Sentencing of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James is underway this morning at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building, where James hopes to avoid the maximum sentencing for fraud.
U.S. District Judge William Martini specified in his opening exchanges with prosecutors that James’s ex-girlfriend, Tamika Riley, successfully rehabilitated city housing properties in question, and the taxpayers experienced no financial loss.
But financial loss is not the issue, said the judge.
"There was a fraud here, and it involved (Ms. Riley) obtaining properties without knowledge by the public," Martini said. "…The failure of the mayor to disclose his relationship with Tamika Reilly is a deprivation of public services."
James’s attorney, Thomas Ashley, made the same point in his appeal to the judge.
"The crime is the crime of non-disclosure," clarified Ashley, who described the James’s administration’s work on the South Ward Redevelopment plan as a "huge success.
"He made a terrible mistake in judgement in not disclosing his relationship with Tamika Riley…the reason he didn’t because he didn’t want to embarrass his wife, he didn’t want to embarrass his kid."
The 72-year old former mayor’s supporters and reporters pack both the court room and the overflow room on the fourth floor of the federal building.
The sentencing portion of the trial began with a debate between Martini and federal prosecutors over guidelines governing the amount of time James and Riley would receive. Martini.
Ashley read a letter of support for James by East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser. Former Councilwoman Gayle Cheneyfield-Jenkins also wrote a letter of support, which Ashley read to the court.
Martini called for a ten-minute break, and when the court re-convened, Ashley continued to make his case for leniency.
"There would be no New Jersey Performing Arts Center without him (James)," said the defense attorney. "It stands as a monument to the new era."