Key figure in NJ corruption probe pleads guilty

October 20, 2009 3:42:47 PM PDT
The central figure in a huge New Jersey corruption investigation pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud and money laundering charges Tuesday. Solomon Dwek's work for the government as a cooperating witness directly led to the arrests of 44 people in July, but it was his turn in court Tuesday.

Wearing a dark suit and light blue tie, the 37-year-old Dwek stood before U.S. District Judge Jose Linares and admitted his role in a multimillion-dollar bank fraud scheme in 2006. He acknowledged depositing two $25 million checks drawn on a closed account and using them to make wire transfers to separate banks totaling nearly $23 million.

Bank fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, and the maximum for money laundering is 10 years, but Dwek would face nine to 11 years under federal sentencing guidelines. Linares can adjust that range up or down when he sentences Dwek on Feb. 9, and the U.S. attorney's office said it may recommend a lighter sentence based on Dwek's ongoing cooperation.

Michael Himmel, an attorney representing Dwek, did not comment as he left court Tuesday.

Dwek was a key component of the corruption investigation, dubbed "Operation Bid Rig." Seven people who were arrested for accepting money from Dwek have pleaded guilty, but his testimony will be at the heart of the government's case if others go to trial.

Dwek was arrested in May 2006 in New Jersey and released on $10 million bond. By the following year, he had become a cooperating witness, posing as a corrupt businessman in the government's investigation of an alleged money laundering ring that operated between Israel and Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Deal, N.J.

Dwek's father, a prominent Deal rabbi, was not arrested.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, the rabbis involved in the ring laundered more than $3 million through Jewish charities for Dwek over a two-year period beginning in June 2007.

The investigation veered into the public sector in the summer of 2007 when alleged money laundering contact Moshe "Michael" Altman, a northern New Jersey real estate developer, introduced Dwek to Jersey City building inspector John Guarini, according to federal charging documents.

Prosecutors allege Guarini accepted $20,000 from Dwek in a meeting in an apartment building boiler room in exchange for helping Dwek, posing as a developer, get zoning approvals.

From there, Dwek gained introductions to more than two dozen other public officials including two state Assemblymen, three mayors and Jersey City's deputy mayor and municipal council president, the government alleges.

During secretly taped meetings, Dwek offered the officials bribes to help him with permits and approvals for various development projects.

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