July 29, 2007: Listen up kiddies, summer doesn't mean down time when it come to corruption in Jersey. See Newark. The largest city in the state. Still deeply troubled after all these years. In mid July, X Mayor Sharpe James of Newark did the full perp walk courtesy of U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie. (Please Mommy, can my city have a Christie too?) Fans say Sharpe's shackles were bling-a-ding-ding and that his co-defendant, city property flipping Tamika Riley, displayed a mega developer bust. Though no longer mayor of Newark, Democrat Sharpe James is a powerful Mister Machine and still serves the people as state senator. James reps the 29th legislative district in northeast New Jersey. The 29th covers swaths of Essex County (including sections of Newark) and Union County. James did double duty as state rep during 8 years of his 20 year (1986/2006) mayoral stint. Not to worry tho. Double dipping in Jersey is legal.*
Not legal: Mayor Sharpe James' alleged misuse of City of Newark credit cards and his alleged steering of city owned properties to Tamika Riley, who allegedly accompanied James on trips allegedly paid for with city credit cards. Riley is a public relations entrepreneur with a background in hair styling and make-up artistry. DBA Tamika Riley Images. Aka TRI. As mayor, Sharpe James could make entrepreneurial dreams come true. As senator, James tweaked that ability via state legislation. James was Assistant Majority Leader of the NJ state legislature in 2004 and 2005, and still serves as Vice-Chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, and the Community and Urban Affairs Committee.
Tamika Riley wasn't Mayor/Senator James' only traveling companion. Other female entrepreneurs, plus select public servants, accompanied the mayor to places such as Miami Beach, Martha's Vineyard, the Hamptons, Rio de Janeiro, Barbados, and Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic. Some trips were represented as official business. For instance, what seemed like a weekend getaway to a deluxe Dominican beach front resort was really a fact-finding excursion: Mayor James needed to assess the resort's tropical gardens to see if they could be replicated around Newark's railroad station. James' trips were charged either to the official city hall credit card, or to a Platinum Plus Visa card issued in the name of Sharpe James Newark Mayor Security Police Business. The card was meant to cover expenses incurred by the mayor's security detail, members of which were culled from the Newark Police Department. As mayor, Sharpe James had authority over the NPD. As he did over Newark's Department of Economic and Housing Development (DEHD). An agency wired to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
According to the City of Newark website, the DEHD's mission “is to plan, organize, lead, control, and deliver housing and economic development services to meet the needs of the private and public sectors of Newark's economy”. Some might wonder whether a private sector actually exists in Newark, what with the DEHD doing all that planning, controlling, and delivering. Suffice to say that as the man with his hand on the DEHD throttle for 5 terms, Mayor Sharpe James had the kind of power associated with el presidente of a command economy. A power enhanced by New Jersey's Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL).
Among its many tasks, the DEHD oversees the sale, rehabilitation, and management of property owned by the City of Newark. Under LRHL, municipal governments can designate sections of cities as an “area in need of redevelopment”. Like other cities, Newark can sell city owned properties in redevelopment areas to private purchasers at below market prices, without advertisement or public bidding. Purchasers must be qualified re development experience and financing, and are required to develop and substantially rehab the properties before marketing them. Redevelopment area deals require approval by the DEHD, the city's corporation council, business administrator, and the city council.
In 1999, Tamika Riley stepped up to the redevelopment plate. Though she'd never built anything other than a do, and her business history was fizzle not sizzle, Mayor James and State Senator James were in her corner. Tamika Riley, under the name “Building an Empire”, was deemed qualified to purchase and rehab city owned properties in Newark's South Ward. The homeless to be employed in the process. The properties Riley purchased over roughly five years in her “TRI Phase I, II, and III” development deals typically cost between two and eight thousand dollars. She flipped the properties for up to $150,000, in three or four weeks, sans rehabs. James took a cut. Allegedly. Tamika dodged taxes. Allegedly. Plus, she allegedly didn't tell the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA) about her empire.
The NJDCA works closely with the state's municipalities via various programs. NJDCA housing assistance programs are funded by HUD and State Appropriation-Fair Housing Revenue. Aka the NJ Realty Transfer Tax. While Tamika was flipping properties in Newark, the NJDCA was subsidizing her apartment in Jersey City in nearby Hudson County. Sending checks for the majority of her rent to a property management company. Just as if Tamika were low income, or elderly, or homeless.
Sharpe James' corruption rep goes back decades. Among other things, his alleged dance card is dense with pay-to-play development deals. But James isn't the only sullied public servant in Newark or northeast New Jersey. Heck, the bi-partisan corrupt are legion throughout the state, with the convicted as numerous as the alleged. HUD scandals are ho hum. Urban centers are particular hot spots for redevelopment scams. Everyone wants to be a government empowered real estate mogul. State Senator Sharpe James himself cited the crony deals of Newark City Council members re city property sales, when he crafted a state law in 2004 which expanded his mayoral power over the sales of those same properties. Mayor James' situation was a little bit funny because he was his own best friend in the state legislature and didn't have to graft and/or date himself. But as said, the Jersey double dip is legal. Pols can wet their beaks upstream and downtown. Some even get to do it in Boca Chica Boca Chica Boca Chica...
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Sources include but are not limited to:
Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James Indicted, Department of Justice Press Release, 07/12/07
"Former Newark mayor's companion also charged," Ian T. Shearn and John P. Martin, Newark Star-Ledger, 07/12/07
United States of America v. Sharpe James and Tamika Riley, Indictment, United States District Court of New Jersey
*A bill banning dual office holding in New Jersey will go onto effect this autumn. However, it contains a grandfather proviso which allows 19 current double dippers to continue doing so. State Senator Sharpe James, who won't be seeking re-election next year, is among the grandfathers.
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