TRENTON — An FBI informant posing as a crooked real estate developer testified that in February 2009, he offered an Ocean County assemblyman $10,000 in exchange for official action, just as he had done “in real life numerous times” with other politicians.
But the informant, Solomon Dwek, acknowledged under cross-examination that he pressured Daniel Van Pelt to accept the cash.
“I talked too much and pushed too hard, but I had no choice,” Dwek wrote in an e-mail to an FBI agent after meeting with Van Pelt.
The government’s star witness became an informant after pleading guilty to bank fraud. He faced 40 years in prison, but reduced that to perhaps less than 10 years by cooperating with the government. He said he bribed numerous public officials before going on the government’s payroll.
Monday was his third day on the witness stand in the trial of Van Pelt, who resigned his Assembly seat after his arrest in July 2009. The government later wrapped up its case ahead of schedule.
Van Pelt is charged with extortion and accepting corrupt payments for allegedly taking a white envelope stuffed with $100 bills from Dwek after a Feb. 21, 2009, meeting at Morton’s Steakhouse at Caesars Atlantic City. A taped conversation reveals he also accepted a GPS tracking device that Dwek gave him because he got lost and was late to the meeting.
Van Pelt is one of 44 public officials rounded up last July in the state’s largest corruption sting. Seventeen have pleaded guilty so far. One was convicted at trial.
Following his arrest, Van Pelt resigned from his Assembly seat and was fired from his job as administrator in Lumberton, Burlington County. He had already left the Waretown, Ocean Township, council in Ocean County.
The Ocean County Republican’s lawyers tried to show Monday that he was acting as a paid consultant and discussing what he thought was a legitimate redevelopment proposal for the Waretown town center, where he was on the redevelopment committee.
In a taped conversation played for the jury, Van Pelt suggested Dwek hire him as a consultant. Van Pelt laughed when he said it, which to Dwek meant he understood the word ‘consultant’ was code for ‘bribe.’
However, Dwek also said Van Pelt never hid their meetings, even when they met at a diner in his legislative district. He acknowledged during cross-examination that Van Pelt never offered to circumvent any procedures to secure state permits for Dwek, and that he sometimes brought the Waretown administrator along.
A bank manager in Lumberton later testified that Van Pelt made two cash deposits, one of $5,500 and one of $4,400 after meeting with Dwek.
The defense is scheduled to begin presenting its case today.