NEWARK – The steps of City Hall.
That was the image U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie used to tell the bad ending story of former Assemblyman and Orange Mayor Mims Hackett, who twice pleaded guilty today: oncein federal court to one count of attempted extortion, and once in state Superior Court toa chargeofofficial misconduct.
Flanked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office by state Attorney General Anne Milgram and state FBI Director Weysan Dun, Christie made special mention of the fact that it was outside City Hall that Hackett took the bribe which started his fall.
“This is a public servant who decided that $5,000 was a good down payment for him to sell his office,” said Christie.
The defiant U.S. Attorney recalled critics who questioned his office’s motives when Hackett and ten other elected officials first appeared in court last year to answer to federal corruption charges.
Ten of those charged as part of Operation Broken Boards have been convicted. Only former Passaic Councilman Jonathan Soto and former Newark Council Chief of Staff Keith Reid remain.
“In this office we follow evidence wherever it leads,” said Christie. “We don’t do anything more complicated than that. …Mims Hackett didn’t plead guilty today because he wanted to make my day.”
It was busy day in court for Hackett, who appeared in the morning in District Court, where he pleaded guilty to attempted bribery in exchange for Judge Jose Linares throwing out an additional bribery charge.
In the afternoon, Hackett pleaded guilty in state Superior Court to the official misconduct charge.
Facing 18-24 months for the federal charge and up to a year and four months for the state charge, Hackett will serve the state and federal penalties concurrently.
Regarding the state conviction, Milgram explained that Hackett stole thousands of dollars from the city by submitting phoney travel and meal expense receipts between 2002 and 2006. The attorney general said Hackett forged travel receipts for events that did not occur, and made up the names of restaurants he claimed to have attended while supposedly on city-related trips.
He went to Lenny’s in Atlantic City while on a city-related outing, according to his receipts submitted to the city. But there is no restaurant in Atlantic City named Lenny’s, Milgram said. Hackett also claimed to have gone to Lenny’s in Memphis, Tn., but again, there is no Lenny’s restaurant in Memphis. What the mayor was doing was pocketing the cash himself and filling out dummy receipts that made it appear as if he was involved in city-related business in those cities where there were conferences or other events.
It added up to $5,7000 in phoney meal expenses.
“Public corruption hurts all of us,” said Milgram.
Added Dun, “From the FBI’s perspective, if people don’t have faith in their government, then the very fabric of our society is potentially weakened. We get no joy from this, but we do get satisfaction.”