By Dave Warner
(Reuters) - Opening arguments were set to begin Thursday in the corruption trial of the mayor of New Jersey's capital city and his brother, both of whom were accused of bribery and extortion after a sting operation involving a parking garage development.
Trenton Mayor Tony Mack and his brother, Ralphiel Mack, have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that were involved in a 2010 plot to secure the mayor's help in developing a garage on city-owned land. Prosecutors say an informant offered a $119,000 bribe.
About $54,000 of that amount had been paid, according to prosecutors.
The allegations against the brothers read like a cheap crime thriller, filled with secret meetings and codes names like "Uncle Remus" to refer to corrupt payments. The mayor, not a tall man, was referred to as "the little guy" and "Napoleon."
Two others have pleaded guilty in the scheme. They are among 40 potential witnesses who may testify against the brothers during the trial in U.S. District Court in Trenton, according to court documents.
One of them, Charles Hall, a former Trenton city official and confidant of the mayor, pleaded guilty in February 2013 to two counts of extortion. The other, steak house owner Joseph Giorgianni who is also known as "The Fat Man" and "JoJo," pleaded guilty in December 2013 to two counts of extortion.
Prosecutors accused them of trying to conceal their activities by avoiding meetings in City Hall, which is near the federal courthouse, and instead gathering at Giorgianni's residence, his steak house and restaurants in Atlantic City.
The mayor has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer has said he has no plans to step down despite a call to do so by Governor Chris Christie. Mack kicked off his re-election fundraising campaign last summer.
Mack, 48, took office in 2010. He faced a stalled recall effort in 2011, and the City Council has since repeatedly failed in its efforts to cut his $126,000 annual salary by as much as half.
The mayor and his brother each face one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, one count of attempting the obstruction of justice by extortion, one count of accepting bribes and three counts of fraud. If convicted of all the charges against them, they each face a maximum punishment of 110 years in prison.
Another of the mayor's brothers, Stanley "Muscles" Davis, a Trenton Water Works employee, is serving a six-year prison term on official misconduct charges in a separate case after pleading guilty in 2011 to taking side jobs on city time and with department equipment.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Amanda Kwan)