- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A former northern New Jersey Democratic powerbroker sobbed Friday as he pleaded for lenience before being sentenced to 35 months in prison for racketeering and bribery schemes involving municipal contracts.

Joseph Ferriero, the former head of the Bergen County Democratic Organization, had faced 41 to 51 months under federal sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Judge Esther Salas gave weight to numerous letters supporting him and his past deeds including his role in building a homeless shelter and a playground.

“My job is not just to focus on the bad,” Salas said. “I have to look at the person who stands before me.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig formally objected to the sentence.

Ferriero’s attorney had sought a sentence of probation.

Ferriero was charged in 2013 with using his position and power to run bribery and kickback schemes involving municipal contracts, and using his influence to get a developer a contract for a long-delayed megamall project at the Meadowlands known as Xanadu.

In April, after an eight-week trial, a jury convicted Ferriero on racketeering, wire fraud and bribery counts but acquitted him of conspiracy to promote bribery and mail fraud.

Jurors couldn’t come to a decision on whether Ferriero’s acts stemming from the mall project were part of a larger pattern of racketeering; they agreed that several other acts did qualify.

Ferriero’s voice wavered during a roughly 10-minute statement to the court, and at one point his shoulders heaved as he broke down in tears as he insisted he didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong.

“I wasn’t looking to corrupt the political process,” he said. “I would never dream of doing that.”

Ferriero had been convicted of conspiracy and mail fraud in a separate trial in 2009, but those convictions were tossed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case involving former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling narrowed the definition of the law used to prosecute Ferriero.

Ferriero’s attorney, Michael Baldassare, said he would likely appeal the sentence, Salas’ earlier ruling denying an appeal of the conviction and possibly several other points.

“We have started down that road again,” Baldassare said, referring to the earlier acquittal. “The government lost on Xanadu, which was the centerpiece of their case. We’re confident that just like before, Mr. Ferriero again will be completely vindicated of the remaining counts.”

Ferriero was the unpaid head of the Bergen County organization from 1998 through 2008 and was considered a key ally of former Gov. Jon Corzine in one of New Jersey’s Democratic strongholds.

Prosecutors alleged Ferriero took cash in exchange for using his political influence to help a Virginia-based developer win a contract to build Xanadu, which was eventually reborn as American Dream and is scheduled to open in 2017.

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This story and headline has been corrected to show that Ferriero’s convictions did not include charges related to a Meadowlands mall project.

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