The once-powerful head of the Bergen County Democratic Organization was indicted Wednesday on charges that he engaged in a racketeering scheme involving kickbacks paid to a public official, soliciting and accepting bribes as a party official and extortion, according to federal prosecutors.
The indictment charged Joseph Ferriero, 56, with conducting the BCDO’s affairs “through a pattern of racketeering activity,” according to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.
Ferriero ran the BCDO “as a racketeering enterprise, abusing power for profit,” said Fishman. “Today’s charges expose years of peddled influence, from grants to building projects to software contracts. Battling political corruption is a constant priority for this office; we will continue to demand honest public service for the people of New Jersey.”
Ferriero extorted $1.7 million from a company proposing to develop a retail and entertainment project on land owned by the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority in Bergen County between 2002 and 2006, according to federal prosecutors.
“In 2002, the [unnamed company] agreed to secretly pay a consulting company operated by Ferriero and two of his then-law partners $35,000 a month in exchange for Ferriero’s agreement not to publicly oppose – nor to cause members of the BCDO or other public officials with whom he had influence to publicly oppose – the [unnamed company’s] proposal to the NJSEA,” reads the indictment.
The unnamed company is believed to be the Mills Corporation—a former developer of the ill-fated Xanadu project—which ultimately sold off its stake in the project and went bankrupt.
“The conduct alleged in today’s indictment is another unfortunate example of someone misusing their position in our political system for personal gain,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford. “Such conduct tarnishes our political system. Today’s indictment reaffirms the FBI’s commitment to combat public corruption in New Jersey, and serves as a stark reminder that those who seek to violate public trust will be held accountable.”
The Teaneck-born Ferriero is charged with racketeering, conspiring to promote bribery and distribute bribe proceeds and to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as several other charges. The charges carry a combined max penalty of 50 years in prison.
The indictment also accused Ferriero of taking kickbacks from a software developer who sought his help obtaining public contracts from Bergen County municipalities, including Teaneck.
In 2007, Ferriero introduced the software developer to an unnamed Teaneck council person, according to the indictment.
“Defendant Ferriero did not disclose to the Teaneck Council person that he had a financial arrangement with the software developer according to which he would receive a kickback of a percentage of the proceeds from any contract between Teaneck and C3,” the indictment states.
The council later axed its relationship with C3, which had been tasked with creating a new town website.
Ferriero was the only person charged in the indictment Wednesday.
A federal corruption conviction against Ferriero was vacated in July 2010 after a United States Supreme Court ruling limited the scope of "honest services fraud."
“The bottom line is that the last time the government charged Mr. Ferriero, the jury acquitted him of five counts and the court dismissed the remaining counts of the indictment because they were legally invalid," his attorneys, Michael Baldassare and Jennifer Mara, said in a statement, northjersey.com reported. "The government, however, is unwilling to accept that judgment and will now pursue a claim that clearly has no basis."
Ferriero is scheduled to make an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickinson on Thursday.