Crooked Candidates Would Be Criminals Under Shore Bill
A hole in the Hobbes Act that let a would-be mayoral candidate slip out of the grasp of federal prosecutors after Operation Bid Rig III would be sealed, if a shore-sponsored state measure becomes law.
Assembly members Greg McGuckin and Dave Wolfe (R-10) are introducing the bill that would raise taking a bribe on the promise of post-election favors to second- and third-degree crime status. State Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-10) is likely to introduce the companion measure.
The legislation follows court victories for former Assemblyman Lou Manzo, accused of accepting thousands in cash from government informant Solomon Dwek during his run for the mayoralty of Jersey City. Manzo’s lawyer, John Lynch, succeeded in having the charges dropped, arguing that the Hobbes Act cited by federal prosecutors applied only to sitting elected officials. Manzo held no office during his exchanges with the developer.
“It certainly was news to me,” McGuckin noted with considerable irony, “that if you’re a candidate for public office, or have been elected but not yet sworn in, it’s not illegal to take a bribe under current law.” People offering payoffs, on the other hand, are susceptible to considerable jail terms and penalties. “It’s just outrageous,” adds McGuckin.
A-2742 expands the definition of “public servant” to include candidates as well as people who are elected but not yet installed in office. The Hobbes Act follows applicable state legislation.
Acceptance of a bribe for future considerations would be considered a second-degree crime, punishable by five to 10 years in prison and/or fines of up to $150,000 on conviction. A payoff of $200 or less would equate to a third-degree offense, carrying possible imprisonment of three to five years, fines as high as $15,000, or both.
The measure, says McGuckin, “closes a loophole that Mr. Manzo was able to drive a truck through.”
FBI agents corralled more than 40 elected and appointed officials who had direct or indirect dealings with Dwek in 2008. Nearly all were Democrats. Former New Jersey Assemblyman Dan Van Pelt of Waretown was among a sparse number of Republicans targeted.
Manzo insists that the roundup was staged to boost Chris Christie’s profile as US Attorney for New Jersey as he launched his bid to become Governor. Now, Manzo seeks $150,000 from the government, claiming that court costs stemming from wrongful prosecution have left him destitute.