expenses, prosecutors said.

The former mayor maintained his innocence.

In handcuffs and leg irons, James arrived just after 3 p.m. at a hearing before a packed, overflowing courtroom. His wife, Mary, was not present. The 15-minute appearance before a federal magistrate took place in a courthouse two blocks from the City Hall office he occupied for 20 years.

Flanked by their attorneys, James and Riley stood before the judge and were asked a short series of questions. When asked whether he understood the charges against him, the former mayor said “Yes, I do.” He was released on $250,000 bail, while Riley was released on $100,000 bail. Their passports were confiscated and the judge barred them from traveling outside of New Jersey without permission.

This case has undeniable Shades of Bill Campbell written all over it.

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