US Mayors, Rabbis in Major Corruption Scandal

In one of the biggest bribery and corruption scandals in the US, dozens of politicians and rabbis have been arrested for money laundering, extortion, bribery and human organ trafficking, reported the Washington Post on Friday, July 24.

"The corruption was widespread and pervasive," said acting US Attorney Ralph J. Marra.

"It seems that everyone wanted a piece of the action."

FBI agents arrested 44 people, including politicians and rabbis, in a series of raids across New Jersey on Thursday.

Among those arrested were the mayors of the cities of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield, the Jersey City deputy mayor and council president.

Two state assembly members, several politicians and five rabbis were also among those netted.

"The politicians willingly put themselves up for sale," said Marra.

He added that "clergymen cloak their extensive criminal activity behind a facade of rectitude."

The suspects are accused of money laundering, extortion, bribery and even trafficking in human organs.

A 10-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Bid Rig," exposed a money-laundering ring that stretched from New Jersey and New York to Israel and Switzerland.

The probe found that US politicians easily exploited loopholes in state law to disguise bribes as contributions in bitterly fought campaigns.

Central to the investigation was an informant who was charged with bank fraud in 2006 and posed undercover as a real estate developer and owner of a tile business who paid off officials to win project approval and public contracts in northern New Jersey, according to documents in the case.

"New Jersey’s corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation," said Ed Kahrer, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s white collar crime and public corruption program in New Jersey.

"It has become ingrained in New Jersey’s political culture," he said, calling corruption "a cancer."

Rabbi Network

The investigation found that Jewish rabbis played a central role in the corruption network.

"(The international network) laundered at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, non-profit entities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Law enforcement officers raided several synagogues and among those arrested was the chief rabbi of Syrian Jews in the United States.

One rabbi, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, was also charged with conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for transplant.

Marra, the acting US Attorney, said Rosenbaum’s "business was to entice vulnerable people to give up a kidney for 10,000 dollars which he would turn around and sell for 160,000 dollars."

He had been peddling kidneys for a decade.

Raids began shortly after dawn with television footage showing FBI and tax agents bringing a stream of handcuffed suspects, including rabbis wearing traditional Orthodox Jewish garb, into custody in the city of Newark.

Other suspects were shown being put onto a bus.

If found guilty, suspects face prison sentences of up to 20 years for political extortion and money laundering, 10 years for offering bribes to officials, and five years for conspiring to transport human organs.

"The scale of corruption we’re seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated," said Democratic State Governor Jon Corzine.

"Any corruption is unacceptable — anywhere, anytime, by anybody."

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