- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Jury selection began yesterday for the first of two federal corruption trials faced by former Mayor Sharpe James.

The usually talkative politician said little to reporters besides “good morning” as he entered the courthouse, just blocks from City Hall.

Mr. James, 72, is charged with five corruption counts, including conspiracy and fraud. His co-defendant, Tamika Riley, 38, faces those charges as well as eight others, including tax evasion. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Mr. James faces seven to eight years in prison if he is convicted on all counts. But a judge could impose a much stiffer penalty — as much as 20 years on some individual counts.

Mr. James served as mayor of New Jersey’s largest city from 1986 to 2006 before deciding not to seek a sixth term. He also served as a state senator from 1999 until this January.

Prosecutors have said the first trial may last as long as three months, with 40 to 50 witnesses expected.

The first trial focuses on whether Mr. James arranged for the sale of nine city-owned properties at discounted rates to Miss Riley, a woman with whom he traveled. Prosecutors said they will present evidence to show the two had an intimate personal relationship.

Prosecutors said Mr. James improperly steered properties to Miss Riley and that with Mr. James’ help, she quickly resold them at much higher prices. Miss Riley was able to buy the properties, although she lacked real estate, construction and financial experience to rehabilitate them, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said they plan to present evidence that the mayor, who is married, had an intimate relationship with Miss Riley.

One of Mr. James’ attorneys, Thomas Ashley, said the defense hopes to seat jurors who can understand some of the complicated concepts of real-estate transactions and the mayor’s relationship with the City Council, which the defense has maintained had the final say on land sales.

Mr. Ashley would not say whether the former mayor would testify. Another of Mr. James’ attorneys, Alan Zegas, has said jury selection could take a week or two.

In the second trial, Mr. James will face charges that he used city-issued credit cards for $58,000 in personal expenses while he was mayor, including trips with several women to Martha’s Vineyard, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Rio de Janeiro.

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