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July 29, 2008

Former Newark, NJ Mayor Sentenced to 27 Months

As highlighted in this NY Times article, Former Newark, NJ mayor Sharpe James was sentenced today to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine for his April conviction on corruption charges.  James was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy stemming from his failure to disclose his relationship with co-defendant, and former girlfriend, Tamika Riley, who obtained city council and mayoral approval on multiple purchase contracts for land in Newark.  Over a four-year period Riley purchased nine city-owned tracts of land for $46,000 and resold them within short time periods for $665,000.  Riley, who was earlier convicted on charges of fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion and lying about her income, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $27,000 in restitution.

According to these reports, James faced a possible sentence of 12 to 15 years under the guidelines, but prosecutors sought up to a 20-year sentence.  At the hearing today, defense attorneys asked the Judge to limit the sentence to probation.  While District Judge William Martini refused the defense position, noting that it was a "sad day for the citizens of Newark who are disappointed in the conduct of the mayor," he was particularly critical of the prosecutors, calling their position "shocking" and "lacking any basis in fact."  Judge Martini noted that the city of Newark did not lose anything of monetary value, but had lost James' "honest services."  In response to the prosecutor's argument that James' administration had often operated in a corrupt manner, Judge Martini indicated, "Don’t talk about a history of corruption unless you can prove it.  I don’t want to hear these allegations of a corrupt administration, he’s all-powerful, didn’t do any good.  I’m supposed to throw out the history of a man’s life for misconduct he committed at age 69?”

Based on the article, it is not clear whether Judge Martini exercised some form of discretion to go so far below the guidelines, or whether he simply found that the factual predicates for such a sentence had not been met.  The U.S. Attorney's Office, unsurprisingly, immediately announced its intention to appeal to the Third Circuit.

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UPDATE: These publicly-available documents, which include the government’s sentencing memorandum as well as select responses from the defense, provide insight into the arguments advanced on the sentencing issues by both sides:   

Download sharpe_james_sentencing_memorandum.pdf

Download defense_letter_of_july_22.pdf

Download defense_letter_of_july_24.pdf

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July 29, 2008 at 10:07 PM | Permalink

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Comments

That is a disgrace of a sentence. There are people in NJ who pled guilty to less serious corruption charges and received more time.

Posted by: NoJusticeNoPeace | Jul 30, 2008 10:48:15 AM

This was a fair and justice sentence, and it seems that the government thought it could send someone to jail for more time by making vague arguments.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jul 30, 2008 11:29:59 AM

This woman makes $619,000 off the land deals under the auspices of Mayor James, and the judge says that the city didn't lose anything of monetary value. What am I missing here?

Posted by: Steve | Jul 30, 2008 12:08:05 PM

Steve:

It doesn't mean that the fair market value of the land was 600K. It might have only been 40K. The people who "lost" the money were the people who overpaid for the land; i.e, it was a way to fund money to bribe the mayor. So the city itself suffered only minor monetary harm, which is why the other defendant was hit with 27K in restitution.

Posted by: Daneil | Jul 30, 2008 12:42:47 PM

Daneil, I appreciate that clarification, although the Times article makes it seem as though the real value of the land was substantially higher than the $46k that Ms. Riley paid:

The sentence was a fraction of the 20 years prosecutors had requested for Mr. James, who was convicted on fraud charges stemming from the sale of city properties to a former companion for a fraction of their cost.

Posted by: Steve | Jul 30, 2008 12:55:28 PM

Seems that what really ticked the judge off was the unsupported allegations of additional offenses supposedly justifying a higher sentence: "Don’t talk about a history of corruption unless you can prove it. I don’t want to hear these allegations of a corrupt administration, he’s all-powerful, didn’t do any good."

Amen. Prove it or don't use it.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 30, 2008 4:16:10 PM

Nobody ever heard of acquitted conduct enhancements?

Posted by: DAG | Jul 30, 2008 6:56:04 PM

It wasn’t even acquitted conduct. The government was trying to argue that there was some vague corruption out there that was the defendant’s fault. Even acquitted conduct needs to be proven with specificity. So, this was just deficient lawyering by the government.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jul 31, 2008 12:03:21 PM

It may not have been acquitted conduct, but it arguably is relevant conduct. Even if he had never been charged, it might be appropriate to consider as a sentencing enhancement if the government could prove by a preponderance that it occurred. And of course the first factor under 3553(a) includes "the history and characteristics of the defendant."

Posted by: Steve | Jul 31, 2008 1:39:57 PM

The problem is -- it isn't CONDUCT -- a vague idea that someone was "all-powerful" and made everything corrupt is more just a generalized complaint. Indeed, it sounds more like a political complaint about the city.

And how would one disprove this? Would they bring in witnesses to say that they really liked living in Newark, and they never bribed anyone?

Quite frankly, the government's argument sounded like a political complaint. If this was the best they could do at sentencing, I think they simply were not trying.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jul 31, 2008 2:10:25 PM

will the govt appeal the below guidelines sentence?

Posted by: marc | Aug 2, 2008 2:04:57 PM

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