Hackett pleads guilty to attempted extortion

NEWARK – Mims Hackett pleaded guilty today to attempted extortion as part of a plea agreement in which the federal government backed off of a second count of bribery in its two-count indictment of the former Orange mayor.

The words “former mayor” became appropriate only after Hackett’s morning court appearance and his plea of guilty.

When U.S. District Court Judge Jose L. Linares asked him if he understood that a guilty plea to the felony means he forfeits his right to vote and his right to hold office, Hackett said he understood.

“If you plead guilty today you will have waived your right to a trial, do you understand that?” Linares asked.

“Yes,” Hackett said.

Hackett, 66 (Hackett told the judge he is 67), served as mayor of Orange for 12 years and was arrested by the FBI along with ten other public officials last fall as part of a statewide corruption sting. Today, Hackett appeared before the federal judge with his lawyer, John Azzarello, in a proceeding in which there were few in attendance.

"He made a grave error in judgement," said Azzarello. "He's done as mayor."

Later today, Hackett faces a one-count state charge of official misconduct. If he is found guilty, any state time served will run concurrent with what he gets from the feds.

This morning, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie sat behind the accused as Hackett answered a series of specific questions posed by Linares, starting with a recounting of the case in which FBI informers posing as insurance brokerage agents framed him.

“A phony insurance company indicated they had insurance and said it would save the city money, therefore I said I would support that idea,” Hackett recalled. “Later, that same individual escorted me from the restaurant back to the city and I accepted a sum of $5,000.”

“Did you accept that money in agreement for supporting insurance from this company for the city?” Linares asked.

“Yes, I accepted the money in terms of continuing the support of the business,” Hackett said.

Hackett met with the representatives of the phony insurance company on two occasions, in May and then again in August of last year. On the second occasion, Hackett accepted a brochure in which was enclosed $5,000 in exchange for Hackett’s promise to help the company secure business with the City of Orange.

“How do you wish to plea to count one, guilty or not guilty?”

“Guilty,” said Hackett.

The attempted extortion charge carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in federal prison, but Hackett's lawyer said his client will end up getting 18-24 months. Linares set sentencing for Sept. 15 and limited the former mayor's travel outside New Jersey to Alabama and Pennsylvania.

"I'm glad this is finally behind us," said Councilman Edward Marable, Jr.

Marable said it is likely business administrator Jewel Thompson-Chin would serve out the remainder of Hackett's term, which ends July 1, but Orange's code also allows for other possibilities, he added.