Former newark deputy mayor and businessman convicted of extortion conspiracy under the color of official right
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 14, 2011
TRENTON, N.J. – A Trenton jury convicted former Newark, N.J., Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Ronald Salahuddin and Newark businessman Sonnie L. Cooper today of conspiring to commit extortion by using Salahuddin’s official position to steer demolition work to Cooper and obtain contributions to organizations favored by Newark officials, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
The jury returned the guilty verdict against Salahuddin, 61, and Cooper, 69, following a five-week trial before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Trenton federal court. Salahuddin and Cooper were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to extort under the color of official right. They were each acquitted of one count of attempted extortion under the color of official right, and two counts of bribery. Salahuddin also was acquitted of an additional count of bribery.
“Salahuddin and Cooper schemed to steer contracts that put their business interests ahead of the public interest,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “The people of New Jersey deserve better. The jury’s verdict echoes our own commitment to hold accountable those who abuse their authority.”
According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:
Shortly after Salahuddin became deputy mayor in July 2006 and through December 2007, Salahuddin and Cooper conspired to use Salahuddin’s official position to steer City of Newark and Prudential Center demolition work to a cooperating witness who, in exchange for Salahuddin’s official action and influence, had to give a portion of that work to Cooper, the owner of S. Cooper Brothers Trucking, Inc. (“Cooper Trucking”). In addition, Salahuddin solicited and accepted contributions from the cooperating witness to organizations favored by Newark officials in exchange for his official action and influence. While deputy mayor, Salahuddin maintained a concealed financial interest in Cooper Trucking. Salahuddin mortgaged approximately $900,000 worth of property as collateral for Cooper Trucking, as well as lending money to Cooper for payroll and receiving money from Cooper related to the company’s operations.
Salahuddin’s and Cooper’s convictions on the conspiracy count carry a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is currently scheduled for January 11, 2012.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI’s Trenton and Newark Field Offices, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward; and IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Victor W. Lessoff, for the investigation leading to today’s conviction.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Bartle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James B. Nobile and Zahid N. Quraishi of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.
Ronald Salahuddin: Thomas Ashley Esq., Newark
Sonnie Cooper: Alan Zegas Esq., Chatham, N.J.