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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Public corruption? Sheeee...!!!

The federal corruption trial of former Newark, New Jersey, mayor Sharpe James and his alleged paramour, Tamika Riley, now in its sixth week, is winding down. In its opening statement, the prosecution claimed that the case was about “fraud, favoritism and concealment.” The defense countered that James was “resurrecting the South Ward from scratch” and “did not take a dime.”

The prosecution finished up its case last week. The defense has called witnesses to bolster their claim that Mr. James did not pressure the City Council for favors on behalf of Ms. Riley to dishonestly enable her to purchase valuable city property. In an 89-page indictment, James, who served as Newark’s mayor for over twenty years, is charged with using city coffers as his personal piggy bank to finance lavish vacations he took with various female companions, and with arranging sweetheart land deals with Reilly. While the prosecution has been focused on a dry, detailed accounting of James’s travel and entertainment expenses, the defense has painted the picture of a beloved, hardworking public servant and native son of Newark. When he elected yesterday not to testify in his own defense, Mr. James said, "I put my faith in the court, your honor."

I’m struck by the life-imitates-art-imitates-life aspect of the Sharpe James trial. In the recently concluded HBO series “The Wire,” the fictional state senator R. Clayton “Clay” Davis, played to virtuoso perfection by Isiah Whitlock Jr., is on trial for public corruption in Baltimore. The beloved man of the people is acquitted despite substantial evidence he laundered money. Could Mayor James follow in Senator Clay’s fictional footsteps? Check out the media coverage of both politicos below. CR

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