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Daniel Van Pelt

Daniel Van Pelt

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Inside: AP video coverage / all criminal complaints / complete list of those arrested and/or charged / photo gallery of arrestsNEWARK, N.J.

- The FBI busted a political corruption and money-laundering ring and arrested 44 people Thursday.Starting at 6 a.m., more than 300 agents with the IRS and FBI raided 54 locations throughout New York and New Jersey.

The arrested include mayors, state legislators, rabbis and members of Syrian Jewish community.A single cooperating witness spent three years watching the ring launder more than $3 million and bribe public officials for favors with development proposals."This case is not about religion.

It is not about politics.

It is about crime, corruption, it is about arrogance and a shocking betrayal of the public trust," said Weysan Dun, Special Agent In Charge of the FBI in Newark.The mayors of two New Jersey cities and an Ocean County assemblyman are among those under arrest.They include Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, R-Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington.

Van Pelt served more than a decade as mayor of Ocean Township and stepped down from the Township Committee in February.

He is serving his first term in the Assembly and is currently running for re-election.Robert J.

Cooke, an FBI agent, swore in an affidavit that Van Pelt accepted a bribe in return for promises to expedite environmental approvals for a real estate development in Waretown.

The developer served as a cooperating witness in the investigation, according to the FBI statement.According to the affidavit, the developer told Van Pelt during a February meeting that he was not a member of the Democratic or Republican parties, but was a member of the "green" party and that "green is cash," meaning that the he was willing to pay cash for Van Pelt's assistance.In a subsequent meeting, Van Pelt allegedly accepted $10, 000 in return for promises to back the developer's application for Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permits.Ocean Township Mayor Robert Kraft, who worked alongside Van Pelt on the Township Committee for nine years, said he was in shock over Van Pelt's arrest Thursday morning."The Dan Van Pelt I know was not one to partake in illegal activity or whatever it is he is charged with," Kraft said.

"Honestly, I am just reeling."AP Video To view this site, you need to have Flash Player 8.0 or later installed.

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Kraft said he was "still in the dark" about what Van Pelt was arrested for, but was hopeful that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing."This is clearly a sad day for his family," Kraft said.

"Hopefully throughout the process he can be vindicated and found not guilty."According to the affidavit, Van Pelt first met wit the developer at a restaurant in Ocean Township a week after formally announcing he would resign from the Township Committee at the end of February.Ten days later he met with the developer again in Atlantic City, asking the developer, "What do you want me to do [for you]?" and that he had a "pretty good reputation with the state" that would enable him to help, the affidavit said.In a subsequent meeting another town official met with Van Pelt and the developer, although Van Pelt advised the developer not to mention his "generosity."Deputy Mayor Richard Reilly, who said he was also still learning about the charges Thursday morning, said he could not comment on what project and properties were the subject of the charges."I'm just shocked," he said.

"[Van Pelt's] an individual that I have a great deal of respect for and work closely with."Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce issued the following statement on this morning's arrest of Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, R-Ocean, Atlantic, and Burlington, as reported by several media outlets:"I am calling on Assemblyman Van Pelt to immediately resign from the General Assembly," Assembly Republican leader Alex DeCroce said.

"He cannot represent his district effectively with this cloud hanging over his head.

The people of the 9th District are entitled to a representative who is above suspicion and beyond reproach.

These allegations are disturbing.

No betrayal of the public trust can be tolerated."Also arrested are Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell.

Federal prosecutors say several rabbis in New York and New Jersey are among the 30 arrested.The arrests, according to news organizations in New York and northern New Jersey, are the result of a two-year FBI and IRS probe that began with an investigation of money transfers by members of Syrian Jewish enclaves in New York and northern New Jersey.Federal authorities also searched the office and home of Joseph Doria, the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, who has not been charged in the case.Doria, 63, had served a the Democratic mayor of Bayonne for nine years and also represented Hudson County in the State Senate.

Before becoming a senator in 2004, he served 12 terms as an assemblyman.The investigation veered onto its public corruption track in July 2007 in Hudson County, where the cooperating witness represented himself to be a developer and owner of a tile business who wanted to build high rises and other projects and get public contracts in Hudson County schools.

Through an intermediary, the cooperating witness was introduced to a Jersey City building inspector who, in return for $40,000 in bribes, promised to smooth the way for approvals of the cooperating witness's building projects, according to the criminal complaints.From there, introductions and referrals spread amongst a web of public officials, council and mayoral candidates, their operatives and associates - mostly in Hudson County, and primarily in Jersey City -- who took bribes.

In return, they pledged their official assistance in getting the cooperating witness's projects prioritized and approved or to steer contracts to him.Introductions usually took place at diners and restaurants in Jersey City, Bayonne, Weehawken, Hoboken, Staten Island, Toms River, Atlantic City and elsewhere.

Envelopes stuffed with cash were often passed from the cooperating witness to recipients or their intermediaries in parking lots after such meetings, according to the criminal complaints.In part, the bribe-taking was connected to fund raising efforts in heavily contested mayoral and city council campaigns in Jersey City and Hoboken, and the bribes were often parceled out to straw donors, who then wrote checks in their names or businesses to the campaigns in amounts that complied with legal limits on individual donations - so-called conduit or conversion donations.

Other bribe recipients took cash for direct personal use and benefit; thers kept some of the cash and used the rest for political campaigns, according to the criminal complaints.The investigation produced hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings documenting much of the money laundering and bribe-taking."The list of names and titles of those arrested today sounds like a roster for a community leaders meeting," said Dun."Sadly, these prominent individuals were not in a meeting room but were in the FBI booking room this morning.

We hope that our actions today will be the clarion call that prompts significant change in the way business and politics are conducted in the State of New Jersey.

Those who engage in this culture of corruption should know the cross hairs of justice will continue to be focused on them."The arrests are part of FBI's Operation Bid Rig, which has resulted in 48 convictions and more than $1 million in fines over 10 years.Check here for updates.

See Friday's edition of The Press for complete coverage.
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