By Dave Warner
TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - The mayor of Trenton, New Jersey's state capital, was arrested at his home on Monday and charged with taking bribes in connection with a proposed parking garage on city-owned land.
Mayor Tony Mack, along with his brother Ralphiel Mack and associate Joseph Giorgianni, are accused of plotting to accept $119,000 from a man posing as the developer, according to Paul Fishman, U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
The mayor's brother and Giorgianni acted as intermediaries to the purported developer and his consultant, who were cooperating with authorities, Fishman told a news conference in Trenton.
The deal involved selling city-owned land about two blocks from the federal courthouse to the would-be developer for a fraction of its value and getting money back in exchange, the U.S. attorney said.
Ralphiel Mack acted as a courier and Giorgianni was the "bag man," Fishman said. Tony Mack, 46, Ralphiel Mack, 39, and Giorgianni, 63, took $54,000 in cash bribes and anticipated getting the balance of $65,000, he said.
The arrests are the latest black eye to the reputation of a state that saw dozens of people, including three mayors and several rabbis, arrested in 2009 in a wide-ranging money laundering and corruption investigation.
Tony Mack was arrested at about 6:30 a.m. on Monday at his home in Trenton, said Barbara Woodruff, FBI spokeswoman in Newark. Giorgianni was also arrested on Monday, and Ralphiel Mack turned himself in, authorities said.
Tony Mack, who authorities said is called "the Little Guy" and "Napoleon" by associates, has been accused by critics of nepotism and mismanagement since taking office in 2010 in the crime-plagued, economically depressed city of 85,000.
His nicknames stem from his stature of five feet, five inches, according to an athletic website belonging to Howard University where he graduated in 1989.
All three men appeared on Monday before Magistrate Judge Douglas Arpert, who released the two brothers on $150,000 bail apiece. Bail was not immediately set for Giorgianni, who faces separate drug charges stemming from an illegal drug ring he and eight others are accused of running out of JoJo's Steakhouse, a Trenton restaurant he owns, authorities said.
Each of the Mack brothers appeared in court in handcuffs and leg shackles, while Giorgianni arrived in a wheelchair and did not appear to be shackled.
"THE FAT MAN"
The mayor has been under investigation since September 2010 by federal agents who used wiretaps to record meetings at JoJo's and wiretaps on their telephones, federal authorities said.
Giorgianni, who goes by the nicknames "JoJo" and "the Fat Man," told the purported consultant that they were "'all looking to, uh, get healthy,' meaning make money, and that 'we been sick too long here,'" according to the criminal complaint.
In July, FBI agents raided the homes of Tony and Ralphiel Mack and searched City Hall offices. Afterward, Tony Mack said he had done nothing wrong.
"We have not violated the public trust in any way," he said at the time.
Tony Mack's defense attorney Mark Davis said following his client's court appearance that he was innocent and planned to return to work on Tuesday.
Tony Mack, who is married and has four children, owes $50,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, has two properties in foreclosure and had his electricity shut off briefly last month due to non-payment of bills, according to local media. His official salary as mayor is slightly more than $126,000 a year.
Giorgianni is a convicted sex offender who served time in prison for a 1978 attack on a 14-year-old girl. Weighing more than 500 pounds at the time, he was dubbed the "quarter-ton rapist" by local media.
In the search of Ralphiel Mack's home, agents found $2,500 in $100 bills with the same serial numbers as bills Giorgianni accepted from the purported consultant a month earlier, the complaint said.
In April, according to the complaint, Giorgianni told the purported consultant that the mayor was pleased with a bribe that had been paid.
"Listen, you know money makes a blind man see," Giorgianni is quoted as saying.
An effort to recall Mack, a Democrat, failed last year when organizers did not get enough support to force a special election.
(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Cynthia Johnston; and Eric Walsh)