TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The mayor of New Jersey’s capital city was painted by prosecutors in closing arguments at his corruption trial Tuesday as an eager participant in a bribery scheme involving a fictitious downtown development project and a wisecracking local steak shop owner who acted as the middleman.
Trenton Mayor Tony Mack and his brother, Ralphiel Mack, a former local football hero, face fraud, bribery and extortion conspiracy counts that carry combined maximum sentences of decades in prison. But the star attraction of their month-old trial, albeit heard only on secretly recorded conversations, has been Joseph “JoJo” Giorgianni, a local restaurant owner and self-professed political dealmaker who referred to himself on tape as “St. Joseph” and compared himself to notorious 19th-century New York City politician Boss Tweed.
In a clip played earlier in the trial he laid on the braggadocio, saying at one point, “I like money so much I hate to fold it.”
On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Moran played numerous recordings, previously played during the prosecution’s case, of conversations between Giorgianni, the Macks and others reputedly involved in the conspiracy. The conversations were littered with references to “cheesesteaks” and “Uncle Remus” that were code words for cash payments, Moran said.
In one recording, Giorgianni appeared to instruct a confederate on how bribe schemes work before assuring him that Tony Mack “is alright, as long as we got buffers.”
“The hallmark of this conspiracy is secrecy, conspiracy and stilted, cryptic conversations” designed to keep Tony Mack from being exposed, Moran told jurors during a closing argument that last more than three hours.
The land deal, ostensibly involving a parking garage project, didn’t really exist and was set up as part of a government sting that involved two informants - one an attorney and another a developer. The land had been assessed for nearly $300,000, prosecutors told the jury at the beginning of the trial, but Mack authorized its sale to one of the informants for $100,000 in exchange for bribes.
In all, the government contends, $54,000 was passed to Giorgianni from late 2011 through mid-2012 and an additional $65,000 had been agreed on. At his guilty plea in December to two extortion-related counts, Giorgianni admitted giving Mack a total of about $8,000 in bribes.
On Tuesday, Moran showed jurors pictures of Tony Mack outside Giorgianni’s steakhouse in April 2012, allegedly after he’d taken cash from Giorgianni. Within minutes of the transaction, Moran said, evidence showed Mack called the city tax office to see about paying off a $6,000 tax lien and made another call to a landscaper to whom he owed money. A Giorgianni associate testified during the trial that she saw Mack accept the cash.
“It’s clear from these calls that Tony Mack had cash burning a hole in his pocket when he left the steakhouse that day,” Moran said.
Neither defendant nor Giorgianni testified during the trial.
Tony Mack’s attorney, Mark Davis, has contended that his client wasn’t aware the purported project was corrupt and didn’t take any bribe money. Robert Haney, an attorney representing Ralphiel Mack, conceded in his opening statement that his client received $2,500 from Giorgianni but said there was no evidence that it was a bribe or that it was to be given to his brother.
Davis and Haney are scheduled to make their closing arguments on Wednesday.
Tony Mack has continued to serve as mayor since he was arrested in September 2012.
Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.