TRENTON - Former 9th District Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of extortion and accepting corrupt payments.
U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano set an April 19 trial date, but Van Pelt's attorneys, Robert Fuggi and Michael Gilberti, said that date would likely be pushed back, depending on how much and what is brought forward from their requests for the prosecution's evidence as part of the discovery process.
"I don't know if they're going to walk up with a Redweld (expanding folder) or a truck," Gilberti said.
Van Pelt remains free on $100,000 bail with travel restricted to New Jersey.
The former Republican state representative and one-time mayor of Ocean Township, Ocean County, was dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and silver, striped tie for his five-minute court appearance at the Clarkson S. Fisher Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse here.
He spoke little, telling the judge he was currently unemployed. When asked if he was still an assemblyman, he replied, "No, your honor, I resigned."
Van Pelt was indicted Dec. 10 on charges of extortion and accepting corrupt payments, charges that bring as much as 30 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. He has maintained his innocence.
He was charged, along with 43 others, in a massive corruption sweep July 23 that netted public officials and others on charges of corruption, money-laundering, and in one case, illicit human kidney sales.
In Van Pelt's case, he allegedly accepted a $10,000 bribe from Solomon Dwek in exchange for favors related to a commercial development. Dwek was an FBI witness who posed as corrupt developer David Esenbach seeking to build in the Waretown Town Center project in Ocean Township, where Van Pelt had previously served on the governing body for a decade.
Following his arrest, Van Pelt was fired from his $90,000 per year job as a township administrator and affordable housing coordinator in Lumberton Township, Burlington County, and then he resigned his $49,000 per year seat in the General Assembly.
"My current situation would only serve as a distraction, and I would do a disservice to those who elected me to do a job," he said at the time of his resignation.
His seat is now held by Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic.
Dwek and Van Pelt initially met Feb. 11 at a restaurant in Ocean Township, according to a guilty plea by former Ocean County Democratic leader Alfonso Santoro.
Van Pelt said Dwek should hire him as a consultant, according to the indictment.
Dwek answered that he was not a Republican or Democrat, but belonged to the "green" party, and that "green is cash."
"You understand green party?" Dwek asked.
"Sure ... I got it," Van Pelt replied, according to the indictment.
They met five times in all, including once in Atlantic City on Feb. 21, the indictment says. On that date Dwek gave Van Pelt $10,000 in an envelope, according to the indictment, and Van Pelt subsequently deposited all but $100 in two deposits.
Van Pelt was scheduled to present Dwek's proposal to the Ocean Township governing body in August, but that was canceled subsequent to his arrest.
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