OCEAN TOWNSHIP - State Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, was among the 44 people arrested Thursday as part of a three-year federal probe into money laundering and political corruption.
He is accused of accepting $10,000 from an FBI witness posing as a real estate developer asking for help getting permits for a project in Ocean Township, Ocean County.
According to the affidavit, Van Pelt first met Feb. 11 with the witness at a restaurant in Ocean Township, a week after formally announcing he would resign from the Township Committee at the end of February in order to focus on his re-election campaign for the general Assembly.
At the restaurant, the witness told Van Pelt he wanted him on his "team."
The witness said he was not a Democrat or Republican, but a member of the "green" party, and "green is cash," alluding that he was willing to pay Van Pelt for his help.
Federal officials said that witness - a businessman and real estate developer - helped break up a ring run by Syrian Jewish rabbis in Israel, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Deal, Monmouth County, that laundered $3 million between June 2007 and this month.
Published reports identified the single, cooperating witness as Solomon Dwek, a 36-year-old real estate developer charged with federal bank fraud in 2006.
Officials said the witness told Van Pelt he wanted to develop properties in the township. Van Pelt said he would need a CAFRA permit, and he could help secure one because it was his district. He laughed at a suggestion he be hired as a consultant.
Ten days later he met with the witness 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. At the end of the meeting, the affidavit said, he accepted $10,000 cash in exchange for his help securing a CAFRA permit.
The two subsequently met March 30 at a diner, where Van Pelt said he could expedite permits by knowing the right people, according to the affidavit. They discussed a potential multiunit, multiuse development.
At that meeting, Van Pelt said Ocean Township Administrator Kenneth J. Mosca was leaning toward another developer for that project, and he was not going to tell other town officials about the witness yet.
According to Mosca, he had told Van Pelt that he was impressed with another developer's recent presentation and the work they did in Gloucester County, but refused to name the company's name.
Van Pelt and the witness held a similar meeting May 15, where Van Pelt once again boasted of his ability to secure permits, according to the affidavit.
The two met with Mosca on May 22 at the Sea Breeze Diner in the township, where Van Pelt advised the developer not to mention his "generosity."
Mosca, who faces no charges, said Thursday that he immediately knew something was wrong.
The witness, who Mosca said gave his name as David Esenbock, wanted to discuss what had to be done to develop land in town, Mosca said. He had no specific location or project, but just generally wanted to know what had to be done.
Mosca said he left after half an hour. The developer subsequently contacted the town and scheduled a time to make a presentation Aug. 13.
Mosca, who formerly served as the administrator in Linwood as well, said he has neither been questioned in the case nor charged in the corruption probe.
"There was no wrongdoing on my part," he said.
A host of Democratic and Republican public officials called on Van Pelt to resign, including Gov. Jon S. Corzine, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, Passaic, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, D-Camden, Gloucester, and Van Pelt's district-mates, Sen. Chris Connors and Assemblyman Brian Rumpf.
There also were calls for Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, D-Hudson, the other accused state figure, to step down after being accused with an aide of taking $15,000 to help get project approvals.
Roberts said he immediately stripped Van Pelt and Smith of their committee seats. Van Pelt had sat on the Military and Veterans' Affairs and the Environment and Solid Waste committees, but he did not immediately step down.
Attorney Sal Alfano represented Van Pelt at the arraignment.
Asked if Van Pelt would resign, Alfano said: "He's not guilty, and he's going to be vindicated. That's all I can tell you right now."
Asked as he walked into the courthouse's pretrial processing room, Van Pelt said, "I'm not talking about that now."
Defendants accused of political corruption were arraigned Thursday in front of Judge Madeline Cox Arleo.
They were brought out in groups of 12 to 16, hands cuffed together. As they crossed the courtroom, the manacles on their legs clinked.
Family and friends of the accused waved to the defendants and mouthed words of support.
Van Pelt wore black plastic sandals with no socks, black jogging pants and a lightweight long sleeve purple sweatshirt. He was unshaven. As he waited his turn for arraignment in the jury box, he appeared to be shaking.
He was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond with travel restricted to New York and New Jersey. The proceeding took less than a minute.
"I can't comment on anything right now," Van Pelt family friend Robert Fuggi said afterwards. "It's a nightmare." His wife, Stacey, also declined comment.
Van Pelt is the township administrator for Lumberton, Burlington County.
The township plans to meet at 2 p.m. Saturday to discuss his employment. Van Pelt will have an opportunity to speak.
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